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KC BBQ is the most eagerly anticipated debutante at Des Moines’ smokehouse ball, occupying prime urban real estate behind the state Capitol and down the road from Big Daddy’s, the late Ike Seymour’s hallowed pit. Since Ike’s demise, good inner city Q has come with limitations: Uncle Wendell’s Bakery smokes superb brisket and pork butt on weekdays, but that Sherman Hill place is a carryout-only operation in cold weather; El Bait Shop is a fine fisher of smoked meats, but, except for daily specials, it’s all applied to a Mexican menu.

KC teased customers for weeks with a large woodpile, suggesting it would be the real, slow food thing. So, we were there for Opening Day, which was rained out by a “late inspection.” The next day, the place looked like a virtual gold mine — every seat was occupied with a dozen other folks standing, but mostly without food. My friend Bobby and I ordered together and he was served in less than five minutes. Forty minutes later, my order still wasn’t ready. I explained that my ride couldn’t wait any longer and I was grudgingly given a refund, but no apology. Bobby said I got a better deal than he did. His brisket sandwich consisted of cold meat on cold white bread, even though the photo he pointed to when ordering showed a hoagie bun. It seemed skimpy too, and his baked beans were two inches deep in extremely sweet liquid. Tables were bussed slowly. Bobby, a restaurant professional, said nothing was done about his complaints and he swore he’d never come back.

I’m harder to discourage and returned the next day, my third attempt to actually taste something. I was served in 20 minutes, but second hand smoke was so intense that some customers waited outdoors — in single digit temperatures. Spare ribs delivered large meaty bones, but half their meat clung stubbornly, even when being gnawed. Baby backs were much better, with good smoke ring and tender meat. Excellent French fries saved the day with fresh cut potatoes hot from the fryer. Chicken was unavailable.

Two days later, I ordered spare ribs again and they were perfect, with tender meat, smoky flavor and pronounced ring.

A sausage sandwich tragically wasted the smokehouse. The link had been split in half and grill marks showed on both sides, dissipating any smoke flavor, along with the joy of biting into a natural casing. The good French fries had been replaced with mushy, frozen processed fries.

I returned three days later for the barbecued chicken, which was charred black on the outside, dry to the bone and yet had no smokehouse flavor or ring. It looked and tasted like it had been grilled, inexpertly, not smoked. Like Bobby’s brisket, a pork shoulder sandwich had been refrigerated before being sliced super thin. Unlike his brisket, it had been reheated, to various textures. “Burnt ends” (of brisket) might well have been the best meat, but it was not possible to order them without a dousing in an extremely sweet sauce, more like Cookie’s than Arthur Bryant’s or Gates. Dreading the new fries, I substituted slaw for a surcharge — it was extremely sweet and liquid, the opposite of pork sandwich slaw.

After two weeks, orders were being dispatched in reasonable time and order-takers were asking about a choice of hoagie or white bread. The heavy smoke problem had been adequately exhausted, but the bussing problem had only gotten worse. Messes lingered on tables and even on the counter. After tables were bussed, people still complained that they were “barely-wiped.” Much of the staff had learned that apologies help when people are distressed. Some even offered tokens of apology.

Bottom line — This smokehouse has promise, but it will never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Side dish

Chef Hal Jasa’s Underground restaurant is limiting Valentine’s Day reservations to 13 couples. The All-Aphrodisiac dinner will include at least seven courses and will be held on Feb. 16 at an undisclosed venue. Visit CV

By Jim Duncan
Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07)  

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