Kue’d jumps to front the queue4/6/2016
From nowhere, Des Moines became a solid barbecue town in the last two decades. Beginning with Flying Mango’s opening in 1997, central Iowa and barbecue initiated a sudden love affair. Woody’s, Jethro’s, Smokey D’s, Uncle Wendell’s and others followed soon behind. Other than Jethro’s, those stores all evolved from the competition barbecue circuit, catering or farmers markets. Later cues began as food trucks.
The newest significant barbecue developed from many sources. Shad Kirton returned to central Iowa after culinary school and jobs at top west coast restaurants. He ran the kitchen for the Hotel Pattee when it was legendary. When the hotel lost its benefactor, Kirton opened Smokey D’s with Darren Warth. Those are two of the most successful BBQ competitors in the nation. Kirton won the largest prize ever, the $100,000 Pitmasters prize in 2012 (since reduced to half that amount.)
Last year, Warth and his wife Sherry bought Shad and his wife Angie out of Smokey D’s. Kirton also took a year off from competition to spend time with his kids and to plan a new store.
A month ago, Shad and Angie opened Kue’d in Waukee. On my visits, the place was packed. People stood in lines to order, then looked for tables where orders were delivered. The store smokes a limited amount of meats daily. When something sells out, it’s gone for hours, minimum. (Burnt ends sold out by noon one lunch rush and by 5:30 p.m. one dinner rush.) That’s a very good thing. It means the restaurant is serving meats freshly cut from the smoker. Barbecues that can produce any cut at any hour are usually smoking, slicing, refrigerating and reheating. That destroys the best work of a smokehouse.
A fully open kitchen revealed no such problem at Kue’d. Brisket was sliced when ordered. Pork shoulder was chopped or sliced freshly, too. Ribs were moving from smoker to plates. So were chicken legs and wings. Sausage was custom made at Ulrich’s in Pella (back in business under new owners) and was sliced when ordered. No meats on my plates (and I tried them all) had the dreaded, dried out texture that plagues too many barbecues. All these meats were served with sliced egg bread and pickles. Quarter-pound plates with bread and pickles ranged from $5-$7. Ribs were the only meat priced above local norms.
Kue’d excelled at side dishes. Kirton’s version of baked beans was a pit-smoked cassoulet of white beans, tomato, ham and pork in a thick, mild sauce that included some $100,000 sauce — the condiment that helped him win Pitmasters prize. The mashed potatoes go by the name “loaded smashed casserole.” They are the only dish that has not yet yielded any leftovers in my visits despite large orders. Pickled vegetable salad, a sweet complement to spicy cue, included cucumbers, red onions and a couple kinds of peppers. I generally prefer vinegar based slaw to creamy slaw, but if all creamy slaws were this good I would swing both ways. Mac and cheese was creamy and rich. The superstar of side dishes though was the apple salad — a sweet and sour concoction of green apples, golden raisins and acid kick from citrus or vinegar. “I almost did not put that on the menu because it’s so different. But it’s one of our top sellers,” explained Kirton.
Desserts were superb. Cherry cobbler was served in a flaky pastry. Bread pudding was made with egg bread. Buttermilk brownies were made with an heirloom Texas recipe. None cost as much as $3. My only complaint? There’s no ice machine.
Side Dishes: London’s Phaidon Press published “Where to Eat Pizza,” a 576-page guide to the world’s top 1,700 places. Centro, Eatery A, Noah’s, Fong’s, Chuck’s, Felix & Oscars and La Pizza House represent Des Moines. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.