There are food moments in your life that stick with you. Sometimes, it's one bite; other times, the magic's in the whole meal. I've been blessed to have had several such moments. To name some: Halfway through a Mammoth Burger in college, when MF Gronk's snatched beef supremacy from the Anchor Bar for good in the Twin Ports; a pan of manicotti my mother cooked for my birthday when I was young; eating filet mignon at Haray Carey's with Ducky and Eliot on my bachelor party weekend; the time I ate a Perfect Burger at Victory 44 and changed everything about my website because of it; and my birthday meal at Vincent this year, after which Vincent himself brought out dessert.
And now, these ribs.
I sat in Oklahoma Joe's with my back to the commotion, facing a shuttered window, alone at a wall-affixed counter seat. There was nothing to see but a winsome rib rack, so perfect in appearance I still can't believe it was served to me. Look at it. Damn thing looks like it was dolled up for a Cosmo cover.
There was nothing to hear but the sounds of my own ferocity: the tearing of meat, the clatter of bare bones being piled up, an occasional grunt. I was working apart the greatest rib rack I'd had in my whole life, with zero distraction.
It was too exciting for excitement. All I could do was nod slowly to myself, suck back saliva, ready my chops, and bite again. I know it's foolish in this big world to call rib rack miraculous, but I'll just have to sound foolish today. That rack was a miracle. Even now, I shake as I recall it.
The Basics: Oklahoma Joe's indeed sits in a gas station, on the corner of West 47th and Mission Rd. in Kansas City, though it dominates the interior. Even on the convenience store side, shelves are buried in barbecue sauce. The other major item? Competitive discs. They have bottles of Coke, though, and for that I was quite grateful.
Here's the website. They're sexy and they know it. They are closed Sundays. I REPEAT: They are closed Sundays.
Similar to Arthur Bryant's, the walls of Oklahoma Joe's are brisk with awards, snips of gushing print features, and a life story mapped out with tchotchkes. Mostly, it's people: The ordering line fences in diners and snakes out the front door. Workers push meals out industriously, diners eat and talk in fast-forward, and slick feet slide between line-standers.
Well, they slid between some. The man behind me did a kick-ass job of keeping his belt buckle against my backside. There was originally a woman behind me, but this prick's kid asked her if she was anorexic. She slapped the little shit and stormed out. I know this is a bad week to print a statement like this, but good for her. If he's old enough to say something like that, he's old enough to pay for it.
The line looks intimidating but moves quickly. I was through it in probably 10 minutes. The wait for my ribs was less than two. I was given Rib Kate Upton and looked for an intimate spot in which to get comfortable. Let's have another look at her, shall we?
The meat required no extra sauce. It was perfectly sauced, perfectly tender -- not so much it falls off the bone, but the exact balance between smooth-chewing elegance and feral bone-stripping -- and meat was abundant. Whereas a few skimpy Bryant's bones allowed me to clean the whole plate on site, I left with half of Joe's. The holdovers retained almost all of their glory for two days and two state lines.
The sauce comes on with precise kick and texture. I've tried it on burgers, I've tried it on bratwurst, I've tried it on steak and I've tried it on chicken. Four aces. Put it on anything. Pour it on your arm just to lick it off. Doesn't matter.
I will of course go again, but this gave me much more than a good rack of ribs. There was an honest-to-goodness fulfillment that swept over me as I went about my predation. With every clean bone came a sense of, "God, I'm glad I got to have this at least once in my life."
Twenty-five (25) dollars, I spent. Deal of a lifetime.
I was so glad I drove seven hours and had this. I would, with no question, drive seven hours again just for this. Similar to how a Twin Ports excursion feels wasted without MF Gronk's, I couldn't imagine a KC jaunt without Joe's. I of course beseech you to try it. I'll have failed you as a friend if you never do. I don't care who you are; I really want this for you.
I'll go again and I'll sit at the railing again, back to the crowd, face to the tray. It might not feel like the first time, but it won't have to. I imagine I'll be lost in my good fortune again. "God, I'm glad I got to have this at least twice in my life." And so on.