Back in April 1972, Calvin Trillin named Arthrur Bryant's the "single best restaurant in the entire world." Well, a lot has changed in 41 years, and frankly, Trillin might have been lampooning another article in that edition of Playboy. (Apparently some people read Playboy for the articles...)
In any event, I'm not sure a 41 year old restaurant review has any relevance today. We'd read mixed reviews about Bryant's in recent years, so we never had tried it before. This year, our hotel happened to be a few blocks away, so we figured it was time to taste the tradition for ourselves.
Since my kids don't like barbeque, I left them at the room with my wife, and I ordered carryout. We both ordered beef and burnt ends, with a side of baked beans. The sauces were the original and sweet heat; the burnt ends apparently come with their "rich and sassy" sauce.
The beef was merely adequate, and didn't really have much barbeque flavor. Frankly, it reminded me of a leftover roast beef sandwich than barbeque brisket. (Frankly, I'm not sure it was even brisket; could have been a sirloin roast for all I could tell...) The "sweet heat" sauce was more to my preference than the original sauce, which was way too vinegary for my taste. Neither would be my choice, though, compared to the sauces I usually choose. Even Wall Lake, Iowa's own "Cookies" sauce rates above those two. The rich and sassy sauce on the burnt ends were the best of the bunch.
That being said, the burnt ends didn't taste like charred burnt ends, but rather chunks of beef thrown into the sauce. That might not be a bad way to eat some leftover roast beef, but it's not barbeque. The beans were nothing special; a few chunks of beef mixed with sauce and beans. Probably could have done just as well with a can of Van de Camp's, drained, and mixed with a good quality sauce. The fries were left skin on, but may have been overcooked a little bit. Maybe they didn't travel well in the 10 minutes it took to get back to my hotel room and start eating.
So what are the grades?
Meat: C- Didn't taste bad, but didn't taste smoked at all. Definitely needed sauce, and good barbeque doesn't need sauce. The sauce compliments the barbeque; it's not like pouring ketchup on a bad hamburger or steak sauce on a cheap steak.
Sauce: D The rich and sassy sauce probably was the best, but there are numerous other brands out there better than it. The original might work for people who like vinegar-style sauce.
Sides: D+ The beans were the least offensive, but you can do better. Fries weren't good at all, but they were edible.
On Saturday afternoon, the Travel Channel did a profile of various styles of barbeque, and Arthur Bryant's was the example for Kansas City. That's a shame because there are undoubtedly many other better examples of barbeque in Kansas City. Heck, Urbanspoon showed that even Famous Dave's ranks higher than Bryant's.
Frankly if you are looking for Kansas City barbeque, look elsewhere.