Kansas City 2017: Burgers, Barbecue, History (part 1)

All barbecue lovers dream of visiting Kansas City at some point. I had thought about doing so for years when it finally happened in 2017. But barbecue turned out to be only a minor part of what I consider to be the most enjoyable and informative vacation I’ve ever taken. In fact, barbecue wasn’t even really at the center of the food portion of this trip. That distinction belongs to another of my culinary passions: smashed burgers washed down by milkshakes. But in retrospect, for a change, this trip was more about what my wife and I did and saw than what we ate. 

Of course, we did eat plenty and I photographed it all. The food portion of the trip started during our first evening in Kansas City with a cab ride to one of the area’s better-known purveyors of hamburgers, Town Topic on Broadway (there is a second location that closes earlier in the day). The exterior photo is a familiar one to those of you who have stopped by this blog’s home page. 

Town Topic is a classic old-school burger joint to the core. It was packed with people when we arrived, but we managed to grab a couple seats at the counter without too long of a wait. Our location gave me a perfect view of the milkshake station. The guy working it clearly was an expert at his job. 

The milkshake-making station at Town Topic and Kansas City

The burgers at Town Topic are smashed thin and cooked until they have a nice, slightly crispy exterior. As is my habit, I ordered a double with onions, pickles, ketchup and mustard. While I wouldn’t call it one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, it definitely hit the spot, as did my very good vanilla malt.

A double-cheeseburger at Town Topic
My vanilla malt

As always, I was pleased to see a pie board when we entered Town Topic. In spite of having finished off my malt, I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to try a slice. We went with a piece of blackberry to share. I made the mistake of refusing an offer to have it served warm with whipped cream. I didn’t realize it would arrive cold out of the refrigerator. It was good, but would have been better if I had accepted our server’s offer.

Cold blackberry pie at Town Topic

We decided to walk back to our hotel and passed by the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Kansas City Symphony, along the way.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Kansas City Symphony

While Kansas City was our base for this vacation, we had side day-trips into both Kansas and central Missouri planned. There were points of historical significance to see, as well as a pair of state capitol buildings, which we always make a point to visit when traveling. 

We set out for Jefferson City, Missouri, on the morning of our first full day to see that capital’s state house. As we were leaving Kansas City, we went past their sports complex. The Eagles were in town to play the Chiefs and there was a long line of cars at the stadium exit that we thankfully by-passed. While the Eagles 2017 season ended with them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, they lost this game, so I didn’t mind missing it after the fact. 

We had a drive-by view of Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Royals, who weren’t far removed from their own title. 

Kauffman Stadium, home of MLB’s Royals, who incidentally lost to the Phillies in the 1980 World Series (just thought I’d throw that in).

It’s a two-and-a-half hour ride from Kansas City to Jefferson City and I had a meal stop planned along the way that would include another burger and malt. While I had dreamed of gorging on barbecue during this trip for years, I was more in the mood for burgers and shakes while we were there, and I didn’t fight the craving. 

The 5&50 Drive-In is at the junction of MO 5 and US 50 in Tipton, Missouri.  It was a stand that only had outdoor seating, and that was fine with us.

The 5&50 Drive-In of Tipton, MO

My wife enjoyed a breaded pork fritter, which was similar to a breaded pork tenderloin in appearance, while I again went with a double cheeseburger. Had I known how thick the patties were, I’d have ordered a single. I should have asked. In any event, it was a good burger. The onion rings we had on the side were excellent.

The malt was a little strong on the chocolate for my taste. This brings up the regional nature of milkshake naming. Where I live, a chocolate shake is made with chocolate ice cream. But in much of the country, it’s made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. We call that a Black and White shake in the PA-NJ-NYC corridor. I expected something along the lines of a Black & White malt when I placed the order, but it tasted like it was made with chocolate ice cream. Again, I should have asked first. Live and learn.

Breaded pork fritter at the 5&50 Drive-In
A bigger-than-expected double cheeseburger
A heavy-on-the-chocolate malt

From Tipton, we moved on to Jefferson City and the Missouri state house.

Jefferson statue in front of the Missouri state house

We don’t always go inside the state Capitol buildings we visit, but this one had a small history museum within that we decided to check out.

Inside the Missouri state house
Truman bust in the Missouri state house history museum
Daniel Boone

We had no further sight-seeing scheduled for the day, but things don’t always go as planned while on vacation. After leaving Jefferson City, we made a wrong turn at some point and found ourselves on the wrong highway heading north instead of west to Kansas City. Before we could get ourselves straightened out, we spotted a highway sign advertising the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, which we were inadvertently headed for. 

I am a huge Churchill fan, having read a number of books and thousands of pages about his life. But I had no idea there was a National Churchill Museum in Missouri. Now that I had discovered its existence, there was no way we were going to pass up an opportunity to see it. 

The museum was located at Westminster College, where Churchill gave his legendary Iron Curtain speech while visiting President Truman in his home state during 1946. In the speech, the former and future Prime Minister of Great Britain warned the West that their World War II Soviet allies now posed the greatest threat to our security and way of life. He also coined the term, “Iron Curtain,” which was thereafter used to describe the figurative barrier Stalin had erected between the Western and Eastern blocs that would endure for the duration of the Cold War. Churchill’s exact words were, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” 

The museum was a delight to behold. My only disappointment was that we arrived shortly before closing time and had to rush through it. 

Fulton, Missouri
Bust of the Great Man.
Winston and Harry on the day of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech
He’d have been very pleased to see the Wall come down.

After leaving the museum, we found our bearings and made it back to Kansas City just in time for dinner, which would feature my first taste of the region’s famous barbecue.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue has several locations and is not typical of classic Kansas City barbecue joints, which tend to look old and a bit worn down. I’m not sure I’d have chosen it as one of our meal stops under other circumstances, but we had a gift card that I didn’t want to waste. 

We walked from our hotel to Jack Stack’s Freight House location for a meal that turned out to be more notable for what I had on the side than for the smoked meat I ordered. Their baked beans may have been the best I’ve ever tasted. They had plenty of meat and a tremendous, barbecue sauce-accented flavor. 

Jack Stack’s baked beans; perhaps the best I’ve ever had

For my main course, I ordered beef burnt ends and baby-back ribs. Both were a little disappointing. 

Burnt ends are small chunks cut from the outer, heavily barked and smoked layer of a barbecued brisket. They are the trademark of Kansas City-style barbecue and I expected to be blown away after viewing countless drool-inducing photos of them over the years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. They weren’t bad, but I was a little underwhelmed. The baby-back pork ribs were also nothing special. Thank goodness for those beans!

Beef burnt ends at Jack Stack’s in Kansas City
Baby-back ribs

To be continued.

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

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