Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue: Making Last KC Meal Count

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Barbecue Sign Kansas City

An impressive bull statue stands watch over Fiorella's near the Kansas border.

In the summer of 1996, when driving cross-country from Los Angeles with my friend Ben, we had time to sample two barbecue restaurants in Kansas City. Of course our first stop was Arthur Bryant’s, the city’s most legendary barbecue establishment. Unfortunately, the brisket didn’t match the hype. Maybe that was because Mr. Bryant died in 1982. We were down to one more barbecue meal, and we chose Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, in Martin City. We were really impressed with the burnt ends, the lamb ribs and the day’s special – Cajun catfish. Eleven years later, I made my triumphant return, and it was just as good as I remembered.

According to the restaurant’s website, Russ Fiorella opened the original Jack Stack Barbecue in 1957, smoking a small menu of meats over hickory. Son Jack Fiorella worked for his father until 1974, when he struck out on his own with Fiorella’s Smoke Stack of Martin City. The menu was (and is) massive, even including seafood. Jack’s barbecue has clearly caught on. There are now four Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City metro area, including downtown and at plush Country Club Plaza. Jack’s still involved, but his son Kevin and son-in-law Case Dorman have taking over as Managing General Partners.

As the sign says, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue specializes in “fresh meats, seafood and poultry (cooked) over hickory.”

Restaurant Kansas City

The wood-shingled restaurant was plain outside, but there were all sorts of kitschy bric-a-brac inside, including framed cow and pig paintings, a pig rocking horse, and this wooden cow, which has handles. At one point, children must have ridden it.

Restaurant Kansas City

Nothing says authentic barbecue like puppets rigged with imaginary flying machines.

Despite the restaurant’s overflow crowds and high decibel level, the servers managed to stay friendly and accommodating. There were three meats I had to try – lamb ribs, burnt ends and pork spare ribs – but there was no combination matching that description. Happily, my waitress allowed substitutions to make it work.

Barbecue Kansas City

My custom 3-meat combo ($18.50) featured lamb ribs, burnt ends and pork spare ribs, pickles and Texas toast. She even let me substitute hickory pit beans and Cheesy Cornbake for the standard sides – fries and cole slaw – at no additional cost.

Ribs Kansas City

Denver-cut lamb ribs were succulent, with gamy, fall-off-the-bone sheep meat.

For my third consecutive Kansas City barbecue meal, I sampled burnt ends and pork spare ribs. The burnt ends were luscious, no doubt from all the delicious cow grease. Pork ribs featured caramelized crusts and juicy meat.

Barbecue Kansas City

Hickory pit beans were made with spicy barbecue sauce, burnt ends and pork, creating a wicked brew. Cheesy Cornbake contained corn kernels, creamed cheese, cheddar cheese and chunks of ham. It was too cheesy for my taste, but it was certainly original.

Barbecue Sauce Kansas City

Meats arrived slathered with spicy barbecue sauce, but I still made use of the extra dish. With sauce this good, I wasn’t going to stick to the standard portion.

When my meal came at the end, and I was buying T-shirts at the counter, I spotted buffalo farmer Kathy, who I met the night before at Snead’s, a few miles down Holmes Road. She was buying pints of hickory beans and cole slaw, to pair with her grilled buffalo steaks.

Eleven years after my first visit, Fiorella’s Jack Stack was probably even more popular, with lines out the door, but they were still managed to produce excellent barbecue. I allowed myself one repeat restaurant this trip, and I didn’t regret my decision.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue: Making Last KC Meal Count


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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