Full-service bar, patio seating for up to 300 guests, beer towers, lunch buffet, award-winning pulled pork, live music and entertainment
Kansas City defines itself with many things: jazz, bacon festivals, fountains, Chiefs, Royals, Boulevard beer, the Plaza lights, but most importantly, barbecue. We take our smoked meats and sauces seriously in Cowtown. For resident carnivores of Kansas City, this barbecue fanaticism has branded our town a wonderland of burnt ends, pork butts, and moist towelettes. But when you run a barbecue restaurant in the self-proclaimed “barbecue capital of the world” you’ll be judged by standards set forth by Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, and Oklahoma Joes.
For over 40 years, Winslow’s BBQ has been smoking meat at 20 E. 5th St. in the City Market, Kansas City’s haven for aged-brick buildings and tasty food. Run by namesake Dave Winslow until 2009, Winslow’s isn’t known as one of the go-to barbecue joints in the city, but they are respected enough to have been included in Real Barbecue: The Classic Barbecue Guide to the Best Barbecue Joints Across the U.S.A. written by Vince Staten and Greg Johnson in 2007. Winslow’s pulled pork sandwich won Pitch Weekly’s “Best Pork Sandwich” in 2002 and the Savvy Explorer named it one of “The Best BBQ Places” in Kansas City. Accolades are nice and all, but the proof is in the meat.
In 2009, Winslow sold the company to Gerry Heldrich. After taking over, Heldrich added full-table service and signature sandwiches like the Fire Pork, Bourbon Bacon Brisket, and Maple Apple Chicken. He updated the dining room with leather booths, flat screen TV’s and a barbecue staple: red and white gingham tablecloths. Smartly, Heldrich left the patio alone.
The massive patio can sit up to 300 and serves as a music venue for local bands and DJs on weekends, which perfectly suits the restaurants full-service bar. Try getting 120 oz. pours of beer at any other barbecue restaurant in the city. “They are a pain for us bartenders,” says a bartender whose been working at Winslow’s BBQ on and off since 1994, “but people love them.” On any summer afternoon, when the patio reaches its 300-capacity limit, you can find the tables stacked with these beer towers, which cost $16.99 for domestic and $19.99 for premium. Boozehounds will be bobbing their heads to local blues bands from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., drunk on guitar licks and hoppy goodness. Inside, the bar is lined with paper towel rolls, and they serve everything in Styrofoam or plastic cups. You’ll swear you’re at the neighborhood block party: cheap beer, seared meats, and enough strangers to keep the loneliness at bay.
To keep people coming in during the slow winter months before the patio business picks up, Heldrich added a lunch buffet, which sets Winslow’s apart from other Kansas City barbecue restaurants. What better way to taste a full array of smoked meats slathered in delicious barbecue sauce for $8.99 than a lunch buffet?
On the buffet, Winslow’s offers up pulled pork, smoked chicken, famous smokie, fire pork, beef ribs, baked beans, tater tots, and salad. Like with most buffets there were a few items I didn’t care for. The fire pork canceled out any barbecue flavor with a heat that drove me to abandon the meat altogether. The beef ribs were tough and difficult to eat. The famous smokie, a loose meat brisket sandwich, tasted like something you’d eat at the Lanford Lunch Box. The beans were imbued with smoke flavor and hunks of beef. The tater tots were served up hot, all you can ask for from a freezer-to-fryer chunk of potato, right? So why eat at Winslow’s? The pulled pork and the smoked chicken, my friends, is your entrance to flavor country.
In the Staten and Johnson book, Dave Winslow talked about the crazy smoker an engineer designed for his restaurant. “The result is a 25 gallon water tank between the fire and the meat; the steam ensures the meat is moist and the flame never touches the meat.” The chicken, seasoned with a dry rub, maintains a moist and juicy interior. The skin tastes of seasoned hickory, smoke, and rub–one of the tastiest smoked chickens in the city. Bold statements are needed for chicken of this class. Served wet, the pulled pork was tender and smoky. The $8.99 buffet is worth the price for these two meats alone.
Winslow’s differentiates itself from other barbecue restaurants by offering up live entertainment, a beautiful patio in the River Market, a full-service bar, and lunch buffet. The 40-year-old barbecue joint may not be in the same class as Kansas City’s elite barbecue, but it smokes pulled pork and chicken as well as anyone.
Admit it, you’re overdue for a meat-binge.