PRIME EVENTS IN CLASSIC KC
By Michael Humphrey
Jack Fiorella is a guy who goes his own way. And he doesn’t really mind butting up against some sacred cows along the route.
So it’s not all that surprising that Fiorella decided to venture away from the family business and do his own thing more than 30 years ago. It might be a little surprising that he decided to take on one of those sacred cows – Kansas City barbecue – and reinvent the animal. It’s up to you to decide how surprising it is he succeeded. But there’s no doubt about it – Jack Stack Barbecue is one of the best joints in Kansas City.
The New York Times cited Jack Stack as among the best for “leaner meat, the best beans you’ve ever put your teeth into, cheesy corn pudding and outrageous onion rings by the stacks.”
No wonder that Jack Stack Barbecue has become one of the most popular restaurants in the city for groups. The food is delicious, affordable for large numbers, and is easily catered, shipped or served in four different restaurants around town.
“We take our group business very seriously, obviously,” says Rod Toelkes, director of operations for Jack Stack Barbecue. “It’s an important part of our success.”
Food to Love
Fiorella is humble about how he did it.
“I just love good food, I love Kansas City barbecue,” Fiorella said in a recent conversation. “If you love to eat good food, you want to make good food. It’s pretty simple.”
Well, says Toelkes, there’s a little more too it than that.
“Jack wanted to be unique in a city of barbecue restaurants,” Toelkes says. “All the good joints in the city have something different about them. But Jack didn’t just want to be different. He wanted to do more than what everyone else does in the city.”
And that, to Fiorella, meant climbing the quality scale. The essence of barbecue is taking a less desirable piece of meat and slow-cooking it until its as mouthwatering as the prime cut. Fiorella certainly knows how to do that – the brisket and burnt ends prove it. But Jack Stack goes in other directions as well – the restaurant serves salmon, Angus filet mignon and KC Strip, Kobe beef, Denver lamb ribs. You get the idea.
The way the food is cooked is also part of the success. Each restaurant has a custom-made pit, a series of racks over hickory wood that sears the meats. Then most of the meats get transferred to a hickory-smoke gas rotisserie oven, where the meats rotate over the wood smoke and baste each other while they cook.
“It’s an art,” Toelkes says. “Each restaurant has a number one pit master with at least 20 years of experience. And each has three pit masters in all to make sure it’s working as planned.”
Most barbecue joints have a lineage. One master learned from another and then opened his own business eventually. Jack is no different. He learned from his father Russ, who started the family business in 1957 as a grocer, serving sandwiches out of the deli counter as the first foray into food. Russ eventually opened Smokestack BBQ, also a very popular joint in the Kansas City area.
But Jack wanted to try his own venture. In 1974, he opened what is now Jack Stack in Martin City, south of Kansas City. For 24 years, he worked on building the business, both restaurant and private dining. Then in 1998, he started to expand. First, he expanded into the Freight House district in downtown Kansas City. Then 95th and Metcalf in Johnson County in 1999 and finally the Country Club Plaza last year.
Fiorella semi-retired a few years ago, handing the reins to his son-in-law Case Dorman. But retirement meant starting up a shipping business in 2001, so now Jack Stack can be sent anywhere in the country. That has also proven highly successful.
What all this means for a meeting planner is multiple choices for enjoying Kansas City’s cream of the crop barbecue restaurant. Each restaurant is unique. Martin City is a more down-home experience and also includes an off-site banquet hall for 150 people. The Freight House restaurant offers an urban chic environment and has a private dining space for 25 people. The Metcalf restaurant is family friendly. The Plaza restaurant is upscale casual.
But the choices don’t end there. The mobile pit means Jack Stack can be cooked on-site anywhere.
“We’ve served meals in Colorado, in California,” Toelkes says. “We could cater an event for almost any size you can imagine.”
Delivery is also an option, for groups as small as 20 up to thousands.
It all adds up to a classic Kansas City experience, fine dining in a not-so-stuffy way. And the cost doesn’t have to bust the budget.
The “Classic Buffet,” which is three sliced meats, Hickory Pit Beans, Creamy Cole Slaw and Cheesy Corn Bake, as well as rolls and coffee, water and tea is $17.95 per person.
Prices rise with the sophistication of the food or the amount of choices. The “Grand Buffet,” which includes prime rib, salmon, chicken, pork or lamb ribs, four sides and dessert cart is $36.95.
Plated meals start at $24.95 for a barbecue sampler of brisket, chicken and pork. Petite Filet Mignon and Salmon is $34.95. Additional meats can be added at a per-person price. There are also vegetarian options.
For lighter options, there are fruit and cheese trays, starting at $75 for 50 people. Meat trays for 50 people start at $70 and rise to $99. Finger-food buffets start at $17.95 and go up to $32.95 per person.
“There’s an affordable price point for everyone,” Toelkes says. “We have worked with most every budget at some point.” MM&E
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
Jack Stack Barbecue
13441 Holmes Road
Kansas City, MO 64145
9520 Metcalf Avenue
Overland Park, KS 66212
101 West 22nd Street, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO
The Country Club Plaza
4747 Wyandotte Street
Kansas City, MO 64112
At a Glance
Type of Facility: Restaurant
Group size this facility is able to accommodate: 6-150
Type of cuisine: Barbecue, steaks, seafood
Number of private dining rooms available: 2
Special Features/Amenities: On-site barbeque pit, shipping catalog
Are group rates/discounts available? No
Is the facility disabled-accessible? Yes
Price Range: $6 to $30 per person finger food; $17.95 to $37.95 per person meal