The smoking section is about to make a big comeback. Char Bar Smoked Meats & Amusements (4050 Pennsylvania), a new barbecue concept from James Westphal, Mark Kelpe and pit master Mitch Benjamin (the competitive barbecuer behind Meat Mitch sauces and rubs), is set to open later this month.
“We’re more of a barbecue gastro pub,” Westphal says. “That’s why it’s Char Bar Smoked Meats and Amusements.”
The amusements – bocce and croquet – will come next year when an attached beer garden opens next to the former Beaumont Club space. Char Bar is the fourth Kansas City concept for Kelpe and Westphal – who also own and operate McCoy’s Public House, The Foundry and Beer Kitchen in Westport. For them, they see Char Bar as a way to offer a different take on barbecue in Kansas City and recognize that people’s eating habits have shifted.
“The way people eat is changing. Moms and dads used to go to a restaurant and an order an appetizer, entrée and dessert. But now people are eating smaller dishes and sharing,” Kelpe says.
The meats – Benjamin is overseeing the smoking set-up — will be smoked on a pair of Southern Pride smokers that will run on Hickon – a genetic blend of hickory and pecan.
“Our executive chef, Jeremy Tawney [who has with Oklahoma Joe’s for five years] said in his interview, that ‘burnt was a flavor too,’” Kelpe says. “It goes back to our caveman days. There’s this social ritual of sitting around a campfire and eating grilled and roasted meats. But then you add in asparagus and poached eggs and you’ve got this whole new thing.”
Smoke shows up in a variety of ways on the menu. Toast (made with Farm to Market bread) and vegetables will be charred, and steaks will be grilled on a wood-fired grill in the kitchen. There’s smoked sea salt butter for the house potato rolls, a charred eggplant spread reminiscent of babaganoush and a Ceasar salad made with charred romaine, a soft poached egg and a bit of smoked trout anchovies.
The flavors of the South also feature prominently. Chef Michael Peterson has created a smoked duck gumbo. They’re also reinterpreting the chicken on a biscuit with a fried chicken in a tobasco-honey glaze. They’ll eventually do fried chicken dinners on Sunday nights.
The sandwiches – known as Meat & Bread – on the menu will be anchored by the CBGB (Char Bar Ground Brisket) burger. It’s percent 50 percent aged brisket that’s been ground in house and 50 percent chopped, smoked brisket. It’s topped with a gouda schmear and smoked bacon.
“The burgers have this great smoky quality,” Kelpe says. “And you get that without having to slather a ton of barbecue sauce on them.”
Char Bar will also feature a turducken muffaleta made with house smoked turkey, the Broadway Butcher Shop’s duck prosciutto and chicken schmaltz, and black and green olives. The lobster po’boy – a tempura-batted lobster with pickled okra remoulade — is an homage to the deep fried lobster tails popular at the Blue Heron Restaurant near the Lake of the Ozarks.
On the smoked meats side, everything will be served a la carte. The ribs are St. Louis-style pork ribs and they’ll launch with two and three meat trays. Over time, they’ll look to add different smoked meats to the menu. Kelpe mentions smoked pig heads as a shared dinner for two and a caja china – a Cuban roasting box that fits a whole pig — in the beer garden slated to open next year.
For sauce, there’s Meat Mitch’s Whomp! Competition BBQ Sauce and the Meat Mitch Naked Sauce (it’s gluten-free and made without high fructose corn syrup). Benjamin has also helped develop the Char Bar Table Sauce.
“We wanted a sauce that replaced ketchup, one that you’d want to dip your fries into,” Westphal says.
For those who want to reach for the Tabasco, Char Bar will also make a pair of hot sauces. The Jalapeno Kick is made with lime juice, pureed, charred jalapenos and cilantro. The Veggie Inferno is red, orange and green charred peppers and charred onions and garlic pureed with vinegar and chilis.
The barbecue sides are new takes on familiar territory. There’s cheesy corn spoonbread, pig tail mac n’ cheese (so named for the curly cue pasta), hand-cut fries, and crispy jo-jo potatoes (chopped baked potaotes, fried and then tossed in a barbecue vinegar).
With dessert, they’re putting together a bourbon-spiked peach cobbler, burnt butterscotch pudding (think crème brulee), a sweet potato funnel cake topped with praline ice cream and candied bacon, and the Velvet Elvis (a warm banana bread and peanut butter ice cream sandwich topped with cayenne pepper and sea salt-spiced nuts, Cracker Jacks and hot fudge).
“I love dessert that has heat and smoke and sweet,” Kelpe says.
Behind the bar, Char Bar will only stock American beer and wine.
“We felt like Char Bar is Americana,” Westphal explains. “So, why not support that idea with a beverage menu.”
Char Bar won’t have McCoy’s brews to start – Westphal says that the Westport brewery is at capacity, but he is hoping to expand McCoy’s production capability. They are currently experimenting with house sodas, working on a root beer, strawberry lime cream soda and rosemary-infused lemonade. They’ll serve sweet tea, infused with fresh mint, in Ball mason jars.
The cocktail list, overseen by mixologist Derek Branham (bartender at the Drum Room and former manager at McCoy’s) will feature the 14 Karats (a cucucumber-infused vodka with fresh squeezed carrot, celery and ginger) and the Smoking Gun (High West Campfire whiskey, Grand Marnier, Campari, orange bitters, Angostura bitters over a cherry wood-smoked ice ball). Keep an eye out for the Country Breakfast – a shot of Southern Comfort, a shot of butterscotch schnapps, a shot of fresh squeezed orange juice and a slice of warm crispy bacon – on the brunch menu.
“We’re excited to bring this new concept to Kansas City,” Westphal says. “I think we can really explore what’s possible with barbecue.”