When I type “barbecue nearest to me” into Google, Zarda Bar-B-Q tops the list. It’s a little over a mile from my house, yet I have driven by the 87th Street Parkway location so many times I had become blind to it.
My barbecue blindness was admittedly unfair: There’s always been something to like about Zarda’s, but lots of upstarts have dominated the news in recent years. (Newer players off the competition circuit are often flashier, but Zarda has it’s own claim to fame: feeding the Chiefs players during training camp for nearly three decades)
“Grandpa Norb” Zarda started the family business with a string of hamburger drive-ins. Two sons, Jerry and Mike, opened the family’s first barbecue restaurant in Blue Springs in 1976. Younger brother Steve joined in when the Lenexa location opened in 1979. Steve’s daughter, Suzanne Zarda, who was “born into barbecue” and has been working in the family business since she was 12, is general manager of the Lenexa location.
The menu at Zarda is extensive and I had a hard time deciding between old-school options and newer Ltd. Reserve items, including sandwiches. I started with old-school to get back in the swing.
The $23.99 sampler platter is large enough for two: It has ribs, chicken and a pile of saucy burnt ends and sliced meats on bread, along with a bowl of slender dill pickles and choice of two classic sides. The rib “snack” is fall-off-the bone tender with a nice dose of mild smoke. The quarter chicken was disappointingly dry. But the pork burnt ends — yes, I said pork — were pleasantly crunchy, which I like, but also heavily sauced, of which I’m not a big fan.
(Pork burnt ends are charred, albeit smaller than brisket, chunks from the pork shoulder mixed with ham and sauce. For years, it’s been the only “burnt end” on the menu, but recently they introduced beef burnt ends with a dry rub, which Suzanne later told me “represents what we really have cooking.” I’ll be back!)
For a choice of two meats, I tried ham and beef that reminded me of deli meats, which were fine if unremarkable. Likewise, the sausage was served in paper-thin slices. It was so unusual I wondered why, but the Italian pepper flavor, which I rather liked, might have been overpowering if served in thicker slabs.
The beans were thick and satisfying with very fine bits of beef and ham but more savory than sweet. Next time I would try the Ltd. Reserve Burnt Ends Beans ($3.49) loaded with burnt ends and sold…