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Initial reaction to when the waiter set down my plate of bread and meat: scared. The good kind of scared. The “I don’t think I can fit my food into my mouth” kind of scared.
As a Kansas Citian, I have high standards for barbecue. Char Bar Smoked Meats, the Southern-inspired barbecue joint in Westport is a dressy-casual restaurant. Recommendation: do not dress down too much; I felt a bit out of place in my sweats and T-shirt.
Once inside the restaurant, our job was easy: eat. For us, the getting there aspect was difficult. It may be just because I am directionally challenged, but it took my friend and I a good extra 15 minutes and rerouting our Google Maps three or four times until we parked. The restaurant is located on Pennsylvania Ave across from a brick building covered in graffiti art and Frank & Bob’s Complete Auto Service shop.
It’s half-bar, half-restaurant. Outside is their 10,000-square-foot beer garden open to all ages equipped with picnic tables, lawn croquet and bocce court, tire swings, two outdoor fire pits and a large patio bar.
We were immediately greeted by two ice waters, a cheery waiter and a full explanation of the menu top to bottom just as we took our seat. This may have been because we were two out of nine people in the restaurant at 4 p.m..
We chose the waiter’s appetizer recommendation number three: Smoked Chicken Mac Nuggets. No, it is not chicken nuggets stuffed with mac and cheese. Simply just about five generously-sized golden chicken nuggets alongside four dipping sauces — still not a disappointment. Dipping sauce one: buffalo mayo, a mild mayonnaise-based sauce with a spicy kick for an aftertaste. Two: spicy barbecue, just like it sounds — a steamy sauce that is sure to cause a runny nose. Three: buttermilk chive, a nice and sweet sauce provided most likely to cool the mouth down after the spicy barbecue. Sauce four: Carolina gold, a homemade honey mustard sauce.
For myself I ordered the Burnt Heaven: smoked burnt ends and sausage with fried jalapenos, chipotle barbecue mayo and creamy coleslaw on an egg bun. I will admit it; I am picky. When I told him to hold the jalapenos, barbecue mayo and coleslaw and essentially bring me just a plate with bread and meat he didn’t seem to mind.
The saying “never eat anything that is bigger than your face”, became quite relevant with this sandwich…although it did not stop me from eating it. The garnishes on the side, pickled cucumbers and onions, became invisible in the midst of the mile-high meat pile next to them.
I am also, admittedly, very anti-leftover. Good food never tastes the same the next day, so I say spare the room in the fridge for more cookie dough or juice boxes. However, I was not about to leave half of my sandwich for the dumpster behind the building. The next day at school I was thinking about the leftover box more than my algebra notes, and praying my dad wouldn’t finish it for me. FYI: Char Bar’s meat is just as great the next day.
Hard to believe, I know, but the food wasn’t the only component that was impressive. The hardwood floors, brick walls and iron handrails played a strong role in the Southern atmosphere. The employees wore nice flannel button downs, a small detail but added a nice touch. The wait staff was very courteous and helpful, and maybe it was because we came at 4 p.m. and the amount of customers in the restaurant was under 15 including us, but we got our food very quickly.
We split the bill, and I cringed a bit when I saw we had to each pay $17.38. Pushing the “expensive” line for a high school student, but totally worth it. Chances are, you will be paying for more than one meal with that $20.