Kansas City, let’s cut to the chase: Your baseball team is pretty good, and you’ve got that whole jazz scene going for you. But if we’re talking barbecue, no Texan worth his salt and pepper rub is going to take kindly to your wild claims that KC-style barbecue, with its goopy sweet sauce slathered everywhere, is better than the barbecue we’re turning out in the Lone Star State.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s room for both of us at the table. That’s the hope of Matt Dallman and Scott Gottlich, the culinary brains behind Oak Lawn barbecue restaurant 18th & Vine. We talked to the pair prior to opening and couldn’t get Dallman to say one bad word about Texas barbecue. With Dallman manning the pit and Gottlich in charge of the rest of the menu, 18th & Vine sets out to educate the rest of us that there’s more to Kansas City style barbecue than KC Masterpiece. 18th & Vine’s name comes from the neighborhood that put Kansas City jazz on the map, and the main dining room's cream-colored walls pay homage to those roots with photos of KC greats like Charlie Parker and Count Basie. The decor is classic and upscale eclectic, with none of the kitschy country touches that seem to define other barbecue joints. Tall windows brighten the interior, and the natural light will make Instagram photos of food look incredible. In fact, 18th & Vine is more than a “joint” — it’s an honest to goodness restaurant, with elevated menu choices to match. For starters, there's the tasty pit-smoked veggie dip ($9), which was served with seasoned toasted flatbread triangles, or the chopped salad ($9) with house-smoked bacon, avocado, blue cheese and pickled hearts of palm. The perfectly battered fried okra ($8) is also a star. But talk of these good choices would be burying the lede, which is the amazing burnt ends. The Observer recently sang the praises of 18th & Vine’s burnt ends ($13) in a guide to DFW’s best burnt ends, and for good reason; they are the textbook example of what a burnt end should be. Kansas City gets the point in this round for creating such savory goodness from what used to be tossed aside as scrap.
Smoked meats are available during lunch or dinner, but the lunch menu is sandwich-intensive. The Lester ($12) is a brisket grilled cheese with heavy emphasis on the brisket; the provolone seems to serve as glue to bind the sauced meat to the buttered slices of toasted bread. It’s a solid choice, along with the seasoned fries. Less enjoyable was the Ellington ($14), featuring barbecued salmon, slaw and avocado on a hoagie roll. It was served cold, and the salmon seemed to be missing anything in the way of smoked flavor. The jalapeño cheese grits ordered with it saved the dish. The Dizzy ($12) comes with pulled pork on a lightly toasted bun, with slaw or without. The pork was good, if a touch on the dry side.
Dry meat isn’t a bad thing, as it offers a chance to try the house barbecue sauce that sits on every table. The Texas axiom that good barbecue doesn’t need sauce is all well and good, but there’s nothing wrong with adding some to your dish. ("Some" is a relative term; a woman at the adjacent table flung sauce all over her plate with reckless abandon as soon as it was placed in front of her. To each their own.) The ouse sauce is definitely sweet, but nothing like the corn syrup-filled garbage that's gobbled up by the masses. Celery seed and cumin balance the sweetness. It’s definitely worth trying and goes well with any of the meats and poultry on the menu. Dallman’s work on the pits turns out some delicious barbecued beef and pork. Meats are available individually by the half ($12) or full pound ($24), or you can opt for a two meat plate ($19), and take advantage of one of the delicious sides. The pit beans were an excellent choice; chunks of brisket were tossed in, while cumin and cayenne added some heat to the sweetness of the beans. In the meat department, the ribs were true to Kansas City form, with a sweet glaze and tender amount of doneness that kept them on the bone but not too chewy. The brisket (ordered untrimmed) was also a winner; the charred bark wasn’t too salty and seemed to have more seasonings than a simple salt and pepper mix, but it allowed the beef and rendered fat flavors to shine.
Come dinner hour, sandwiches are replaced with chef Gottlich’s eclectic entrées. The bone-in pork chop and pork belly ($24) came with a perfectly cooked chop served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, adorned with small spheres of granny smith apples and a savory glaze. The pork belly was equally amazing; bites started with rich smoke and ended with a sweet caramel finish, as if the pork turned into dessert in your mouth. For those who don't eat meat, the cauliflower steak ($13) is grilled and served with a cauliflower puree.
If you've saved room, there's a small selection of sweets. Homemade vanilla ice cream ($6.50) goes perfectly with a pair of fried apple pies ($9). The only thing that could make these two items better is if they came together as one dish instead of appearing separately. There’s also an assortment of cookies ($6.50); on this visit, the four cookies included a dark chocolate that achieved brownie-levels of moisture, along with peanut butter, oatmeal raisin and a pistachio glazed doughnut-cookie that was the table favorite.
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If the menu itself isn’t enough to draw you in, 18th & Vine also sports not one but two bars. The downstairs bar has several tables available, should the dining room fill up, and The Roost is an upstairs lounge with a separate menu of smaller plates and appetizers culled from the lunch and dinner menus, along with live music several nights a week. There’s also a front porch for dining when the weather is agreeable.
There’s a lot to like about 18th & Vine; the mix of barbecue and upscale dining, the expansive bar, the live jazz. A similar concept in Tim Byer’s Smoke has done well, but 18th & Vine doesn’t feel like a Smoke knockoff. Where Smoke feels like upscale dining that does barbecue, 18th & Vine comes across as a barbecue joint that also offers some upscale touches, both in menu and overall feel. Can a Kansas City-style barbecue joint merge with chef-inspired dining and find favor in the heart of Texas? They’re certainly giving us plenty of reasons to keep coming back.
18th & Vine, 4100 Maple Ave., 214-443-8335, 18thandvinebbq.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday