The trick to a successful journey is figuring out where the hell it is you’re going. And in my return to Kansas City, I’ve been enjoying the spoils from my stumbles before. The last time here was 2022, at the tail end of COVID restrictions (it’s Missouri, not Kansas, by the way). And I was immediately thankful that Kansas City was operating normally. It sort of summed up this city. KC is comfortable and normal and unassuming.
Many of the buildings that aren’t offices or hotels seem to be “pre-war” low-rises of restaurants and pubs, which adds textures of a neighborhood to a cityscape. Generally, the people are friendly and casual, with more than one guy wearing denim jeans, round toe boots, and a cowboy hat as ordinary parts of his attire.
At this time of year, in February, it gets cold — what we San Diegans might minimize and be flip about… until, well… when we get here. A lady helping us from the airport to our tournament shuttle mentioned we just missed an ice storm the day before, and how miserable it was. But there she was. There they all were in this midwest city, bouncing back. They don’t have much other choice.
Last year we had snow, what I hadn’t seen since before moving to California. And with light shoes and thin coats, we were woefully not ready. I still harbor trauma from dragging our wheelie travel bags through ice chunks and freezing slush. Our feet were wet. Earlobes and noses beyond cold and runny. It was, as it were, a wind whipping indoctrination to life beyond our sunny SoCal.
Fast forward to now. Waterproof (yet stylish) hiking boots, a heavy Carhartt coat, plus more layers underneath, and — of all things — a winter beanie hat. We were actually a tad warm for the weather, but already our journey this time around has begun so much better.
There was no snow in the forecast, nor slush to contend with. But still, I opted this trip for a shoulder-strapped duffle bag over the weakly-constituted wheelie. Next came check in, the drop off of bags — then food. The hotel lobby by now, was predictably already overrun by volleyball parents. The athletes — predominantly tall high school-age girls — lit up and waved and hugged at happy teammate reunions.
Through the gauntlet of all that — and after a brief pitstop in the room — I played my dinnertime ace in the hole. For anyone who knows me, they’ll know I’m both stubborn and willing to walk. It was with that combination of my character traits that led me last year upon a semi-secret rib place — offsite from the Marriott hotel buzz, a mere 10 minute walk away.
Enter: County Road Ice House — part sports bar, part BBQ restaurant, set along a colorfully lit boulevard of restaurants that felt so far away from the lobby kiosks of readymade salads and wraps.
To appreciate this place fully, you’d have to have seen us our first time, last year. We arrived at the hotel and immediately turned back around, foregoing the line for check-in, stubbornly so, convinced it would take an hour to get through (it didn’t). So a dragging our wheelies we went, to the first of bright lights outside — three blocks down —to a rib restaurant… that was fully slammed by both locals (in the boots and cowboy hats) and a multiplying, huddling mass of volleyball tournament arrivals.
We got through the long lines, the standing, and waiting, all wet, and after having plane flew and shuttle ridden the whole day there. So began my zeal to dissipate from the rest of everyone else. Which brought me to County Road Ice House, my slightly offset rib place I hesitate now to even let you know about. But here I am anyway, now with a mini restaurant review:
Along Downtown KC’s East 14th Street, off Main, a restaurant row of sorts emerges, highlighted by blue string lights along the sidewalks. There’s 801 Chophouse for steak. There’s BRGR Kitchen + Bar for burgers and brew. There’s Blue Sushi Sake Grill for… well… sushi and sake. And there’s County Road Ice House — because we didn’t come all this way to KC for sake or sushi.
Inside, there’s always a wait, and they always say it take 10 or 15 minutes, but each time (now twice) they underpromise and overdeliver, with us seated before we could successfully scrounge a seat at the bar. PRO TIP: Even though your teenage daughter is tall, she won’t pass for 21, especially after she orders a Shirley Temple, which prompts the bartender to look her over extra close, before sending us back to the front to wait for a table. No matter! As soon as we get to the hostess stand again, my cellphone buzzes with an alert that our table, mere feet from the bar, is ready!
We decide on splitting a burger with fries, and a full rack of baby back ribs with two sides (we chose classic BBQ beans and spicy cole slaw). My daughter, of course, got her Shirley Temple that cast us from the bar. I had red wine. With our food order in, we cheers’d to smooth first night of our second go at KC. Our order turned around fast. When we expressed our surprise, our waiter replied that the ribs have already been cooking slow, all day.
The burger was thick and tasty and not overly greasy. The fries, God, they were great, but we couldn’t get through a single order of them. They seemed to all get married right out of fry college and raise a family of even more fries. One order is more than enough. Damn it, we tried. The spicy slaw tasted tangy, what the waiter termed as South Carolina-style. I didn’t leave a shred of it. The beans weren’t quite my thing. Bits too smoky with beans too firm and starchy.
But then there were the ribs. Lest we forget what we came here for. The full rack was huge, taking up near the whole of the table. And they were good. Good like KC ribs should be. County Road Ice House rates great — 4.5 stars out of 5.
And that’s what I discovered in KC. Great things await, like County Road Ice House. But the best of them won’t be flung out in front of me. As I get to know places like this I find that if I’m willing to wander, I’ll be grateful I did.
County Road Ice House website: https://www.countyroadicehouse.com