The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 13, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: New barbecue joint welcome addition to Pittsburg’s restaurant scene

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Disclaimer: I make no claim to be an authority on the finer points of barbecue. I am equally happy eating Gates or K.C. Masterpiece, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at either.

Which is why I was happy to notice a new business on Broadway this month. Big Ben’s BBQ Station is a welcome addition to the city’s restaurant scene and barbecue offerings, which had grown a little sparse. It also quickly filled a vacant building that, honestly, I expected to stay vacant for a while.

Last year, Kimmer’s BBQ & Bar opened quickly and closed quickly. I expected it to last because it was on an arterial road — East Fourth Street — and occupied the most brightly painted little yellow building I’d ever seen.

Also last year, Curbside BBQ, a longtime player in all things smoked and sauced, finally closed its doors after owners Maggie and Bill Burlingame grappled with one personal tragedy after another. They had been around for years, and their departure was felt by those seeking the likes of barbecue nachos and smoked tamales.

The lone remaining player on the barbecue scene, a funky little shack called Smokey Racks BBQ operated by the Sharpe family on West Fourth Street, upped the ante by opening a second location in Girard and establishing a solid Facebook presence.

The business churned out specialties like loaded spuds and whole smoked chickens, and it had become the go-to spot for my family to carry out pounds of pulled pork for kitchen gatherings.

But I’m always up for trying new eateries, so I took Mom up on an offer to join her for lunch at Big Ben’s. At first located in Cherokee, Big Ben’s moved to Pittsburg in December and set up shop in the building vacated by Curbside BBQ, which was a smart move.

The lunchtime crowd was steady for both dine-in and carryout on a rainy Thursday. Big Ben’s, under the ownership of Ben Weaver, also offers a drive-through, and the staff of nine is friendly, prompt and attentive. Manager Kaytlyn Lewis pointed out that Ben creates both the hot and sweet barbecue sauces that are in plentiful supply in bottles on the tables.

I filled up on a large sliced brisket sandwich, and sides of barbecue baked beans, coleslaw and potato chips, and washed it down with a cold root beer.

I couldn’t help but wonder at this menu offering: the Big Brutus Platter, a $55 monstrosity that’s free, should one person eat it in one hour. The ample offering includes one slab of ribs, a pound each of pulled pork and brisket, two meatballs, two links, one chicken leg, one chicken breast, 16 ounces each of potato salad and baked beans, and two pieces of Texas toast.

Lewis said no one has succeeded at that challenge yet, but the business has had a warm reception from individuals, families and businesses since opening last month. Everything on the menu is “available until sold out.”

The business is located at 1002 S. Broadway and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Welcome to Pittsburg, Ben.

Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.