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By Staff | May 6, 2011

In Kansas City the smell of smoke is almost everywhere.

Not just any run-of-the-mill combustion byproducts, though. The fumes that permeate Kansas City are comprised of hickory smoke infused with the wondrous aroma of slowly roasting meat.

It’s the mouth-watering fragrance of heaven on a barbecue spit.

My wife and I recently visited Kansas City to visit our youngest son. He has gone by a variety of nicknames over the years including Laundry Boy when he was in college, Hawaii Boy when he lived in Oahu and Illinois Boy after he moved to the Land Of Lincoln.

Now he is now Employed Boy, owing to the fact that he has obtained a job in his chosen profession of construction management. This is no mean feat given our present economy. It’s akin to a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat while strapped into a straitjacket and hanging upside down in a tank of water.

My wife and I are seasoned eaters and have enjoyed food since as long as we can remember. Our goals for Kansas City included sampling its food scene, especially its legendary barbecue.

It was recommended that we visit a place called Oklahoma Joe’s. I don’t know how that barbecue joint got its name, but suspect that it’s because the line of people waiting to get into it stretched almost to Oklahoma.

We took this as a good sign. While waiting our turn, we saw on display a magazine article proclaiming Oklahoma Joe’s as One Of The Thirteen Places You Have To Visit Before You Die. I don’t know where Oklahoma Joe’s fell on that list, but suspect it’s up near the top.

The barbecue was a masterpiece of smoky succulence, even though they obviously cook about a freight train’s worth of victuals each day.

After filling our bellies well past their nameplate capacities, we exited Oklahoma Joe’s through the gift shop.

Among the items offered there were a variety of smokers that would presumably enable the average civilian to smoke like a pro. These were all-steel, seriously heavy, hernia-inducing pieces of equipment.

One model was virtually the size of a pickup truck bed, with a smoking chamber big enough to accommodate a whole steer. An entire telegraph pole would fit in its firebox.

Kansas City is striving to shake its “cow town” image and has taken to billing itself as The Paris of the Prairie. We decided to motor to an area called the Plaza to see if this was at all justifiable.

I’ve never been to Paris, but the Plaza area seemed to be a close facsimile. Numerous trendy shops and restaurants lined the Plaza, many with such exotic, foreign-sounding names as L’Occitane, Brio and J. Crew.

Denizens of the Plaza tended to be sunglasses-clad “hip” young women who were so skinny that they had no hips. They strode the Plaza purposefully on sandpiper legs, balancing on shoes with heels the size of 50-penny nails. Bulging bags bearing the names of the trendy shops swung from the crooks of numerous elbows.

We snooped in some of the shops, but the prices were apparently in francs or some currency that trades at many multiples to the dollar. Plus, we didn’t feel like paying for jeans that were pre-wrecked. We can install those ripped knees and worn pockets ourselves – and for a lot less money, I might add.

We later cruised randomly about in the nearby residential area. Many of the houses we saw were mind-bogglingly huge and extraordinarily majestic.

Their servants quarters probably had nicer niceties and boasted more square feet than our humble South Dakota farmhouse.

Having had enough of Kansas City, we began to wend our way home via a meandering route. At one point we stopped at a small town gas station somewhere in northwestern Missouri.

As I gassed up, I overheard a local at the next pump chatting with an acquaintance of his about morel hunting.

Intrigued, I asked the guy if there were any secrets to a successful mushrooming expedition.

“They sprout in the hollers first,” he replied, “then move up the hills as the weather warms.”

After he had thoroughly extolled the deliciousness of morels, I confessed that I had never enjoyed the fugacious fungus.

He reacted as if I’d said I had never seen sunshine. “That ain’t right!” he declared. Then, lowering his voice to a confidential tone, he added, “Lissen, I know a feller up the road yonder. He can fix you up with some real nice morels for a good price!”

My wife shot me that “don’t even think about it!” look. Which was just as well, because our car was already overflowing with that delectable smoke we were trying to haul back from Kansas City.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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