By Charles Ferruzza
There may not be a large number of Johnson County diners who still remember the former Joe’s Barn restaurant in Stanley, Kansas – it was actually located in an old barn and, I’m told, the ice machine was located in the former silo.
To be honest, I never went there myself, although I had ample opportunity to do so in the 1980s and early 1990s. My pathetic excuse? It was, at 151st Street, just too far south at the time to drive out for a meal of what was, by all accounts, “home-style cooking.”
A veteran Kansas City restaurateur, Gary Berbiglia, who worked at Joe’s Barn for many years and ultimately had an ownership stake in the venue, has taken the spirit of that restaurant (modest prices, big portions) for his newest venture, Berbiglia’s Roost.
A cancer survivor, Gary Berbiglia, wasn’t interested in officially retiring, even after a three-decade tenure as a partner in the Arthur Bryant’s barbecue empire. So he took over the lease at the freestanding building at 8725 Metcalf Avenue, long occupied by the Houston-based Fuddrucker’s fast-casual chain and, more recently, by an unsuccessful Asian buffet.
The month-old restaurant, named for himself, is called Berbiglia’s Roost and serves both hickory-smoked barbecue and deep-fried chicken. Berbiglia is in the restaurant – which he nearly completely gutted to create the new venue – nearly every day. Another local restaurant icon, Steve Greer – a former Gilbert/Robinson manager and later co-owner of the legendary Golden Ox steakhouse – is there too, a consultant and director of operations for the fledgling concept.
Gary Berbiglia created three new sauces for the restaurant (including a very good mustard-based hot and sweet sauce) and serves the traditional smoked meats – brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, ham, turkey and excellent sausage from Wyandotte County’s Krizman’s House of Sausage – with excellent side dishes, like buttery mashed potatoes made from Yukon Gold spuds.
Those potatoes probably work better with the fried chicken – surprisingly moist (Berbiglia doesn’t marinated his bird in buttermilk – or anything else) and lightly breaded in an evanescent golden, crispy and slightly peppery armor.
The spuds are automatically serve with a chicken dinner, along with a bland gravy – it needs some work – and, if the server remembers to bring them, a soup cup of marble-sized “cinnamon fritters” that sound better in concept than the actual preparation. Children will find this culinary conceit far more interesting than will their parents.
The fried chicken is pretty damn tasty, I must say, in a town that already has a few iconic bird roosts. The chicken livers are particularly delicious, although I liked eating them with Berbiglia’s spicy sauce rather than the tasteless gravy. And the featured dish, the “Berbiglia’s Chicken and Q Wedding Plate” combines both signature dishes here: burnt ends and smoked sausage with fried chicken wings and legs. It’s an appealing combo platter, although the burnt ends, piled on two dense slices of Roma bread, were as chewy as a plug of beef-flavored tobacco.
This style of dining is a throwback to the likes of Joe’s Barn and the long-forgotten Mrs. Peters Fried Chicken (a staple of Wyandotte County for decades) where calorie and fat-counting be damned. Where else, on this stretch of Metcalf, can one find chicken fried steak, an open-faced hot turkey sandwich, St. Louis-style spare ribs and a perfectly-shaken martini in a single meal?
Just don’t request that other 1960s throwback item – Thousand Island dressing – for your salad. A friend of mine did and scandalized our server.
“Does anyone still order that?” he asked.
I say that with a fried shrimp dinner, an iceberg lettuce salad with a dressing invented before 1900, is a must.
Longtime Kansas City food writer Charles Ferruzza’s weekly column for the Shawnee Mission Post and Blue Valley Post runs each Friday.