There's a big gold-and-blue trophy perched on top of a refrigerated beverage case in the 19-seat dining room in Jon Russell's Kansas City Barbecue at 12094 West 135th Street in Overland Park. The trophy, like the dozens of prize ribbons hanging from the walls of the L-shaped room, represent the many honors bestowed upon competitive barbecue smokers Jon Niederbremer and Russell Muehlberger. These two men have been barbecue contenders for over two decades (which is why the fast-casual restaurant's logo includes the words "est. 1990," the year the longtime friends got serious about competing; this new 'cue joint opened only four weeks ago).
Muehlberger has a lot of restaurant experience: He's a longtime vice president at 39th Street Bevco, which operates the 119th Street Diner, among other local dining venues. Until Jon Russell's Kansas City Barbecue opened, Jon Niederbremer was a building superintendent. "But I definitely prefer the restaurant business. This is an example of a guy getting to live his dream."
Taking over a vacant Quizno's location, Niederbremer and Muehlberger installed a smoker that uses both gas and wood to smoke meats. "Apple wood," Niederbremer says. "It burns longer than hickory or cherry and gives us more control of the flavor. It also imparts a genuine sweetness to the meats."
The Flower of the Flames rib platter is named for the late Karen Putman, a local Grand Champion Pit Master. "She was the queen of Kansas City barbecue," Niederbremer says, "at least in our eyes. She died last November, but if she was here, we know she would have been our first customer."
Niederbremer says he hopes that there will be more Jon Russell's Kansas City Barbecue in the future: "We would certainly like to open more. We have high expectations."
The barbecue restaurant is currently open seven days a week: from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. In addition to soft drinks, tea and lemonade, Jon Russell's sells bottled beer..