Friday, June 18, 2010

day 25: i shot some ribs

Part of my day job - the one for which I actually get paid - includes promoting rural health care conferences in different cities across the country. Because there's only so much health care-related imagery to choose from, and most of it's boring - stethoscopes, mortar and pestle, red cross - my brilliant co-worker L. and I tend to pimp events using locations.

And because we're both suckers for a unique food experience - she has witnessed firsthand my tendency to unleash a string of excited swear words when I try a delicious new flavor of gelato - a lot of our promotional materials end up featuring tasty treats.

For example, one of our 2009 conferences was held in Portland, Oregon, and a google search led us to Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland doughnut shop where couples can stuff their faces with bacon-topped longjohns before exchanging vows in the on-site wedding chapel.

Naturally the doughnuts made their way onto our postcards:

This fall's conference will be held in, of all places, Kansas City. And for better or worse, for many tourists (and by "many" I am referring to the 20 or so people who actually take vacations to this city each year) KC is synonymous with barbeque.

Which is why L. and I decided to grab our awesome designer Debra Phillips and have a photo shoot with some of KC's finest: a slab of pork ribs from legendary barbeque joint Arthur Bryant's.

To get to the 90-year-old restaurant at 18th and Brooklyn, you have to drive through the 18th and Vine jazz district, a should-be thriving but sadly forgotten part of the city's heritage (also see my Jason's Pitch cover story on the recent cancellation of the annual KCK Street Blues Festival). The death of authentic entertainment scenes such as the jazz district makes the pre-packaged, artificial "fun-in-a-box" of the Power & Light District seem all the more garish by comparison.

Inside, the restaurant is nothing if not functional, and it seems to be an amalgam of a small-town barbeque joint and a bustling urban diner. A faded, grease-stained sign boasts "rib tips" as the "special of the day," though you suspect it's been the special for more like a few years.

While waiting in line to shout your order through an opening in the glass window that separates the cooking and dining areas, the delicious, savory smells of smoking meat will nearly overwhelm your senses. Stay collected. These chefs mean business, and their business is barbeque.

Once we collected our slab of meat and took it back to the office, we dressed it up with Arthur Bryant's tangy sauce - ribs look their best when they're saucy - and started shooting. I climbed on tables and the stove and squatted at rib-level in search of the money shot, and this was the end result:

I think it turned out pretty damn great, despite the fact that, as L. says, "Urban grease is the opposite of rural health."

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