There’s a tongue-in-cheek element to Buck Tui BBQ. It starts with the name: In Thai, “buck tui” translates roughly to “fat boy”—chef Ted Liberda’s lifelong nickname. It was an endearment he heard at backyard family cookouts, which intertwined grilled barbecue classics with Thai ingredients and side dishes.
“It’s a phrase that a lot of people use in Thai,” he says with a laugh. “It’s slang, but it’s not derogatory. It’s like calling a fat guy ‘Slim.’”
Many will recall Liberda’s name from his family’s long tenure in Kansas City’s food circuit. His Thailand-born mother, Ann Liberda, emigrated to the U.S. in 1975 and opened Thai Place in Overland Park. Several locations followed over the years, but in 2015, Thai Place in Westport—the last remaining outpost in the family chain—closed its doors. (The Liberda family still owns Thai Diner in Lawrence, which Ann runs.) In 2018, Ted opened Waldo Thai with co-chef and wife Pam, but after a few months, he decided to take a break from daily operations while Pam fine-tuned the menu. Buck Tui, which launched at the Overland Park Farmers Market in May, marks his re-entry into the industry.
Some consider “fusion food” a problematic phrase, but in the case of Buck Tui, it’s an apt descriptor. An appetizer called Brisket Rolls merges everything you love about cheesy wontons and Thai egg rolls with shredded brisket. This brisket—brined in a mix of fish sauce, palm sugar and Thai chilis and smoked overnight—is rolled with cream cheese and scallions into crepe-thin rice paper and deep-fried until golden. The rolls come with a sweet and sour sauce that you’re going to ignore: When you perch down on the Matt Ross Community Center curb and hold one of these gloriously greasy totems between your fingers, you will be so overwhelmed by the gooey explosion of beefy goodness and warm cheese that every other thought will be driven from your brain.
You can get barbecue platters at Buck Tui, too. There’s chicken brined with lemongrass and coriander, pulled pork, brisket and ribs, all served with jasmine rice and house pickles. The ribs are coated in a sticky sweet chili glaze, and they are every bit as messy as they should be.
This fall, look for the Buck Tui restaurant at 7200 W. 121st St. in Overland Park (formerly the home of Frida’s Contemporary Mexican Cuisine). That menu will be similar to the chalkboard specials at the farmers market—it’s not a barbecue restaurant without meat platters—but Ted expects his co-executive chef, Kara Anderson, to add her own character to the dishes. Anderson is leaving her post as chef de cuisine at Verbena to lead the kitchen at Buck Tui while Ted mans the pit.
“She’ll be making homemade sausages with local ingredients and merging a lot of her techniques with Thai flavors,” Ted says. “With Kara, it’s two worlds colliding, and I feel like that’s what a lot of chefs do, especially when it comes to barbecue. You’re mixing flavors with other cultures. The common denominator is open flame, long cooking.”