Smoke Screen: BBQ that’s not really Cue

Photography by Zach Bauman.

Words like “green,” “fresh,” “delicate” and “subtle” aren’t typically used to describe the fare at a barbecue joint. But Whole Harvest Kitchen isn’t a typical barbecue joint. In fact, it’s not a barbecue joint at all.

It’s a vegan (they prefer the term “plant-based”) whole-foods restaurant in Leawood’s Town Center Plaza that offers several smoked vegan dishes along with the expected array of salads, soups and wraps. 

“It’s an absolute shout-out to Kansas City,” chef Bobby Morris says of the smoked items. “It’s the only reason it’s on the menu.”

Don’t go in there expecting something that tastes “almost” like meat barbecue. Go instead to find out how smoke can be used to flavor dishes that combine the familiar and the unexpected in satisfying ways.

Take the pulled BBQ jackfruit tacos, for example. The dish piles the jackfruit on blue corn tortillas with black beans, smooth avocado salsa, kale, radishes, cilantro and a heap of cabbage slaw, with a spicy dipping sauce made of tomatillos and fresno chilies on the side. The flavor profile is neither classic KC barbecue nor traditional Mexican. That’s not a criticism; it is its own unique thing, and it is delightful. The pulled jackfruit is subtly smoky with a texture remarkably similar to pulled pork. The giveaway is the almost fat-free mouthfeel. Combined with the fresh slaw topping and sauce, it’s a bona fide treat. A caveat: The tacos are piled so high that treating them like finger food is a challenge.

One thing Whole Harvest shares with traditional barbecue fare is hearty portions. The three tacos come with a side of green salad and chunks of roasted sweet potato. (The lemon-herb salad dressing is one of the best low-fast dressings I’ve ever sampled.) It’s a lot to eat. 

The BBQ mushroom pizza is also generous in both size and flavor. A tasty sourdough crust is ultra-thin under the toppings, light and airy on the edges. It’s topped with a spicy barbecue sauce, mushrooms, chunks of smoked tofu, pine nuts, red onion and cilantro. A mix of lion’s mane, shiitake and blue oyster mushrooms are roasted before topping the pie. The flavor leans more traditionally barbecue than the tacos in both smoke and spice. The house-made sauce leaves a mild but lingering burn. There’s no cheese, though—that was the only animal product I missed in any dish I sampled.

The decor proclaims plant-based, not smokehouse. Blonde wood, white surfaces and high ceilings support the light and fresh vibe. Tables are well-spaced and comfortable.  

The restaurant describes their take on whole food as “made from scratch with fresh (never frozen) ingredients,” with cooking methods that “use minimal sodium, no added sugars, and, whenever possible, oil-free cooking techniques.”

So it’s healthy eating, too? That’s a winner.  

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