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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kennedy's Bar-B-Que, "serving Canton, Ohio since 1922"

Sitting on the edge of Canton's Memorial Park and a short distance from the final resting place of the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, is a diminutive building that has been serving bean soup and sandwiches since 1922.

Over the years, the surrounding neighborhood has changed and today is decidedly blue collar. People long ago stopped getting off the train to visit the park developed around McKinley's mausoleum. Local blogger Sean Posey unfortunately describes an area that today has to be "heavily policed after dark."

On the Saturday mid-afternoon when I visited Kennedy's Bar-B-Que, a steady flow of customers came for the pork, ham, turkey and beef sandwiches as well as its famous bean soup made with the same recipe passed down from when the place was known as Spiker's.

Jack Kennedy bought the place located at 1420 7th St. NW in 1960 and ran it until his death 49 years later. Ernie Schott, proprietor of another Canton landmark, Taggart's Ice Cream Parlor, bought Kennedy's in September of 2009 and reportedly made no other changes except to expand the lunch hours.

My sampler platter of Kennedy's sliders
“We’re keeping the recipes, the menu, everything the same,” Ernie Schott told the local newspaper, The Repository, after he bought it. “It worked all these years, so why change it?” 

Like the menu, Kennedy's is small and simple. I can imagine that the eight stools at the counter, the three tables and four booths get much more of a workout during the week.

You won't find hamburgers on the menu. All of the pork shoulders, pork butts, turkeys, beef roasts and Sugardale hams (Canton's own) are turned on mechanical spits over a gas fire in an eight-foot-by-15-foot smokehouse next to the restaurant.

No wood logs, wood chips or liquid smoke are used. Flavor comes from the seasoning that comes from smokehouse's usage over many years. It is a different form of pit barbecue.

But that's how Jack Kennedy did it for nearly 50 years.

Michael Walker, the "acting manager," runs the place on Saturdays and still was awed by a visit from Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly and author of " The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue."

Michael Walker holds a photo of Jack Kennedy
Like Vaughn, I ordered several of Kennedy's slider sandwiches, so I could sample all that the place has to offer, and got to inspect the pit (which wasn't in use during my visit).

In addition to the bean soup and cornbread, another recipe that has been passed down over nearly 100 years has been Kennedy's relish.

Stan Myers wrote in the Repository in February 1999, "Jack Kennedy is a graduate of a different school. He doesn't have a hot or mild sauce or a mustard sauce. Jack has relish and it isn't green. It's sort of light and seedy. I haven't really looked at it hard enough to decipher what's in it." 

"Whichever barbecued meat you get in your sandwich at Kennedy's, you must get it topped with cabbage relish," added acclaimed Road Food writer Michael Stern in 2010. "Vaguely similar to the sort of slaw that goes into a pig sandwich in the South, but more pickly than sweet, it is bright and refreshing, an especially good partner for pork … Relish is the only essential condiment."

Inside the pit

I agree that the relish complements Kennedy's moist and very lean meats well. Walker told me that they still use a picture of Jack holding a sandwich to determine portion sizes. He estimates that they use about a half pound of relish on each sandwich. 

The Schotts obviously believe that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

If you must have sauce, Kennedy's has Sweet Baby Ray's sauce and zesty stadium mustard available. 

The rest of the simple menu consists of a grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni salad, homemade cookies and a selection of Troyer's Amish Pies. They serve Pepsi products and malts and shakes.

Go elsewhere if you are looking for ribs. 

"If Ernie would have changed things around from the way it was, it probably would have been bad, and Kennedy's probably would exist today," Walker notes.

Thank goodness.

Location we visited:
Kennedy's Bar-B-Que
1420 Seventh St., N.W.
Canton, Ohio

Kennedy Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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