If you aren't a Canton native it looks like an old building waiting for someone to give it new life, but if you are a Hall of Fame city resident, it is a hidden treasure.
I'm talking about Kennedy's BBQ at 1420 7th Street NW. You will find it just to the east of the William McKinley Monument, right across the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tracks. Upon your initial glance the thought to keep moving on and find a better establishment may arise, but trust me when I say this...BIG MISTAKE.
Kennedy's, a family run Canton staple since 1922, kept me in the dark for the better part of three years. I passed it a thousand times and it never looked open. Then suddenly, a little over a year ago, I was wasting time in Monument and Stadium Park when I noticed several cars in the lot next to it. Its not flashy, doesn't grab your attention and (in all honesty) is not easy on the eyes.
Curious to see what the deal was I parked my dented Honda Accord and decided it was time to shed some light on this mystery. Ladies and gentleman I walked into heaven! You step in to a couple of booths on the right, two or three tables in the middle and an old-fashioned lunch counter on the left. That's it, nothing more. It could give someone with claustrophobia a run for their money. Rubbing elbows with others is literally what you do.
Kennedy's serves smoked ham, pork, beef & turkey that is prepared in their own smokehouse -- which is attached to the small restaurant! The sandwiches go for about $3.75, but they are stuffed to the gills with whatever meat you choose. One would be more than enough for a normal person, which means I tend to force down two before my stomach starts begging for mercy.
You can have these plain or with BBQ sauce, or this spicey-tangy-sinus clearing relish. You are asked if you would like relish on it at the time you order. If you are so inclined, they will slather it on your mountain of smoked goodness. It is hard to tell exactly what the relish consists of but if you are a no-holds barred foodie...you'll love it. If you are not an all out foodie, you should just ask for it on the side. You can also buy this in bulk and makes a great weapon in the arsenal of those who enjoy entertaining at home on a regular basis. (Shhh..your secret is safe with me!)
Aside from the sandwiches, Kennedy's offers their Delicacies in bulk. The meat comes chipped or sliced and ranges from $6.50 a pound to $7.00. I can't tell you how cool it is to find a small, neighborhood eatery that smokes and prepares their own BBQ just feet away from where you actually order it. Family owned and run business are the best I tell you.
Along with the sandwiches, the BBQ is also used as the main ingredient in a couple of soups that can melt any nasty NE Ohio fall and/or winters day away. The bean soup has a smokey flavor provided by the big slivers of the ham that swim along side flavorful beans in a savory broth. Very simple ingrediants, but with superior taste. Adding a sandwich to this at lunch will make you forget the doldrums of working for living.
The chili is just as tastefully prepared as the bean soup. Thick, chunky and just spicey enough to wake you from that mid-afternoon slumber. Feel like taking it home to for the family? You got it! The soups come in the 1/2 pint, pint and quart varieties at $2.50, $5.00 and $10.00.
If you just want to cool off with a malt or shake an old-time malt mixer will make sure you are not disappointed. Also, the Amish made pies sit within eyesight and mock you as you attempt to finish lunch. Don't stare or you will be hooked!
Looking for that holiday party surprise? Kennedy's has you covered. You have to order in advance since they smoke it for you (on the premises...awesome!!). The traditional holiday hams are cooked in their "pit". You have the option of selecting a semi-boneless ham (14-20 lbs), boneless tavern whole ham (14-20 lbs), 1/2 boneless tavern ham (7-10 lbs), whole spiral sliced ham (14-20 lbs) and 1/2 spiral ham (7-10 lbs).
I ordered a 14 lb semi boneless for a party last Christmas and I was more than impressed. Even more impressed were the guests my girlfriend and I were hosting. The best part? Plenty of left overs for whatever your heart desires. Christine made a ridiculously good spicey bean soup with our remnants. The ham was even better the second time around.
You may notice I keep referring to "lunch" at Kennedy's. Well, that's about all you are going to get when you arrive and you have to be there at just the right time. Why? Because they are open Monday through Friday...for just 3 1/2 hours at a time! From 10:30am to 2:00pm.
In the 17 1/2 hours a week they are open they, apparently, make enough profit to stay in business (and have done so for the past 86 years) and they have a laundry list of regulars. A friendly staff who seems to recognize you, no matter how many times you have been there, helps with it's mystique. I could kick myself for not getting to know Kennedy's when I first moved to Canton from central Ohio in 2004. At least I made my way there before moving to Akron last December, but that's just one more reason to travel to Canton every so often.
The establishment's walls are littered with newspaper articles from over the years featuring the eatery. The articles, my friend, don't do it justice. It is a piece of americana hidden deep in the heart of Canton.
Meat and BBQ lovers...no need to thank me. Thank the wonderful world of simplicity.