Just because Milwaukee isn’t as big of a name in barbecue as Kansas City or St. Louis doesn’t mean the city lacks in good barbecue spots. Mention a place like Pitch’s in a calm discussion, and soon fans of Speed Queen or Pat’s Rib Place will arrive to plead their case. The A.V. Club wandered into Smoke Shack, the Third Ward’s newest restaurant, to see if another worthy contender has been born.
The space: The bunkhouse-style building seems a little out of place in the Third Ward. The outside seating, while spacious, looked sad on the cold January evening of our visit. The inside of the restaurant has a slightly Southern-meets-trendy feel, though the place still has the kind of rollicking blues soundtrack that seems to be required by law in order to smoke meats. Seating is a cozy mixture of booths and long, family-style tables.
The service: Attentive and knowledgeable. Our server was not only able to answer questions about the menu, but he also suggested which of the quartet of sauces worked best with each meat. This was the restaurant’s first day open to the public, so the staff was on the ball.
The A.V. Club’s food: The meal opened with pulled-beef brisket sliders and fries. This brisket was different than the one served in the entree, mixed more like a sloppy Joe. The sweet potato fries were tasty on their own, but also served as an excellent way to sample sauces for the main dish. The best way to sample the main three dishes is the combo plate. The big three at the Smoke Shack are beef brisket, pulled pork, and spicy andouille-style sausage. The brisket is unique, prepared in long strips that work best with the spicy Texas sauce.
The top honors are a dead heat between the pulled pork and the spicy sausage. The pulled pork is a delicious jack-of-all-trades with all the sauces, but the spice of the sausage with the sweet of the house sauce is a match made in messy-finger heaven. The only disappointing part of the meal was the dessert. The bacon brownie should have had more bacon or been all brownie.
The verdict: The Smoke Shack is a tasty way to ruin your favorite work shirt.