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The Smoky, Tantalizing Smell of Slow-Cooked Meat

Great barbecue at Downtown Milwaukee Smoke Shack

Nov. 1, 2016
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Smoke Shack offers appetizers on their menu—some really tasty ones, as you’ll see below—but they don’t really need to. Simply walking in to the small, rustically designed restaurant and breathing in deeply, catching the smoky, oaky smell of slow-cooked meats, is enough to make one’s mouth water in anticipation. 

In terms of those appetizers, their fried green tomatoes ($7.50) have an intensely bright, citrusy taste due to the one-two punch of lemon zest and cilantro, but it’s grounded by the earthy flavor of the tomatoes. The breading is dense but neither soggy nor greasy, creating an appetizer that is at once compact and heavy while not being overly filling. The chipotle aioli with which the tomatoes are served comes in handy as a nice dip for French fries, too. If their burnt ends ($13.50) are available, don’t hesitate to order them—they have a consistency similar to burnt marshmallows—crunchy on the outside and the right kind of mushy on the inside.

In terms of entrees, you’re going to be faced with a classic barbecue challenge: Do you want to get a sandwich or a big pile of meat and a side? As a native Kansas Citian, I’m partial to barbecue sandwiches, but I was intrigued by Smoke Shack’s two-meat combo platter ($16.50). From the options of 1/3 pound of pulled Amish chicken (wet rubbed with rosemary), a 1/4 pound house-made sausage link, 1/3 pound of pulled pork (smoked for 13 hours!), or 1/4 pound of tri-tip sirloin, I chose the pork and the sirloin. 

So much of great barbecue is about texture, and both the pulled pork and the sirloin had it in spades. The pulled pork had a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth softness and a yielding quality that is exactly what you’d expect from meat that spent over half a day in a smoker. There’s a garlicky quality to it as well. The sirloin, contrastingly, had a hugely oaky quality and was a bit firmer. Both played off of one another well. From the lengthy list of sides—nearly a dozen—I chose their mac and cheese, but found it to be a bit bland without the addition of a forkful of pork and some of their house barbecue sauce.

That’s right—like any good barbecue spot, Smoke Shack offers a variety of varying house-made sauces. I preferred their Texas barbecue, which had a juicy tomato flavor upfront that faded into a nice medium spicy kick, but others will be drawn to their Kansas City sauce, which is smoky, or their Carolina Gold, which is more on the acidic, mustardy end. I was underwhelmed by their House barbecue sauce, which tries to be a bit of everything and winds up generic, but thoroughly enjoyed their Kick-24 Habanero for a bit extra spice.

Smoke Shack

332 N. Milwaukee St.


FB, SB, CC, GF, handicap accessible



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