Milwaukee is a long way from Memphis, but there’s no shortage of places for traditional barbecue taste. Whether you spell it barbecue, barbeque, Bar-B-Q, or BBQ, you’ll find slow-smoked meat here in the Beer City. If you are craving a rack of ribs or a pulled pork sandwich, try these excellent barbecue restaurants in Milwaukee, all of which are affordable and casual.
1. Q Real American Food
2258 South Kinnickinnic Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Phone: (414) 481-1211
The Bayview Q is accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15, 11, and 53. For the West Allis Q, use Route 18.
With two locations in the Milwaukee area, the friendly Q Real American Food restaurants are counter-service establishments with simple barbecue menus. Contributing to the growth of the Kinnickinnic-Lincoln intersection in Bayview, the first Q was soon followed by a West Allis location on Greenfield Avenue. Featuring warm and woody interiors and smiling faces, Q is an excellent place for cheap, tasty barbecue in Milwaukee.
Q has half-racks for only $9 and full racks for $17. If you’re looking for boneless fare, try the $7 sandwiches. I especially recommend the pulled pork sandwich with a side of spicy “cheesehead cheesy corn.” You can douse your meat with four delectable sauces: Texas pit sauce (traditional BBQ), Carolina mustard sauce, Quazy hot sauce, and root beer BBQ sauce. Made with root beer from the Milwaukee-area Sprecher brewery, the last of the four is my personal favorite. Try combining it with the Texas pit sauce for a mouth-watering barbecue flavour blend. About the only disappointing food item at Q is the lame little piece of cornbread you’ll get with your meal.
Also, remember that Q is not a traditional sit-down restaurant. You’ll save money by avoiding gratuity, but it’s not the best place for a dinner date. If you end up eating frequently at the Q, though, be sure to join Q Club customer loyalty program.
2. Brew City Bar-B-Q
1114 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Best accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15, 11, and 57, though other downtown bus service is nearby.
Right on Milwaukee’s famous Water Street, you’ll find Brew City Bar-B-Q beckoning from the strip of touristy bars across the way. Serving barbecue and beer since 1991, this restaurant is popular with the lunchtime business crowd, the happy hour crew, and the evening drink-and-dine set.
The spare ribs, cooked with Wisconsin hickory, are highly recommended. Infused with the smoky flavor of the wood, the ribs can then be smothered with hot sauce or sweet BBQ sauce. The beef brisket sandwich is also worth a try if you’re at Brew City for lunch. Prices are a little high relative to the portions, but the barbecue quality is very high. Although the menu extends somewhat beyond just the barbecue options, you’re advised to stick with their specialty. For a hearty dinner, order one of the Brew City combos, like the brisket and ribs for $19.
Although I prefer Q Real American Food for their excellent sauces, Brew City is has the distinct advantage of being a desirable place to spend a few hours’ time. The service is generally attentive and fun because they’re used to handling an animated, lively customer base. There is never a rush to leave because you can drink and dine in whatever order you like.
3. Speed Queen
1130 W. Walnut Street
Milwaukee, WI 53205
Accessible from MCTS Bus Route 57.
Because it shares its name with a popular laundry machine, the sign for Speed Queen might make you think you’ve just passed a laundromat when in fact you’ve passed a Milwaukee barbecue take-out tradition. Winning awards for its slow-cooked meats, Speed Queen has been around for years and has flourished by word of mouth.
Just northwest of downtown, the immediate neighborhood around Speed Queen is not a restaurant haven, but don’t let that stop you from scarfing some well-spiced pork shoulder or ribs. From turkey and chicken to pork and beef, there’s nothing that can’t be slathered in their BBQ sauces, hot or sweet.
Using a variety of woods for their slow-burning barbecue, Speed Queen is the ultimate in authentic. You’ll think you are in Memphis or Kansas City when you smell the toasty wood aromas in the place. Although you can eat there in an austere setting, take-out is how Speed Queen does most of its business.
Speed Queen is especially popular with Milwaukee’s African American community and is accordingly something of a landmark in its traditionally black neighborhood.