You smell the sweet smoke the moment you get out of the car, as you see the sign with the missing letters and inexplicable apostrophes: BIGGEST BAR-B-Q PIT IN OUR CITY SMOKED HICKORY-OAK-MAPLE-SWEET APPLE WOOD THATS' WHY THE BAR-B-Q TASTES' SO GOOD ASK NY ONE IN OUR NEI HBORHOOD.
After Kopp's frozen custard, it's the BAR-B-Q from Speed Queen that I like best of all of Milwaukee's local foods. What's so great about it? It's like the sign says. Everyone knows that Speed Queen is the best, the real deal, real barbecue, real smoke, real food, no fancy bullshit.
They have all kinds of meats--ribs, tips, beef, turkey, fish--but the one I always get is pork shoulder, or sometimes a combination of shoulder and "outside," which is the dark, crusty bits from the exterior of the roast. This time I ordered their "pick three" special with two sides, collards and red beans and rice. It also came with a warm, stale corn muffin.
The shoulder is sliced, not pulled, and it falls apart a bit when they serve it. If you order a dinner rather than a pick three, you get the meat on top of two slices of spongey white bread and a side of cole slaw. You can also ask for hot barbecue sauce, which is ridiculous, or half hot and half regular, which is a bit more reasonable. I've tried it every way and I actually don't have a strong preference. Both sauces are sweet, sour, and only a hint tomatoey.
The sides were fine, heavy on the salt. The kid loved the beans, tasted one morsel pork and handed it back to me, and wouldn't touch the greens. He's too little to understand that you don't go to Speed Queen for the vegetables. (Definitely don't get their mac and cheese--it's terrible).
You order through bulletproof glass and stand around waiting for them to call your number. The restaurant has an impeccably clean dining room with orange plastic booths, fake flowers on each table, and a giant poster of a waterfall. But I've rarely seen anyone in there eating or even sitting as they wait. Most people seem to prefer to eat in their cars. They can't wait to get home before digging in.
Speed Queen BBQ
1130 W Walnut St. (south of North)
Milwaukee, WI 53205