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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012

Smoke Shack's Inviting Wood-Smoked Barbecue

Owners of Swig, Water Buffalo expand Third Ward offerings

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The Smoke Shack opened in the Third Ward at a good time, as Milwaukee's dining scene could use an infusion of wood-smoked barbecue. And this is the real deal: The aroma of smoked meat emanating from the kitchen is immediately inviting.

Owners Joe and Angie Sorge, whose other restaurants include Swig, Water Buffalo and AJ Bombers, turned to Flux Design to create a countrified look for an interior that seats 50. The décor brings a hint of Appalachia to the urbane Third Ward, with lots of barn board and tables made from two-by-fours. The seating capacity will double when warm weather arrives, thanks to an outdoor deck with picnic tables. In the meantime, join the crowd inside and be prepared to wait for a table or a seat at the bar.

Much attention is paid to the meats at the Smoke Shack. They purchase whole hogs and chickens, free of antibiotics and hormones. For that reason, pork ribs are not always available. But there is plenty of pulled pork.

For a starter, try a plate of brisket sloppy joe sliders ($8.50). The good-sized beef is flavored with onion, green pepper and mild Texas barbecue sauce. The candied bacon ($7.25) sounds like something you would find at State Fair. Try it—you'll enjoy caramelized strips of Nueske's bacon served with a heap of sweet potato fries.

When it comes to the main course, try one of the platters. Among the options are half a chicken ($14), pulled pork ($14.50), beef brisket ($18) and baby back ribs ($17-$29). All include cornbread and a side dish.

There are four sauces to choose from for the meats (you decide how much, if any, sauce you want). The Texas sauce is tangy and mild, the House sauce is sweet and mild, the Kansas City sauce has a smoky flavor, and the Carolina Gold sauce has a mustard base. Carolina Gold is made for the pulled pork, the Texas suits the tender brisket, and the Kansas City is a fine match for the chicken. Be sure to sample them all.

The baby back ribs, however, really do not need any sauce. Instead, savor the flavor of the wood smoke.

The Smoke Shack also offers a nice selection of side dishes. The four-cheese mac and cheese is solid, and greens always taste good with a bit of smoked meat. Momma's coleslaw is a simple concoction of red cabbage and a hint of vinegar. You definitely will want to try the fine sweet potato fries, an option included with all of the sandwiches.

Also consider the roasted poblano corn chowder ($3.50-$5.50), a mildly spiced chile pepper soup that includes potato. It may be more Tex-Mex than barbecue, but it is quite good. The frying of Roma tomato slices intensifies the flavor of the fried tomato salad ($7.25), with its mixture of greens, tomatoes and bold chipotle pepper dressing.

Vegetarians are not left out of the picture. A roasted portobello sandwich stuffed with fontina cheese is one option, and the barbecue seitan sandwich qualifies as vegan.

Desserts ($3.50-$8.25) offer a Southern theme, including whiskey-flavored ice cream and a big piece of pecan pie—enough to share.

The Smoke Shack is a hive of activity. There is a good supply of servers and the kitchen works at an efficient pace. Even if you don't get a table, it is still fun to sit at the bar. Some items might not be available for a late dinner, but stay flexible and you will enjoy what the Smoke Shack has to offer.

Smoke Shack

332 N. Milwaukee St.

(414) 431-1119

$$-$$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, AX

Handicap Accessible

smoke-shack.com