A few years ago, Iron Grate chef and owner Aaron Patin got an idea. Sustainable, Milwaukee-style barbecue that uses the whole hog. This led to the Milwaukee rib — now a must-order — with smoky rib meat and fatty bits of pork belly harmonizing together into one super rib. But we’ll get to that.
The newer restaurant is an upgrade from chef Patin’s former spot, which he shared with Hawthorne Coffee Roasters. This place is all his, and includes both an inside and outside eating area; in the latter, you can see the various smokers Iron Grate uses for its fire-smoked meats, all of which are smoked for at least 12 hours.
We went with a three-meat-and-three combo with brisket, pulled pork, and the Milwaukee rib. A refresher: The Milwaukee rib is a special cut of spare rib with pork belly attached. The result is a succulent, fatty rib experience, with slightly crunchy ends that melt in your mouth. They barely need any of the house-made BBQ sauce, which is based on cider vinegar aged in bourbon barrels from Great Lake Distillery. It’s got a kick but is thin enough to let the smoked meat shine through.
In addition to the sauce, Iron Grate also has two salts on each table — Pony Boy Spice and Grandpa’s Spice — both of which are delicious, if unnecessary. I am an avid salt user, lover, and addict, so I was in heaven.
The pulled pork and brisket are good, with burnt brisket ends outshining the pork. We also got the smoked Roma tomato mac and cheese, which was runny with a creamy Wisconsin cheese-based sauce; smoky baked beans with eight ball-sized chunks of bacon; and crumbly cornbread with honey butter. Tucked on the side were two bite-sized, crunchy, sweet, and savory dill pickles that I could have used much more of.
We also got the hickory butter BBQ shrimp, which was served in a pool of rich, garlic-tomato sauce that we dipped our Texas toast into. The head-on shrimp was succulent and amply portioned, but I would stick with the barbecue when you order. There’s just so much flavor there, you don’t need anything else.
The bill might seem a tad on the pricey side, but the portions are more than enough, and you’ll likely leave with a few silver boxes of leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. Or, you know, a midnight snack.