A friend of mine recently went into Proustian raptures, recalling an odiferous incident at the Memphis airport. Wherever she walked in her terminal, she was distracted by the smell of smoked meat – the barbecue for which this southern city is known. It’s a shame the scents inside Mitchell International Airport don’t send layovered travelers to a level of ecstasy. It would make dealing with a canceled flight so much easier.
|Photo by Chris Kessler
Barbecue is a funny thing. It’s not a cooking style that’s in our Milwaukee blood, the same way sausage, fish fries and steak course through our veins. But there are local places doing it. Take Lo-Cash Live, for example, a Walker’s Point bar that balances ribs and acoustic guitars (look for the “Pig Open” sign on the facade) in a space that has changed hands over and again. (The previous occupant was The Dubliner.)
Lo-Cash, a term that connotes affordability and unpretentiousness, is a generalist when it comes to its ’cue. No North Carolina-, Memphis- or Texas-specific styles here. The pork ribs, brisket, and pulled chicken and pork come with one of three sauces – more on those in a moment. The baked beans are a little different than you might be accustomed to – sweet apples and ground pork cooked into the vat of thick, creamy pinto beans. And the slaw, which used to boast a vinegar base, has morphed to a creamy cabbage toss.
It’s a more abbreviated menu than when it opened in the summer of 2011. “I’d rather do 10 things great than 20 things good,” says Greg Zimmerman, who heads up the kitchen. But making a menu resonate is tricky, and I can’t help but wish that some retired items (corn on the cob, fried okra) would come back.
The menu has a mixed-bag quality, teeter-tottering in one direction or another depending on the plate. Although barbecue is the mantle, Lo-Cash has a burger that will keep your mouth busy and your hands racing for a napkin. Zimmerman uses “nice, fatty chuck” for his patties, which about guarantees a juicy burger that dashes any hopes of the bottom bun surviving. A way to build on the attraction of this patty is to order it topped with crisp jalapeno-cured bacon, bourbon mushrooms and Monterey Jack cheese ($8.95). Riding side-saddle are fried tater tots (which come with almost everything – sandwich, burger or barbecue plate) or, the better option – soft, crisp sweet potato fries.
Lo-Cash also maintains a low-key interior – bar-height tables, a small music stage and a protracted bar – and it doesn’t have a smoker. Every couple of days or so, it gets shipments of brisket, pork ribs and pulled meats. The sauces can come slathered on the meat or in containers so you can apply them yourself. The best is the vinegary Carolina Gold mustard (but avoid eating it with the deep-fried pickle spears, which are tangy enough on their own, $4.95). It marries well with the fatty (and a tad skimpy) brisket ($11.95), while the thick, sweet house sauce makes its best impression with pulled meat – the chunky, moist pork is preferable to the dryish, somewhat flavorless chicken ($10.95). The third sauce, the “spicy” BBQ, has little to no kick and a flat, unappealing aftertaste.
Who can refrain from ooh-ing when a trio of mini “sliders” lands under your chin? The hooha is because each is different – two- or three-bite buns filled with brisket, pulled chicken and pulled pork. We order them sauceless to allow for table experimentation.
During one visit, the conversation turns to past barbecue experiences, like that of the Memphis airport. There’s a wistful scent in the air, and I can’t keep my eyes from a framed poster of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. Lo-Cash definitely makes good on its low-key name, but I can’t help but yearn for something more … Mo-Cash?