Smoke Shack on Milwaukee Street in the Historic Third Ward was buzzing on Day One of Downtown Dining Week. A beautiful spring day brought diners outside to the restaurant’s cozy patio, and the smell of barbecued meats emanated from inside. For a brief window of time, despite being in the middle of the bustling Downtown workweek, it felt like a summer vacation.
The $12.50 Dining Week lunch menu ($20 value) offered three starter/appetizer options: a fried tomato salad, candied bacon and chicken wings. I was ready to order all three before being reminded that this was a “choose one” scenario, so I chose the carmelized Nueske’s bacon, which came with sweet potato fries.
The Shack scored points both for creative presentation of the dish — the three strips of carmelized bacon were laid on the bottom of a small bowl filled the rest of the way with the fries — and for overall taste. While the sweet potato fries could have benefitted from a specialty dip, or perhaps a suggestion from the selection of BBQ sauces, the bacon was near perfect, with the right texture and balance of flavors.
Although this may result in my returning for a second visit, for the entree, I decided against the Brisket Sloppy Joe and went with a classic — the pulled pork. And a classic it was. I used the “house” sauce (if a restaurant has a “house” anything, it’s usually a good idea), which added a sweet, spicy zip to the perfect portion of pork. The bread is always crucial to a pulled pork sandwich, and Smoke Shack’s passed my test; it wasn’t too rigid or crumbly nor was it mushy and falling apart. Overall, a very enjoyable version of an American sandwich institution.
The entree also arrived in record time. My friendly server noted that I’d come at the perfect time — not right at noon when the rush was in full swing, but still within the lunch hour while the kitchen was operating at its full capacity.
Finishing up the meal was a scoop of Purple Door whiskey ice cream, which proved to be a perfect cool compliment to the tangy BBQ sauce from the main course.
Smoke Shack perfectly plays to the types of food I often enjoy, but for whatever reason, I had never been. Luckily, Downtown Dining Week offered the perfect opportunity to right this wrong. And now, I’ll be back.