July 23rd, 2021
As far as I am concerned, there is really only one place in Milwaukee to go for barbecue. That place would be Speed Queen. Speed Queen has been in business on the north side of town since 1956. It’s current location is on the corner of 12th and Walnut, just west of I-43. The restaurant is easy to miss. It is a rundown building in a rundown neighborhood. The customer base mostly comes from the local Black community. I think there is a sign, but I don’t know where it is. To find Speed Queen, you already need to know where it is. Even then, you could easily drive right past it. I did.
Speed Queen used to have a microscopic dining area. I don’t know why they bothered with that. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone sitting in there. Speed Queen has always been primarily a place to get take out. You order your meal, pay for it, and leave. If you’re an old white guy, you leave quickly.
Speed Queen is peculiar in a number of ways. For instance, they only take cash. They used to have a thick plexiglass window in front of the check out counter. You slid your money under the glass, and they slid your steaming plate of heaven back out to you. Now, since COVID, the restaurant only has a drive thru. It hardly makes any difference. The process is the same.
Speed Queen has an extensive menu. You can get ribs, tips, shoulder, beef slices, chicken, or catfish. They have a variety of side dishes: collards, mixed greens, coleslaw, yams, black eyed peas, etc. You can mix it up.
I generally go for a big pan of ribs. A pan of anything usually costs about $50. That’s a little pricey, but then you get what you pay for. A pan contains a lot of food. Their ribs are excellent. The meat just about falls off the bone, and the sauce has a sharp, tangy flavor that is addictive.
I went to Speed Queen yesterday afternoon, after I visited my friend, Ken, who I know from the synagogue. Speed Queen is kind on my way home from Ken’s house. Ken has never been to Speed Queen, probably because there is absolutely nothing there that would qualify as kosher. Ken prefers to go to a vegan BBQ place that he knows. Vegan BBQ is a strange concept, but I’ve tried it, and it’s really good.
I got to Speed Queen at about 3:30. It wasn’t busy yet. Later in the afternoon, the line of cars in the drive thru is long, very long. I ordered the ribs and slowly moved forward with the other cars. The check out window is like a cylinder. You put your cash into the window, and the window gets turned 180 degrees. A minute later, it gets rotated to its original position, and magically there is a brown paper bag full love covered with BBQ sauce. The aroma from the bag stung my nostrils as I grabbed it. It was hard to leave it closed until I got home.
I gave our son, Stefan, half of the ribs. He picked them up after his shift was done. He truly enjoys Speed Queen food.
We still have a few ribs left in the fridge.
I hear them calling me.