Amid a sea of fast food chain restaurants and a few longstanding venues like Weissgerber's Gasthaus, in a shopping strip at 2177 Silvernail Rd. in Pewaukee, stands Great Northern BBQ Co.
Great Northern looks almost identical to Scott McGlinchey's former Q restaurants in Bay View and West Allis, and not so surprisingly, since Great Northern's proprietor, Mike Killey is a friend and fellow barbecue enthusiast of McGlinchey's. The food here, too, mimics the former Q franchise attempt; perhaps Pewaukee is a better location for this concept, although the restaurants wasn't busy on either of our two weekday visits.
The Great Northern BBQ Co. experience begins with ordering at the counter. Diners can expect variations on pork, beef and chicken scattered everywhere, except among the desserts, on the one-sided, conducive-to-carry-out menu. Vegetarians, be aware. Your only options here are a garden salad, a few of the side dishes and dessert.
Beverages include soda, beer and wine, although on our dine-in visit, the staff didn't know what wine the restaurant carried, so it must not be ordered frequently.
Food at Great Northern was all over the board. Chili with cheese and onion ($4.50) was served in a small bowl overloaded with cheese and onions to the point that inserting a spoon sent the toppings scattered all over the plastic tray and the table. The chili was made with shredded beef, but had very little broth and was more like eating a dry flavorful pot roast in a slight amount of tomato base.
Beef brisket (1/2-lb. dinner $9) was delightfully tender and had been well-trimmed of its fat, but none of the sauces offered on the tables (Texas Pit, Fire in the Hole, Root Beer BBQ-made with Sprecher root beer) did justice to the smoky flavor of the brisket, which although beckoning for some sauce, fared much better on its own.
A half rack of ribs ($9) was smoky in flavor and had been authentically dry rubbed, but the meat was tough and stuck to the bone. Adding the Texas Pit sauce, which ranked the best of the choices for my palate, made the flavors more engaging, but the toughness of the meat was unfortunate.
In a combo platter with two meats ($10.50) to go, I chose two pieces of fried chicken paired with fried shrimp. The fried chicken was some of the best I have had, with a lovely smoky flavor that coupled the tastes and tenderness of broasted chicken with the crunchy sweet coating of good fried chicken. The fried shrimp were of the pre-breaded variety, but were well cooked and tasted good. However, either through our own fault in not seeing a to-go condiment station or through our bagger overlooking it, we received no napkins, condiments, or forks with our to-go meal.
Sides at Great Northern include French fries, potato salad, cole slaw, cheesy corn, cowboy beans, and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy. Every meal at Great Northern comes with two sides and cornbread, and of these, the best were the cowboy beans, which were thick with tender shredded pork in a spicy brown glaze. French fries arrived crisp and well seasoned, and the cole slaw was also crisp and enjoyable.
Wednesday nights at Great Northern BBQ Co. feature live music, and Thursday nights offer all-you-can-eat chicken from 4 p.m. (dine in only).
While Great Northern floundered in some areas on our visits, it seems to fill the gap in this part of Pewaukee between fast food and fine dining. If it can iron out some inconsistencies in its offerings, Great Northern could very well become a great destination for authentic barbecue in the Milwaukee area. Until then, I would seriously consider it for some carry-out chicken the next time I'm in the area.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.