The former Quick Wok at 4125 S. Howell Ave. is undergoing a steady transformation. The exterior has been painted gray with yellow accents. And a brand new sign is waiting to be hung on the front of the building. It's all in preparation to become the new home for Iron Grate BBQ Co.
Iron Grate, a long-awaited passion project for Chef Aaron Patin, has been serving up its deliciously wood-smoked fare since January 2016 at its current location inside Hawthorne Coffee, 4177 S. Howell Ave., just two doors down from the new digs. But Patin’s final service at the coffee shop/restaurant will take place on Sunday, July 2 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If all goes well, Patin says, he’ll be up and running at the new location sometime during the week of July 12. Once open, Iron Grate will be open five days a week: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Grate new digs
In addition to expanded hours, Patin says, the new location will also allow Iron Grate to bolster its current menu offerings as well as providing diners with more of a full-service experience.
Due to the unique layout of the restaurant – which originally housed a Boy Blue ice cream stand – Iron Grate will offer counter-service only. However, thanks to an addition added in 2006, the building features a dedicated dining area in which customers can enjoy their meals.
The space will sport rustic plaster walls and a dropped grate ceiling. There will be bar-style, communal and bench seating for 36 at tables designed by local carpenters Joe Wagner and Jacob Faber from a tree felled on the Illinois farm where Roger Marcotte built Patin’s collection of smokers, including Edna.
The kitchen will be largely visible from the ordering counter, giving the restaurant a similar feel to classic Southern cafeteria-style establishments. Menus will hang from grates above the counter, and diners will be able to get a bird’s eye view of the smoked meats and sides being prepared.
Meanwhile, an outdoor patio adjacent to the restaurant will seat an additional 40 diners. Unlike the interior dining room, the patio will feature table-side service. Orders will be taken by waitstaff, relayed to the kitchen and retrieved from an expo-window along the side of the restaurant.
In addition to Iron Grate’s brisket, pulled pork, hot links and Milwaukee ribs, Patin says he’ll be expanding the menu to include smoked chicken quarters. Patin says he’s also transitioned to using meats exclusively sourced from Kettle Range Meats in Wauwatosa.
"I’m bringing in three whole hogs a week on our current schedule," he says, noting that he’ll likely require more as hours expand in the new location. "And it’s great to know all the hogs are heritage breeds coming from Wisconsin farms."
The sides menu, which currently includes smoked tomato macaroni and cheese, stone ground grits, creamy coleslaw, baked beans, smothered greens, corn bread muffins and other seasonal sides, will also see some additions. New appetizers will include Milwaukee riblets (essentially spare ribs cut into thirds), which can be purchased by the pound, hush puppies served with honey butter, and the increasingly popular hickory butter barbequed shrimp, which Patin introduced during the Lenten season to rave reviews.
There will also be a casserole-style dish Patin calls "Links & Curds" which will feature sliced hot links simmered in Southside Drizzle barbecue sauce gilded with baked cheese curds and pickled onions.
The dish, Patin says, was inspired in part by the baked cheese curds served at Merriment Social. However, it also incorporates his love for the classic party dish, barbecued cocktail wieners.
Beer, slushies and hot ham
Iron Grate has also applied for full liquor licensure, which means that by the end of July or early August the restaurant will be able to offer customers a full selection of beverages, including current non-alcoholic agua frescas, spiked agua fresca, four tap beers (with more in bottles or cans), a moderate selection of spirits, and – thanks to a slushie maker that came with the property – alcoholic slushies, the flavors of which are still to be determined.
Oh, and remember that expo-window I mentioned on the side of the restaurant? Well, it will also have one additional purpose. Patin says that, within the first few weeks of opening, he’ll be adding special hours from 8 to 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings to accommodate the sale of one of Milwaukee’s favorite weekend indulgences: hot ham and rolls.
And that’s not all. Beginning this fall, Patin says he’ll be launching a collaborative dinner series at the new location. Called Grate to Plate, the series will focus on internationally inspired barbecue, and will offer Patin a chance to branch out into additional areas, including spit-roasting meats on his newly acquired asado crosses.
Watch OnMilwaukee for updates on Iron Grate’s opening in the coming weeks.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.