In late June, we reported that Iron Grate BBQ Co would be moving into its own digs. Well, beginning yesterday at 11 a.m., the doors of the restaurant were officially open at 4125 S. Howell Ave.
And, even on its inaugural day, business was steady. Owner and chef Aaron Patin says he estimates Iron Grate did nearly 200 covers over the lunch hour, before settling into a pleasant afternoon lull.
That's great news for the barbecue restaurant, which had been serving its menu of smoked meats and sides since January of 2016 at Hawthorne Coffee, 4177 S. Howell Ave.
After all, the new location opens up all sorts of possibilities for the popular barbecue business.
"It’s kind of surreal to realize that, at this point, there are no rules," notes Patin. "We’re setting our own pace, our own schedule. And there are infinite opportunities for the business now. The real challenge is that we need to push ourselves, set the bar and really make our mark."
Patin has big plans for the new location, including new offerings like spit-roasted meats prepared on asado crosses and hosting special events and collaborations, like a new Grate to Plate dinner series focusing on internationally inspired barbecue.
"Our goal in wanting to be called ‘the best’ is to be able to do things that people don’t do," he says. "And that’s everything from the asado to feeding hundreds of people efficiently with our catering operations. It’s a big job, but it’s also a great opportunity."
The new restaurant is small, but efficient. An ordering counter offers customers a view into the kitchen, where meats and sides are being prepared after smoking.
Menu items are visible on wooden boards mounted on a metal grate above the counter. There's also shelving, which displays Iron Grate tees, as well as barbecue sauce and rubs for sale.
Once ordered, customers have the option of eating their food in the restaurant’s dining area, which seats about 30 at both high and low-top wooden tables. Decor features earth-toned walls and curtains along with exposed light bulbs mounted from industrial conduit and the walls and hanging free-form from a dropped grate ceiling.
There’s also a patio, featuring picnic table seating, complete with condiments like rubs, barbecue and hot sauces, and plenty of wet-naps for sticky barbecue-covered fingers.
A grate new menu
Iron Grate’s new location has also allowed for expansion of their menu, which includes combination platters: one meat and three sides for $17, two meats and three sides for $25, and three meats and three sides for $32.
Smoked meats and sides can also be purchased separately. Among the options there’s brisket ($17/pound), Milwaukee ribs ($13/pound), pulled pork ($13), hot links ($13/pound) and new-to-the-menu chicken leg quarters, which offer tender, well-seasoned meat and a hint of smoke ($13/pound). All meats are sourced exclusively from Wauwatosa's Kettle Range Meats, the old school butcher shop specializing in sustainably raised meats and heirloom hogs.
Sides ($5 per pint or $9 per quart) include smoked tomato macaroni and cheese, stone ground grits, creamy coleslaw, baked beans, smothered greens and corn bread muffins. Additional seasonal sides are likely to be added in the fall.
Pictured is the three meat and three sides combo with brisket, pulled pork and chicken quarters, greens, macaroni and cheese, and beans. It’s augmented with one pound of riblets (made from spare ribs).
Those riblets are $13 a pound and are just one of the new items on the appetizer menu, which also includes the increasingly popular hickory butter barbequed shrimp ($18/pound), which Patin introduced during the Lenten season to rave reviews.
Hush puppies ($7) are ultra crisp with a tender interior. Their flavor is a bit sweet, making them reminiscent of a cornbread doughnut.
There’s also a casserole-style dish called "Links & Curds" ($10) which features sliced hot links, SA Braai chutney, baked cheese curds and pickled onions. It’s sweet, sour, spicy and cheesy – vaguely reminiscent of the classic cocktail wieners appetizer, but on a larger, cheesier scale.
In the drinks department, Iron Grate currently offers housemade fruit punches and flavored iced tea. However, in the weeks ahead, once it receives approval for its liquor license, there will also be beer and a moderate selection of spirits, which will allow for spiked punch and agua frescas, along with alcoholic slushies.
Iron Grate is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Hours may see an extension in the next month or so, once the restaurant’s liquor license is secured.
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.