All the flavor, none of the glam: Speed Queen dubbed barbecue royalty


Speed Queen Bar-B-Q satisfies the blues for finger-licking flavors in the dead of Wisconsin winter.

Located at 1130 W. Walnut St. in Milwaukee, Speed Queen first opened in the summer of 1956 and has been serving its trademarked secret sauces to barbecue lovers ever since.

The restaurant is easily accessible from the East Side of the city, as it is mere seconds away by car from Milwaukee’s bustling downtown.

Speed Queen Outside Meat cob

This pork dinner features “outside meat,” a specialty cut of meat on the outer part of the pork shoulder.

Although there is seating available inside, Speed Queen lends itself to carry-out as it does not have a hired wait staff. Instead it offers a drive-thru and fast carry-out services. This prompted me to call mid-afternoon to place an order for pick-up.

I was given a 30-minute wait time for my order of pork shoulder, the “outside” meat, a five-piece chicken meal and mac & cheese. Each order of pork comes with a side of coleslaw, while the chicken comes on a bed of fries.

Be sure to bring cash when visiting Speed Queen as the restaurant does not accept any form of plastic.

I came to understand why many opt for take-out soon after I arrived to Speed Queen.

The entrance is used as a crowded waiting area for the bus. This did not bother me. My discomfort stemmed from the fact that there were what appeared to be several homeless men lying in the Creamsicle-colored plastic booths that are intended for customer dining. It was clear to me that the employees were aware of the loitering, but in the 10 minutes I was there, no effort was made by staff to turn any of the loiterers away.

Despite the outdated interior, which was pocked with candy dispensers and uncomfortable-looking booths, I came to appreciate that Speed Queen makes minimal effort at presentation. I enjoyed seeing the plaques of recognition for its food, which hang on the wall just behind the cashiers and the ever-returning clientele who do not need the security of white linen napkins and sterling silverware to know what a good meal truly is.

Here’s my ranking of the food:

1. The pork shoulder was the best item I took home. The sauce enfolded the pork in an incredibly smoky, powerfully sweet flavor, which seemed to melt the meat into my mouth with each bite.

2. Two sides held my heart for second place: the mac & cheese and fries. The mac & cheese had a perfectly smooth, cheesy texture that spoke to my stomach as good home cooking, while the fries, which are complimentary with the chicken meal, were not too crunchy and not too soft, although they could have used more salt. However, I am a salt queen. So take that with a grain of salt.

3. The outside meat and chicken meal are tied for third. The outside meat sounds unappealing by the title, though packs enough juice and flavor for any avid carnivore. The only downside was its chewiness, so much so it reminded me of eating beef jerky. As for the five-piece chicken meal, there was hardly any meat on the wings. The chicken meal will not be on
my next order.

4. Though complimentary with every dish, the coleslaw was a letdown. With an inch of liquid sitting at the base of every container, I could not force myself  have more than a few bites. The liquid/solid ratio was way off, even for coleslaw. It had to be tossed out.

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