An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

South East Asian in Silver City, Thai BBQ

Circling back to National Avenue from 34th and Scott, I nestle my wheels against the curb under a shade tree. I like spicy food, my hands don’t like hot steering wheels. The city bustles on 35th and National like the pulse of a hyper-tensed vein. People activity registers high in Silver City, as gnarled wills eek out gritty and working-class livelihoods.

Too hot to stay indoors, the neighbors gather on door steps outside of the Asian International Market and speak in an Asian dialect I do not understand, most likely Hmong. Walking up the block to Thai BBQ, passing windows full of American immigrant authenticity, I make a snap unwarranted judgment that I am going to love this Thai dining experience. Reaching the eatery, I ascend the stairs inside to see adorned, with spices, tables creating islands of various sizes for diner’s to escape McWorld.

A tremendous number of religious themes, possibly more so than Cafe Corazon, emblazon Thai BBQ’s interior. Gold painted molding breaks up the deep red trim glazing the walls. Figures of Ganesha and Vishnu accompanied by ornate lanterns and fixtures keep the eyes looking around for more. Departure from the sacred happens in blank wall space, filled with pictures of staged menu items on plates advertising the most popular and rare entrée. Like all good Thai restaurants, you will not lack choices, 101 dishes fill the menu. Amazingly each meal is a little different.

After being seated a middle age gentleman approaches the table, our server. He utters English in a thick accent and perfect grammar of his native language. He has a wry smile that is not completely showing, and issues banter implicitly asking if we would like more time with the menu. Feeling at home as a Thai food veteran, I truly can’t decide what to select. The menu consists of the standard fare: fried rice, rice noodles, fried rice noodles, papaya salads and curries of all varieties. Shrimp, tilapia and duck appear alongside chicken, et al, as the meat choice for each.

My dining buddy selects the Ginger Curry, and I am plain addicted to fat rice noodle with basil, commonly know as Drunken Noodle. Then the inevitable question arises, “How spicy for you?” I want 4 out of 5, and the server looks at me imagining the face of the last 11 Americans to say that. No testament to the quality or flavor of the meal, I would eventually put the self-serve table chili sauces to use.

A tepid but savory soy milk drink and rice wrap spring rolls fried to perfection satiate my wait. A flat screen television beams recorded Thai pop music videos that have already made the dining experience well worth it. The server moves to the background near the fruit smoothy station, in front of kitchen entrance, pins a cordless phone between his shoulder and ear to chat while counting receipts on a Saturday afternoon. Suddenly a scene flashes in my head that I am on location for a Jean Claude Van Damme action sequence for a straight to DVD flick.

The food arrives and I quickly snap back to reality. Steaming hot spices, singe the combination of meats, vegetables and noodles placed before me, copiously filling quaint china ware accompanied by customary communal sticky rice. It’s 90 degrees outside and the air conditioning maintains a relatively cool climate in the mid-70’s. These conditions only encourage my appetite for chilies.

As expected Drunken Noodle takes my mouth to a familiar place, that of wanting seconds. Having asked for a sample of my friend’s Ginger Curry, my sentiments quickly erased all memory of Drunken Noodle and embraced fully that Thai BBQ’s curry recipe easily could take the title of the best I have ever tasted. Keeping custom with all great Thai restaurants, the unfinished portions whisked away return stuffed inside durable Asian style paper take-out boxes.

Not for everyone, Local Trolley recommends Thai BBQ only to the most experienced and hardcore Thai food lovers. I’m from the camp that expects certain things from Thai food restaurants and it’s not plastic trays that look like they came from the Froedtert medical complex, with dainty helpings of pasta and red curry powder from Sysco sprinkled on it, and no rice!. I suspect the Silver City neighborhood alone will keep unappreciative diners away. A superb value Thai BBQ courses range from $8-$12.

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