Jun 8, 2021

A commoner drinks (and dines) at Bibinger’s Bar & Restaurant, Cedar Creek, Wis.

Every time work takes me to Wisconsin for an extended period of time, sooner or later I find the local spot that makes the best version of Wisconsin’s signature cocktail – the Old Fashioned.  In Madison it was, appropriately, the Old Fashioned restaurant downtown.  In Sheboygan it was the cozy Frankie’s Pub & Grill.  In West Bend, though, I had to look a little harder … actually, about 15 minutes south of the city in the unincorporated rural community of Cedar Creek.  There, in a building dating back to 1846, is Bibinger’s Bar & Restaurant.     

At first glance, Cedar Creek is about as unlikely a place to find a successful gastropub in Wisconsin, but it works.  The building which houses Bibinger’s sits near the intersection of two county roads – one runs east-west between the towns of Slinger and Jackson; the other ambles north until reaching West Bend.  It has literally been at the heart of Cedar Creek since the days when it served as not just a restaurant and tavern to those passing through town, but a general store and place to stay as well.  Today’s Bibinger’s combines that old-school tavern vibe with upscale food and craft cocktail menus.

And in Wisconsin, the king of all craft cocktails is the aforementioned Old Fashioned.  Once I saw the drink menu had a full section devoted to this delicious drink, I knew I made the right call to come to Bibinger’s.  And even better, I had lucked into coming on an evening when Old Fashioneds were two for the price of one during happy hour. 

Only in Wisconsin. 

If I recall correctly, the one on the left is your classic standard Wisconsin Old Fashioned, made sweet of course.  On the right is a Maker’s Mark barrel-aged beauty, and it was supremely satisfying as the recipe allowed the bourbon to be the star of the show. 

As you can imagine, with deals like this, Bibinger’s became a place where I made repeated trips while working in West Bend. 

And, as usual, my comfort level was highest sitting at the bar.  It’s lengthy by most standards, loosely shaped like a “W” and runs most of the length of one side of the dining area.  Because of the abundance of bar seating, I rarely had to settle for a table on the dining room floor.    

A closer look behind the bar also gives you an idea of the impressive liquor selection Bibinger’s has on hand.  Bibinger’s has earned its reputation as a go-to gastropub in part by hosting special tasting events focused on higher-end liquors and cocktails made from them.  So, it pays to be well-stocked.  Plus, those elaborate Old Fashioned recipes call for a wide range of ingredients. 

One of my favorites, in fact, became the Ginger Old Fashioned which, naturally, calls for ginger beer and a ginger liqueur to counterbalance the bourbon. 

As much as I enjoyed the cocktails at Bibinger’s, I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t boast about the food as well.  The menu selection seems a little lacking at first, but they make up for it in the variety of dishes they serve.  From their Tex-Mex romaine salad to the jalapeno burger to the buffalo chicken wrap, I never had a subpar meal.  And they emphasize using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.       

My favorite thing on the menu, though, has to be the brick chicken.  Yes, it’s actually pressed by a brick while it cooks in the skillet.  And it works wonderfully.  Crazy juicy chicken on the inside and savory, crispy skin on the outside.  It’s one of their signature dishes for a reason.

Wisconsin seems to have an abundance of impressive food and drink destinations that are off the beaten path, and Bibinger’s is one of the best I’ve found to date.  It’s definitely worth looking for if you’re traveling through the south-central Wisconsin countryside. 

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