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Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011

The Binkery Mixes New and Old in West Bend

Casual fine dining in a Wisconsin farmhouse

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As the Binkery demonstrates, appearances can be deceiving. The West Bend establishment appears to be another well-preserved, early-20th-century Wisconsin farmhouse turned into a cozy eatery—nothing out of the ordinary about that nowadays. But an eclectic menu of casual fine dining sets apart the restaurant with the cutesy moniker (so named for a former owner, Bink Steinbach). And it's removed from the pack in quite a good way.

The house containing the Binkery has been moved a couple of times since its construction in the early 1900s to its current locale near downtown West Bend. An enclosed porch, added to the original edifice some years ago, makes for a bustling, though not quite cramped, environment of diners on those evenings when seating is at a premium. Reservations, especially for evening hours, are suggested.

Belying the rural origins of the structure, colorfully squiggly modern art adorns the walls further back on the first floor. The second floor is currently under renovation to include another bar with a sports theme and the accoutrements of that currently fashionable place of masculine commiseration and hibernation: the man cave.

That kind of addition could make for a greater variety of clientele. The Binkery, however, already has a good thing going with a menu that serves cosmopolitan cuisine with a smaller-town, down-to-earth feel.

An example is the cassoulet of lamb. The French white bean stew features lamb mingled with pork sausage slices spiced to mild heat and chicken confit (meat cooked in its own fat and preserved). Exotic as that may seem in a place that maintains Wisconsin's Friday fish fry tradition, the potentially froufrou dish has the lip-smacking heartiness you’d expect to find following a day's worth of farm work. The servers’ friendliness and willingness to answer questions about the menu add to The Binkery's already cheery ambiance.

Diners may want to wash down the meal with a Lithia beer, the recently revived hometown brand now brewed by Sprecher and featured on tap here. Its bitter, hoppy top and almost caramel, cream-soda-like undercurrent work well with the lamb and pork scallopini. The pork scallopini's nearly wafer-thin cutlets are served with subtle marsala sauce with mushrooms and slivers of shallots over fettuccine. Great Lakes Brewing's chocolatey Edmund Fitzgerald porter offers another drink option.

Seafood gets its due here as well, and not just by the aforementioned fish fry. A pleasing crab-and-shrimp-stuffed whitefish is served in a lemon-caper beurre blanc, a frothy reduction sauce of wine vinegar, green onions and butter. The fish taco appetizer comes from more of a cross-cultural reference point, as shells with the crisp fluffiness of Indian naan bread cradle the slightly jerk-spiced mahi and shrimp, garnished with a vinegary Mexican coleslaw, or cabbage pico, and crme fraiche. The south-of-the-border offerings continue with a guacamole and chips appetizer. During my next visit, I’d like to to try the tomato tart, with the fruit of choice nestled amid balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil pesto on a puff pastry.

Cups of soup and side salads are offered as starters for an additional $2 with a main dish. Freshly toasted, garlicky croquettes accompany the soups. The before-entree salad consists of a simple mix of Romaine leaves and veggies. Neither soup nor salad overwhelms.

The lunch menu consists of a large variety of burgers, salads and sandwiches.

Don’t forget about dessert. The crust of the crme brlée resembles a sugary ice layer with a blueberry and raspberry on top. A rich chocolate cake is studded with chocolate chips (and it’s worth dipping every bite into the accompanying sauce). The frosting on a red velvet cupcake (chocolate and vanilla bean also available) vies for the attention of your taste buds with the treat underneath.

West Bend's historical society has acknowledged the value of the Binkery's building. Its culinary value should be recognized for anyone making the trip there, too.

The Binkery

110 Wisconsin St., West Bend

(262) 334-3702

$$-$$$ 

Credit Cards: MC, VS

Handicap Accessible

www.thebinkery.com