You won’t find a better example of a classic Wisconsin bar and grill than Hering’s Lake Ripley Inn, located near the lakeshore on the outskirts of Cambridge in Dane County.
The place has been operating under its current ownership for more than a decade. It serves a wide variety of burgers and sandwiches along with mostly deep-fried appetizers, tasty pizzas and salads, and a handful of dinners such as barbecued baby back ribs and ribeye steaks.
There are also nightly specials, including lasagna with garlic bread and a prime rib sandwich on the night of our most recent visit.
The inn has the look and feel of a rural bar and grill, where regulars know each other on a first-name basis and are open and friendly to strangers.
While the food is well prepared and good tasting, most of it is not what you would call heart-healthy, and the inn tends to be slow in getting orders out. Most of the times we have visited, there has been only one person tending bar and waiting tables, which means service can sometimes be a problem.
But the inn has a cozy feel. It is dimly lit with two televisions behind a bar often tuned to sports events, while classic rock music plays over the sound system.
The first time I entered the place, I was impressed with two enormous sturgeons mounted on a wall. Turns out one was actually caught and preserved by a taxidermist, while the other is a manufactured facsimile of the real thing. Still, it was difficult for a layman to tell which was which.
As mentioned, service can be a bit slow, but a friend and I haven’t been disappointed with the food. We’ve sampled a few appetizers we thought were just fine, including a “haystack” of onion rings ($6.99) that are lightly battered and deep-fried. My companion was particularly pleased with the kitchen’s french fries, which are crispy and hearty.
If you’re into deep-fried treats, there is a sampler plate that includes fries, cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, fried mushrooms, fried beans and chicken tenders ($11.99). Just don’t attempt to eat it all yourself.
In the sandwich department, a three-cheese grilled cheese with Swiss, American and mozzarella cheese is a bargain at $5.99. (Add ham or bacon for an extra $2).
A mushroom mozzarella chicken sandwich ($9.99) comes topped with haystack onion rings and a choice of fries, chips or coleslaw. It’s a lot of food for the money, and while the chicken seemed a tad dry, there’s plenty of flavor on the plate.
A California burger ($9.99) comes with the same choice of sides and is loaded with guacamole, mozzarella and bacon, lettuce, tomato and raw onion. It’s a pretty filling and delicious meal.
During one visit, I ordered a nightly special—a prime rib sandwich that came piled high with meat and topped with sautéed onions and mozzarella, along with fries and a small salad on the side ($12.99). It was greasy and definitely a mess to eat, but the flavor was right on.
There aren’t many choices here for a vegetarian other than side items, but a veggie pizza with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, green pepper, black olives and jalapeño and banana peppers ($14 for a 12-inch pie; $17 for a 14-inch) turned out to be a good choice. Also offered is a veggie quesadilla ($9.99) with cheddar cheese, tomato, onion, sautéed green peppers and mushrooms.
Diners also can order custom-made pizzas, and a small pie with cheese and fresh tomato ($13.50) turned out to be a nice snack for two.
Desserts aren’t featured on the menu, but a chalkboard that lists nightly specials includes them. During a recent visit, the choices were key lime pie, chocolate cake, white cake and pecan pie ($4 each).
As mentioned, service can be a bit slow. When it’s busy, you will probably have to leave your table and go to the bar if you want to order a drink or something else while your dinner is in progress. But the bartender/server is generally friendly and helpful, even if overworked.
If you’re the type who likes floating on a beautiful lake, Lake Ripley is a pleasant destination. During a recent kayak outing, my companion and I saw a pair of ospreys and a few bald eagles, along with kingfishers and herons. By the time we had circumnavigated the lake, we were ready to head to the inn for good food, drink and company. It turned out to be a nice way to cap off a couple of hours on the water.