For most of the 21st century (really!), there was a sign in the building on the east end of Main Street in Madison promising that a brewery was “coming soon.”
Old Black Bear has, at last, made it a reality. They are brewing craft beer in that location, and they’ve turned the old Bandito Burrito location next door into a taproom and restaurant. Lea, the boys, and I recently partook.
We visited on a cold night, so I enjoyed a rich coffee stout while we looked over our choices. This menu overachieves. It is not especially large, but there is impressive breadth, and everything is quite reasonably priced ($7-12). Furthermore, Old Black Bear strives to use local products in sustainable ways wherever possible.
Old Black Bear Menu
With a food menu at a bar or taproom, modest expectations are the norm. You expect, say, burgers and wings, and anything else is a bonus, right?
Those burgers and wings are available, but so is a lot more. In fact, it took most of my delicious stout for the four of us to decide on appetizers and entrées. For starters, we went with grilled artichoke hearts (told you we were operating well above standard bar fare!) and smoky pimiento cheese, served with baguette slices. Both were carefully crafted and tasty, and raised our expectations for our entrées.
Lea went with catfish fillets, served with fries and slaw. They were fresh, battered properly, and perfectly fried. Nathan selected the Taproom Burger—certified Angus beef with cheddar, bacon, and a fried egg, and garnished with okra. It vanished quickly, and I think it’s what I’m getting next time.
I switched to a Rock Ledge Extra IPA for my dinner, and dove into adult mac & cheese—penne pasta served with beer cheese and bacon panko crust. It was delicious, and so rich I couldn’t quite finish it.
Aaron got chicken and waffles! I’d never seen such in person before. It was served with house-made hot sauce and maple beer syrup. He shared a little taste with all of us in the interest of broadening our experiences. It’s an intriguing flavor fusion, and I understand why it’s gotten and kept traction. I may ask for a little of the hot sauce on its own next time. It is mild, with a Louisiana flavor, but with a stronger-than-customary pepper punch.
The menu also includes entrée salads, plank-grilled salmon, a la carte baked potatoes, and several more delectable-sounding sandwiches. There is no dessert menu, but I’m not sure where we’d have put any anyway. We enjoyed attentive but non-intrusive service throughout our meal.
Old Black Bear Cub Menu
Old Black Bear welcomes children, but again, it’s a taproom. There are placemats to color (just ask your server for one) but the vibe is rather adult. However, highchairs are available, and seating options include padded church pews, which make good parking spots for babies still in carriers. Bathrooms have no changing tables on the bar side, but can be found in both men & women’s restrooms on the coffee shop side. The children’s menu includes grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and turkey sandwiches, served with either fries or a fruit cup.
This is a good example of what I call a “sneak a date” place. If you have older, low-maintenance children—they’re past the dinosaur chicken nugget phase, and/or they’re content being (literally) left to their devices some of the time — you can hold hands with your honey and share an occasional lovey-dovey glance without springing for a sitter.
But the most marvelous surprise about Old Black Bear is that if you’re a teetotaler, you can skip the beer and it’s still a can’t-miss experience. (If you do enjoy beer, these are some fine craft brews indeed.)
Either way, you can enjoy an excellent meal from a local merchant for no more money than a national chain offering would cost. Visit soon!
Old Black Bear Brewing Company Details
Address: 212 Main Street, Madison (map)
Phone: (256) 850-4639
Kitchen open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 2 pm and 4 pm – 9 pm
Coffee shop open Tuesday through Friday, 7 am – 11 am
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