Established in 1982, The Looking Glass has been a popular downtown tavern for many years. In fact, a certain generation of local bar goers might remember a time when the bar’s claim to fame was patrons dancing on the bar—a tradition that has since ended.
Instead, the bar is fast gaining a reputation for its fresh new menu, live music and fun events.
The Looking Glass recently underwent a major renovation, moving the bar and adding new tables and booths. A large pass-through window leads to an expanded outdoor patio, and the interior walls of exposed brick and a black painted ceiling along with antique mirrors give the place a historic, industrial vibe.
We met for lunch shortly after 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, and it wasn’t too crowded. In addition to the regular menu, we were presented with a handwritten sheet of specials: a cordon bleu chicken wrap ($8.50) and a 10-inch Greek pizza ($7.25) On this particularly cold winter day, they also had three tempting soup choices: chili ($3.75/$4.50), prime rib veggie or chicken pot pie ($3.00/$3.75).
The menu is full of fresh choices. Sure, there were the requisite jalapeno poppers, wings and burgers, but there also was so much more.
New on the menu are BYO (build your own) nachos ($8.95). Step one was deciding on the base: homemade tortilla chips or cross-cut fries. I was tempted to try the nontraditional fries but was out-voted, and I’ll admit that after tasting the homemade chips, I was hooked.
Next was the meat option: brisket, chicken or pulled pork. Our first choice was the brisket, which was temporarily sold out (we were told it is the most popular option). We instead went with the pulled pork.
For our three veggie options, we chose red peppers, tomatoes and fried onions. As a topping, we selected queso instead of cheddar, pepperjack or beer cheese. It was a great combination of flavors, colors and textures. The chips held up adequately under the meat and veggies, but we would still recommend asking for forks when you place your order.
I decided on the Greek pizza special. The thin crust had just the right amount of gyro meat and feta cheese for a slightly salty taste, along with olives, onion and a flavorful garlic drizzle which really impressed me.
Helene went for the veggie grilled cheese ($7.50). It had lots of fresh spinach and tomato on crunchy Texas toast, which was seasoned with a spice that tasted like pesto. The mozzarella cheese was paired with feta to give the sandwich a nice tang, and the garlic Parmesan mayonnaise added another flavorful element. Helene also enjoyed the onion-y coleslaw she picked as her upgraded side ($1.75).
When Jennifer realized the soups were homemade, she had to order a cup. She opted for the chicken pot pie soup ($3), which was cream-based with plenty of white meat chicken, carrots, peas, green beans and corn. It was very appetizing and comforting.
For her main dish, Jennifer ordered the quesadilla ($6.25). There was a slight mix-up as the menu stated it was filled with green peppers, onions and cheese. When taking her first bite, it seemed something was missing. What she actually received was a cheese quesadilla without the veggies. It was good, and dipping it in the sour cream and salsa gave the dish all the extra flavor it needed.
Nikki decided to try one of the stuffed burger options, the jalapeno popper burger ($8.50) with a side of fries. The meat was cooked to what appeared to be well done on the edges, but the cream cheese and jalapeno filling oozing from the center kept it from tasting dried out. It was a delicious upgrade to a regular cheeseburger.
It might surprise some folks to learn The Looking Glass offers a full-service breakfast Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s especially popular in the spring when the Janesville Farmers Market opens.
It’s also nice to know the bar buys many of its ingredients from the market in season, and that it buys its eggs from a market vendor off-season. It also acquires locally-sourced meat for its menu items.
Although we didn’t try any beer with our lunches, we can’t forget to mention The Looking Glass hosts a beer club. Held once a month, meetings are for members only. After paying a one-time sign-up fee, members sample craft beers for free, get discounts on all tap beers and receive their own personalized beer mugs.
The Looking Glass is a downtown bar worth visiting for its food. What a great local discovery.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.