Jennifer Spanger, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this blackened salmon entree during a recent visit to drafthouse in downtown Janesville. Along with bacon Brussels sprouts, the 7-ounce filet was served with roasted basil pesto baby potatoes drizzled with a red pepper coulis and topped with fresh microgreens.


We visited the city’s newest hot spot, drafthouse (lowercase “d”), later in the afternoon on a Saturday. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations on weekends so coming in early is the best option for getting a table without a wait.

Housed in the former Time Out Pub & Eatery space, drafthouse has a more contemporary decor. An enormous bar is housed in the center with more than 30 stools. We counted a dozen TVs, which is wonderful for the sports enthusiast.

Pub tables and stools surround the perimeter along with several larger tables for bigger crowds. A comfortable seating area adjacent to the bar features a leather sofa and cozy club chairs. Modern tile flooring and an exposed ceiling add to the design.

The bar noise was at a low volume when we got there, and we enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight from the large windows. But as the dinner crowd began to arrive, the noise level amped up, and the place started hopping.

Beverages were our first order of business. Drafthouse has an amazing beer selection with at least 24 unique drafts—depending on what runs out when. I was drawn to a basil mint cider ($8.50 for 16 ounces) that was not sweet and had herbal undertones.

There also were a number of craft cocktails, and Jennifer opted for the drafthouse NA Sangria ($6). Made with grape juice, orange juice, fruit and herbs along with sparkling water and garnished with an orange slice and cherry, the drink was deliciously fruity. The herbs thoroughly enhanced the flavor.

Nikki ordered a mocktail, too. Her sparkling ruby ($6) was a tangy blend of blood orange, grapefruit and basil.

My first taste of the drafthouse menu came when it provided food for an event I was attending. The chorizo stuffed dates ($8) were wonderful, featuring a sweet date base and just enough spice.

As much as I loved the dates, I wanted to try something new. We chose the crab dip ($13), which came in a generous bowl of slightly sweet lump crab meat with a creamy, cheesy base, corn and peppers. Served with naan bread, it quickly became another “must try.”

For my main course, I ordered the grouper tacos ($10). Grouper is my favorite—a soft, white fish that is hard to find here in the Midwest. There were three tacos with large pieces of crunchy, breaded grouper in a soft tortilla. Black beans and corn were on the bottom with a lightly spiced mayo on top. I appreciated the addition of grilled lime to juice the dish up nice and fresh.

Nikki went with the winter salad ($10) and a cup of beef stew soup ($5). The soup was hearty and filling, so she was glad she didn’t add one of the optional proteins to her salad (chicken, shrimp or steak for $5 extra). The mixed greens were served with chunks of blue cheese, dried cranberries, pears and pecans with a Champagne vinaigrette dressing on the side. It was a tasty mix of flavors.

For her entree, Jennifer selected the blackened salmon ($22). What a presentation. The 7-ounce filet was served with roasted basil pesto baby potatoes drizzled with a lovely, slightly sweet red pepper coulis. The dish was topped with fresh microgreens, which provided a pleasing visual.

The perfectly-cooked salmon was outstanding. Equally appealing were the drafthouse bacon Brussels sprouts that accompanied Jennifer’s meal. The salty bacon bits tossed with roasted Brussels sprouts is a flavor combination she won’t soon forget.

Wanting something healthy and light, Helene ordered the poke tuna ($15). Poke (rhymes with OK) is basically a raw seafood salad in a bowl.

As with Jennifer’s dish, the presentation was lovely. With a mound of diced, raw red tuna, green pea shoots with hints of purple and light green bamboo rice surrounded by watermelon radishes, the color coordination was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was so fresh.

Unfortunately, the flavors were a little too subdued, and the plate tasted bland with none of the ingredients making a statement. It wasn’t until Helene started poking around at the bottom of the bowl did she discover the soy sauce base. She probably should have just asked for some soy sauce so she could have livened the dish up herself.

Although none of us ordered the craft burger ($11) this time, we have tried it before. The patty is a blend of short rib, brisket and Angus beef served on a sesame seed bun and topped with a large slice of melted, smoked gouda and cherrywood bacon bourbon onion jam.

My son-in-law, who considers himself a burger expert, goes back to drafthouse again and again because he believes their burgers are the best.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.