Janesville has its fair share of local bars, each with its own history and unique feel.
Several people have recommended we try Charlie’s Place, a local hangout I’ve driven by a million times but have never visited. When Jennifer’s husband confirmed the recommendation and offered to come with us, we decided to make it a date night.
Our group of eight arrived at 5 p.m. on a snowy Friday evening. We were somewhat skeptical about our timing, since Charlie’s parking lot is usually filled to capacity from mid-afternoon to early evening. It’s the kind of bar where patrons congregate after a hectic day on the job for a drink, some company and a good burger.
Entering from the front door, the first thing that caught our eye was the gigantic square bar. Nearly every stool was occupied. Just for reference, there is a back door to the rear parking lot and a big patio on the side that would be a great option in more pleasant weather.
We found a table and settled in for a fun night. Conversation and laughter flew around the table, and we took turns going up to the bar for drinks. There is no table service, so plan to make a trip to the bar to place your food order if you stop by.
I love a good cocktail and went up to see what was available. When I asked for clarification on who Jack and Jim were on the specials board, I wasn’t expecting the good-natured ribbing I got not only from the bartender but also from the patrons seated nearby. I ended up ordering a tap beer, and I had such fun at the bar that I almost didn’t make it back to the table! It was hilarious but a sure confirmation I was out of my element. Note to self: It is Jim Beam, not Jim Bean.
For a small place, Charlie’s has a decent selection on its menu. There’s nothing fancy (don’t expect china or metal utensils), just solid food in a friendly atmosphere.
We started with the drunken tots ($8), which were soused in liquid cheese, chopped sweet onions, crispy pieces of bacon and hunks of tomato, all on an oversized plate. They tasted outstanding, were perfect for sharing, and they went really well with our drinks.
Charlie’s makes its soups from scratch, and it features a daily special along with chili.
I ordered the chili, and I quite enjoyed it. It was thick, with plenty of finely ground beef and a hint of heat. There was a nice layer of melted cheddar cheese, and I opted for a side of diced onions that took it over the top. The onions were super sweet and added just the right amount of crunch.
We had all heard of the infamous Charlie burger ($7), so Helene decided to see what all the hype was about. She was happy to report it definitely lives up to its reputation. A juicy patty with a thick slice of onion, dill pickles, a couple of tasty slices of tomato, lettuce, creamy American cheese, bacon pieces and mayo on a toasted bun. It was a real hamburger, and you can’t beat that.
Helene’s date, aka her husband, likes spicy food, so he ordered the cowboy burger ($7.50). This was the Charlie burger with added heat coming from chipotle mayo, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. Spicy? Yes! Good? Yes! But her show-off of a husband said he could have handled more heat.
Nikki also ordered a burger. The B.O.B. ($7.75) sounded delicious with olives, blue cheese and bacon. The salty green olives and the tangy blue cheese were excellent enhancements and made for a flavorful burger.
Since several in our large group opted for burgers, Jennifer decided to try the fish and fries ($8.75). Two crispy, deep-fried cod fillets arrived with a massive amount of fries. The fish was very tasty but a little dry, but the tartar sauce did just the trick to moisten it up. Jennifer’s meal also came with coleslaw, although it was slightly too mayonnaise-y for her taste.
During our meal, tunes from the jukebox were playing in the background. Little did we know that one of our guests had a nifty app on his cellphone, where jukebox songs can be played without ever having to leave the table. How cool is that?
In Janesville, bars and restaurants come and go, but Charlie’s has stood the test of time and has sustained its fine reputation. After sampling the fare and the unfussy atmosphere, we can understand why.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.