Beth Webb, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team, The Four Dishes, ordered this Reuben omelet during a recent visit to the Wander In Cafe in Janesville. The dish featured corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese baked in with a side of Thousand Island dressing and rye toast.


Wandering around looking for a greasy spoon without the grease? How about the best (and largest) cinnamon and caramel rolls or some great home-baked bread? Maybe you’d like to visit the “home of the 16-ounce cup of coffee” and get free refills.

Look no further than the Wander In.

Let me just say, this place is a gem. Maybe it would be apt to say a hidden gem because it’s adjacent to a gas station, not heavily advertised and is only open half-days. Locals know it as a longtime favorite, and it’s the quintessential American small-town diner.

Entering the Wander In feels a bit like taking a step back in time. The ambience is lived-in and homey with welcoming service that feels familiar. Picture a bar with breakfast and lunch as its elixir.

Simply decorated with beadboard walls, green floral valances and a hot-air balloon theme, Wander In offers a handful of booths and tables along with enough seating for 12 at the counter. In addition to food, the restaurant offers many unique items for sale, including everything from handmade purses, mittens and potholders to jewelry and various doodads housed in glass cases.

We arrived mid-morning on a snowy Sunday. Most of the tables were full, and the waitress nodded for us to seat ourselves. She then promptly came over to offer menus and coffee as we mulled over the menu, and she was eager to recommend the best breakfast options.

Wander In is known for its gooey, sweet, homemade cinnamon and caramel rolls, and we were sad to discover we missed the boat. They had already sold out.

The rolls are baked fresh daily, and it is definitely worth stopping in just to nab one before they’re gone. It’s good to know, though, that with a few days’ notice, customers can special-order the rolls. The cafe’s homemade loaves of white and wheat bread also are available for take-out.

To start off, Helene ordered an oatmeal pancake for all of us to share. It was plate-sized, slightly crispy and absolutely fantastic, and I could not stop nibbling at it. I might even say it ended up being as satisfying as one of those delectable sweet rolls would have been. Wander In also makes an oatmeal waffle, which we all put on our lists to try next time.

Along with my 16-ounce coffee ($1.25 with free refills), I went for an omelet. They are huge and made from four eggs, so I didn’t add any potatoes (additional $1.60). Wander In has an interesting selection of omelets, and this time, I tried the Reuben. The dish featured corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese baked in with a side of Thousand Island dressing and rye toast ($7.95). Of course, I took half of it home to enjoy the next morning.

Helene tried a half order of Brenda’s mess ($6.50). A “mess” consists of a base of hash browns, eggs and a variety of meat and vegetable choices, all covered in sausage gravy. You can get a full or half order. Helene ordered her eggs scrambled and chose a sausage patty, which was the tastiest part of the meal.

Nikki also wanted to try a mess. She was deliberating between the Santa Fe mess ($7.95), which featured taco meat and fixings, and a more breakfast-y version, the All In One mess ($10.25). Breakfast won out as she went with the All In One, which was loaded with bacon, sausage, ham, tomatoes, onions and green peppers. Nikki forgot to order the smaller half portion, but our waitress was quick to reassure her the messes actually hold up well to reheating.

Jennifer spotted French toast ($5.80) on the “Specials of the Day” menu. Made with thick slices of homemade bread and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, it came with a choice of either sausage links or patties (she chose the latter). The lightly-browned toast was moist and delicious, and although Jennifer doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, she found the combination of cinnamon and powdered sugar to be sweet but not overpowering. The sausage patties, too, were cooked to perfection.

As we boxed up our leftovers, we decided to place an advance order for some cinnamon rolls. A few days later, we met up again to try them, and it was unanimous ... they were definitely worth the wait.

If good food at a great value is what you’re looking for, be sure to give the Wander In a try.

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

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