Whiskey Ranch gives downtown Janesville shot in the arm

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By Joan Neeno, Special to The Gazette
February 19, 2015

JANESVILLE—If you have any history with the bar at 24 N. Main St. in Janesville, it's a little surreal to sit in the new Whiskey Ranch Bar & Grill.

The decor is all Southern rock with exposed brick, metal, rustic wood paneling and electric guitars on the walls. It's fun, classy and, well, clean.

It's hard to picture the dingy, dangerous days of Quotes, the infamous bar that occupied 24 N. Main St. before the city clamped down on the bar fights. My experience with Quotes was limited to a Fat Tuesday two years ago with my friend Jim. The food was tasty, the decor dusty and I was outta there by about 7:30 p.m.—late enough to see a woman lift her shirt in front of a Dixieland band full of guys in their 70s.

I can't imagine that happening at Whiskey Ranch. Families eat lunch or dinner there with their kids. The country-rock music is a bit loud but not obnoxious. The owners are often on site, offering sample shots of whiskey and maintaining a tight ship.

If you have doubts about the future of downtown Janesville, visit Whiskey Ranch on an average night and wait for a table. Within a few weeks of opening, it has become a destination. Good value, food, entertainment and safety attract people in a city starving for quality dining options that aren't chain restaurants.

Brothers Benny Useni and Ilir Banushi, as well as their wives, operate several restaurants and bars in Rock, Walworth and Dane counties, including local favorite Citrus Cafe. Useni operates another Whiskey Ranch with a partner in the town of Delavan.

They are consistent about serving quality food and beverages in attractive environments with good service. These guys are professionals. The food at Whiskey Ranch is definitely a notch or more above average bar food.

Among the appetizers, the Tennessee Fries ($5.99) are addictively decadent. The crisp, battered fries are tasty to begin with, but load them up with Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, bits of brisket, bacon and cheese and, well, it's a meal in itself.

I particularly like the fried pickle spears with chipotle ranch sauce ($5.99). The dill pickles are coated with a breading that has a bit of kick. The chipotle sauce only accentuates the mild heat.

In various visits with friends, we have tried the fried chicken dinner and, most recently, the cod fish fry ($9.99). They are perfectly good but nothing exceptional. The one standout among the nonbarbecue entrees is the beer-battered shrimp ($15.99). The large, lightly breaded shrimp are tender and tasty.

Barbecue is where Whiskey Ranch truly shines. You can't go wrong with the baby back rib dinner ($15.99), but make sure you have an appetite. Our friend Eric neatly polished off a half rack of meaty ribs that looked larger than he was. He said the sauce was on the sweet side, but that's how he likes it. The meat was cooked beautifully.

Eric's wife, Cheryl, had the Branding Iron BBQ sandwich ($8.99). It's one of my favorites, too: a wonderfully meaty, sloppy combination of barbecued pulled pork, smoked beef brisket and bacon all piled on a grilled bun. No sandwich has a right to be this tasty.

The only thing that could top it for me is the Louisiana pulled pork sandwich ($8.99). It's all about the slow-cooked, flavorful pulled pork that's topped with onion straws, cheddar and a creamy coleslaw inside a grilled bun.

On a recent lunch visit, my dad and I both had the Smokehouse sandwich ($8.99), which features the smoked beef brisket topped with onion straws. Despite claiming it was too big, my dad found a way to finish it. It was excellent, although my heart belongs to the pulled pork.

To balance out all the meat eating, my husband, Richard, ordered the chipotle chicken sandwich ($8.99) for lunch. The grilled chicken was moist and flavorful, and the chipotle sauce had the right level of kick.

Sandwiches come with your choice of fries, coleslaw or chips. The fries are first rate, but the chips are just regular old potato chips out of a bag.

Whether or not you enjoy drinking flights of whiskey or listening to country music, Whiskey Ranch takes the downtown bar scene up several notches. Let's hope others follow that lead.

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