BY AUBREY DUNNUCK
A meal at Janko’s Little Zagreb is a sensory experience even before you enter the restaurant. It starts with the enticing aroma of grilled meat. Owner Mark Conlin calls it “free advertising.” The bouquet wafts out in all directions, leading diners to the corner of Morton and West 6th streets. Enter the restaurant and it’s a light show, the open grill aflame and sizzling with steak, ready to feed the almost-always-full dining room.
Janko’s interior walls are all cream and crimson, decorated with Indiana University memorabilia going back many seasons. The tables are covered in classic red-and-white checked tablecloths. One gets the feeling that little has changed over the years at this iconic restaurant. Touches of former owner and namesake John Pouch, aka Janko, and his Yugoslavian heritage are to be found on the menu in such dishes as Punjene Stuffed Peppers, his grandmother’s recipe. Since purchasing the restaurant almost 10 years ago, after Pouch’s death in a house fire, Conlin and his staff have focused on maintaining quality and consistency, attributes that have made the restaurant a Bloomington institution.
As for Janko’s signature steaks, Conlin has upgraded the meat in recent years. Boneless steaks are now hand-cut in-house, while bone-in cuts (think porterhouse and T-bone) are sourced locally from The Butcher’s Block. The Tomahawk Ribeye is a real showstopper. This massive, two-pound, bone-in steak is a monthly special so popular that Conlin has a list of customers to notify each time it’s offered. The regular ribeye is no slouch either, living up to the expression “fat is flavor.” Meanwhile, on the leaner side, the filet mignon practically melts in one’s mouth.
While steaks may be the main draw, there’s plenty to explore on the menu. The Porterhouse Lamb Chops are big, rich, and earthy, sporting the grill’s signature char. The Meatballs Bucharest are a favorite, either as a starter or entrée — tangy, tender, and spicy hot. Conlin’s wife, Julia, eats them with sour cream and he recommends you do the same if you need to calm the burn. Janko’s shrimp cocktail may be the best in town, with shrimp so big, two can split one order as an appetizer. The Gypsy Steak Kabobs are brought to the table still flaming, and fresh grilled tuna and salmon are other popular menu choices.
Those looking for vegetarian fare can be happy at Janko’s, too. Not only is there a flavorful housemade black bean burger on the menu, there’s also cavatappi and cheese (featuring creamy smoked Gouda and Gruyère), and a stuffed mushroom entrée — a baked portabella mushroom stuffed with spinach, artichokes, more mushrooms, and topped with tomatoes and melted goat cheese.
A simple salad and baked potato come with all main dishes. Sides of mushrooms, fried onions, and rice are options. If you have any room left, there’s a variety of cheesecakes for dessert.
Conlin is passionate about his wine, and his selection has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence annually since 2009. This year Janko’s is the only Bloomington restaurant to make the honor roll.
Janko’s offers exceptional steaks and chops with a distinctive char and fine wines in a very casual atmosphere. It’s a formula that keeps locals and visitors coming back again and again.