The Lone Rock Bistro and Taproom opened recently in downtown Lone Rock, offering different local tap beers, elevated American style food and cocktails. Valley Sentinel had the opportunity to ask some questions of Head Chef and Kitchen Manager, Justin Scofield, to introduce the restaurant.
His answers are below.
Valley Sentinel: Why Lone Rock Bistro and Taproom? What does the name represent to you?
Justin Scofield: Our original goal and vision for our project in Lone Rock was to build a brewery and brewpub, so clearly our emphasis was on beer and quality food. We had planned to name it the Lone Rock Brewing Company. Our vision for that also included a much larger venue that would have incorporated several other complimentary businesses including a coffee shop, a vintage style arcade with a huge selection of stand up arcade games and pinball machines, as well as a boutique resale shop, among several other small art/craft or retail related shops. Our brewpub space was set to have a brewing space visible to the customers as well as a larger dining area and a stage we had hoped to use to bring live music events and the like to add some entertainment offering to the mix. Due to some mixed feelings throughout the community at the time about the impact of our plan, based mostly on our location not being on Oak St., we ran into zoning issues with our building that basically closed the door to that plan. We spent the best part of a year planning that project and our defeat was a humbling experience to say the least, and although it left us a bit discouraged as to how to proceed, it did not cause us to throw in the towel. We saw a real gem in Lone Rock and a lot of unrealized potential. We still felt we had something special that we could offer, so after looking at the other available options for venues, we began discussing how to shift our plans to suit what was available to us. This brings me back to the core of the question. So, we clearly liked the strength of the name Lone Rock and given the fact that neither the Keg and Kettle space, which was also available at that time, nor the Waz Inn had space for a brewery component without some major additions, we were left with serving quality food and great beer so we decided that a Bistro and Taproom would be our best option to proceed and so came the name. The name to us represents strength and a firm foundation, much like the town itself. We decided to carry that over into the re-shaped version of the plan and feel that it helps us to represent the history of the town.
VS: Please give us a brief background of your experience with food and booze.
JS: Our main operating staff all have background in the food and bar business. Mike Haight, the general operations manager, had previously been involved in two other large bar businesses in the greater Madison area, both of which are still in operation as well as having worked in the kitchen of some notable restaurants in Madison some years before. As for me, I’ve always had a passion for great food and had considered attending culinary academy before ultimately deciding to move to Madison to pursue a career in the music business. I spent many years working in the technology industry but had several jobs when I was younger working in commercial kitchens, so it was not totally foreign to me to be back behind the grill all these years later. I have always loved to cook. Our bar manager has a wealth of bartending experience and was actually trained at one of Mike’s former bars. She can make a huge list of amazing craft cocktails and specialty drinks totally off the cuff. She is incredibly talented and charismatic and we are lucky to have her behind the bar!! We all love a great meal and a quality cocktail and both Mike and I love craft beer. We feel that we all have something to bring to the table here and are intent on delivering something special to the community.
VS: Why did you choose Lone Rock for your business?
JS: Well Mike had left Madison some years back to travel and see the world and upon his return had settled in Portland. After 6 years there running a successful boutique record and clothing store, he decided to move back to Wisconsin to be closer to his mother Janet, who is the owner of the Bistro. She lives in Spring Green and operates the Bird Of Paradise Tea Company and the No Rules Gallery there. She is amazing and is also responsible for the amazing baked desserts we offer. Her “Pie of the Day” offerings and Mango Key Lime Pie are absolutely out of this world and must be tasted!! He found a new home in Lone Rock 4 years ago and he and I spoke often of what an interesting place it was, both beautiful and rich with history. He and I have worked in collaboration together on many projects previously so when he started considering what his options may be in trying to make some moves towards starting a business with his mother in the area, he reached out to me to exchange ideas on what might be worth pursuing. I had been in the Madison area for the last 26 years. I had been to Lone Rock a few times before but looking through a different lens of thought showed me a much different picture, one with tons of potential for the future. Ultimately, I moved to Lone Rock last fall. We all saw a chance to be involved with something fresh and new and Lone Rock seemed to be a good fit for all of us.
VS: Why was right now the right time for you to bring the Bistro and Taproom to Lone Rock?
JS: Well, that’s kind of a loaded question. 2020 was a crazy year for everyone with the COVID situation. I’m not sure that it was so much of the “right time” as it was just “our time” to jumpstart something. It’s hard to have a concise feeling about it but the reality of it for us was that we had a really hard time watching so many places we loved to eat and drink that were either forced to, or chose, to close up shop this year. People are constantly losing more of their options for drinks and dining and we got to the point where we asked ourselves the tough question of whether this was something we felt strongly enough to even want to continue to pursue given the current market trends. Believe me when I tell you, there were some days that really tested our resolve, but we came to the conclusion that it was now or never. We were tired of having to sit on our hands and wait and watch and it really was more of an “it became time” situation. It’s a big gamble, but we have faith in our abilities and hope for the future and what it may bring and as long as we are willing to put in the time and effort and can get the community to rally behind us, I think we have a chance to succeed at our mission.
VS: You mentioned this will be the first time in almost a decade when all three bars are open in the village at once, what does that mean to you? What does that mean for the community?
JS: Mike spoke to a gentleman who had previously owned the Keg & Kettle some years back. It would have been likely 15 years ago or more. In their conversation, his sentiments were that the business was never as good as when all three bars were open. It makes sense. It suggests prosperity and possibilities. It gives the community a choice. It creates economic opportunity. We are thrilled to be open among them and look forward to trying to work in harmony with the other bars there to cultivate a diverse balance of culture and activities for the public to enjoy. Beyond the local and surrounding communities, we also really wanted to appeal to the influx of seasonal tourists and hope to help draw more traffic to the downtown area, which we hope will bring a positive economic impact to the entire community.
VS: Is there a possibility for collaborations between the Bistro and the other bars/restaurants/businesses in the area? Is that something that is high on your priority list?
JS: We certainly hope so. We really haven’t had much time to formally discuss it with the other owners but we envision some great opportunities for some unified events throughout the year that would encourage cross traffic among the three bars as well as through the rest of the local businesses. We really want to see a turn of the tide in the local economy and hope to do our part in helping to encourage some growth and more opportunities for everyone in Lone Rock and that would certainly fit in with our vision for that moving forward.
VS: If you could recommend one item on the menu, what would it be and why?
JS: LOL, we weren’t quite sure how our menu would be received by everyone but knew that we were bringing some flavors and offerings here that simply did not exist out here previously. We were content, however, that the locals would be curious. It has been interesting for us to see how many of the items we included have become immediately popular. Our two biggest sellers have been our Farm burger and our Sweet & Spicy Chicken sandwich. The other big surprise for us was how popular the Gyro has become, which is near and dear to my heart!! I think we all agree, though, that the Sweet & Spicy Chicken is a real standout and sure to please your taste buds!! It is crispy with the signature Panko breading, the pepper jack cheese gives it a richness, the tangy pop from the pickled onions and sweetness of the roasted red peppers, the buttery brioche bun and tying it all together is an amazing sweet chilli sauce, it is a truly delicious sandwich that is hard to beat!!
VS: Tell us about your bartending staff?
JS: We have some real talent behind the bar! Our current lineup of bartenders brings a broad range of experience from several notable bars around the Madison area. Most of them have learned the craft cocktail business at one of Mike’s former bar’s, The Jade Monkey Cocktail Lounge. We have some real spotlight drinks available but our true Midwest classic is our Driftless Old Fashioned featuring Driftless Brandy made locally in Baraboo, WI. We also offer the best Mojito you’ll find anywhere!!
VS: What are the specials for this week?
JS: We are going to begin some rotating daily specials very soon and for the moment are focusing on rolling out the remainder of our daily menu including our full line-up of entrees and pastas. Every Friday night we will be offering a full featured fish fry with Cod as well as other offerings available including Walleye, Bluegill, and Catfish. Saturday nights will usually feature a signature steak special. We will keep our Facebook page updated with our current specials and promotions.
VS: What are your hours currently?
JS: Our current hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and we are closed on Tuesdays. We are looking to expand those and will post any relevant changes to our daily schedule as we are able on our website and Facebook pages. We will also begin offering brunch on Sunday beginning on Valentine’s Day and continue that moving forward.
VS: What’s on the horizon for the Bistro? For the greater community?
JS: Great things we hope!! With the addition of extended bar hours in the near future, the addition of Sunday brunch and prospects for adding breakfast hours, we have much to work towards and much to look forward to! We really hope to become a valuable asset to the Lone Rock community and look forward to serving everyone. We would really like to see some revitalization in Lone Rock and the entire river valley region. It is a beautiful part of the state and we will do our best to help in creating a brighter future. We are encouraged by the public response to our opening and are truly thankful for all the business and support we have seen through the past couple weeks. Thank you all again from all of us for helping us to make this all possible!!