I managed to invite myself to dinner with Dan and Tara (and their family) this past Friday; they were headed to The Fireside to celebrate Tara's mother's birthday. The Fireside is a bit of a legendary place - it's been around for eons, but surprisingly, I'd never been there. Probably because they're famous more for their entertainment (musicals, plays) than their food fare...
We arrived to the monstrously large Fireside (it seats 1,750 people for dinner) at 8pm and were ushered through the "lobby" area, which includes a bunch of shops as shown here:
Yes, that's a "Technicolor Dreamcoat" hanging from the wall - it was actually pretty cool.
We took a seat in the large bar area, which featured classic 70s decor, including these awesome vinyl "wrap-around" chairs:
Sorry for the dark photo; the place doesn't seem to have many (if any) windows, and the primary light source in the bar came from a few of the four-sided fireplaces. I'm guessing they have something to do with the name of the place.
After sampling an old fashioned from the bar (they didn't muddle, nor did they include cherries or an orange), we made our way to one of the dining areas, where we were promptly greeted by a waiter. Menus were already placed and were clearly the "Friday Fish Fry Special" menus, as options were quite limited (fish, chicken, sides, soup, dessert, kids items).
The Fireside offers your choice of beer battered cod, steamed cod, deep fried chicken, or a combination of any of the three. You also have the option of "adding a piece" of whatever you'd like to your order... so, in theory, you could order the steamed cod and order a piece of beer battered cod, or a piece of chicken. It's not a bad system.
I chose the steamed cod with a baked potato. I also opted for a cup of french onion soup, and decided to pass on dessert. The rest of the table ordered nearly the same - steamed cod was by far the favorite, but one person did order beer battered cod, and another added a piece of chicken to their steamed cod order.
Side options included: baked potato, fries, Yukon potatoes (quartered and boiled Yukon golds, with onion and spice), and potato pancakes (which included applesauce and maple syrup on the side).
After taking our orders and leaving, another server brought us baskets of freshly-made bread. Tonight's offerings included a marble rye and a cheddar sourdough. I tried a small piece of each - they were soft, perfectly chewy, and super tasty.
Shortly after the bread arrived, so did our soups and coleslaw. I didn't try the slaw, but the soup was pretty decent. It was made with a small piece of rye bread and a small square of muenster cheese:
I appreciated the way they did the soup; it wasn't cloaked by a huge piece of fatty, greasy cheese, and the amount of bread was perfect for the size of the cup. The soup was slightly salty, but it all worked well.
After a longish wait, our dinner entrees arrived. The steamed cod looked slightly odd (the fish had "opened" up), but it was quite tasty. Here's a picture of my cod plate:
While the Fireside may serve upwards of 2,000 people on a Friday Fish Fry night, you'd never know it. The fish was made really well - it was steamed perfectly, and unlike so many other places that ruin their baked or steamed fish by drenching it in butter or dill, the Fireside serves their fish "clean." I really like that they served it clean - it allowed the wonderful flavor of the fish to shine through.
The fish was nice and hot, tender and flaky, and very flavorful. The baked potato was a bit overdone, but the steamed veggies saved the day. Once again, they were steamed perfectly and served clean, just like the fish. No butter, no oil, no grease, just freshly steamed vegetables. My hat's off to the Fireside for offering their meals in a healthy manner.
The beer battered cod looked decent - I didn't sample it, but did examine it. The batter appeared to be dark yet thin, it adhered to the fish, and there weren't any signs of grease. I'm told it was "excellent" and have no reason to doubt that it was anything less than great.
I did sample the potato pancakes and was disappointed by them - they appeared to be deep fried rather than pan-fried, and as such resembled a McDonald's breakfast hashbrown more so than a proper potato pancake.
At around 9:30pm, desserts were served (key lime pie and an ice cream dish), as was coffee. The coffee was excellent - I could've had a dozen cups.
My fish plate cost $12.95, which isn't bad, considering how well it was made and the reasonable portions. Service was average at best, but the place is quite large, so I'll give them some slack.
Fireside = WIN
Service = 3 stars
Food = 3.5 stars
Value = 3 stars
MISC = 3 stars
You could do a lot worse when it comes to Fish Fry; while I'm not sure if I'd drive to Fort Atkinson just for the fish on a Friday, I certainly wouldn't turn away if in the area.
After fish, we headed over to the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills - I'm really starting to enjoy some of their offerings, and I like the inside of the small brewery. Here's a photo of the bar area, where Dan and I enjoyed a brew or two before calling it a night.