On a recent Friday night excursion, Fort Atkinson’s Fireside exceeded our Fish Fry Review Crew’s expectations living up to its stated motto: “More Than You’d Ever Expect.”
Nationally acclaimed for its high quality Broadway musical dinner theatre productions and inspirational Christian concerts, The Fireside will celebrate its 50th anniversary of exceptional service, Klopcic family style, on Mother’s Day, 2014.
On just one day per week, the Fireside operates as an open-to-the-public restaurant. Fridays at the Fireside are “dark,” which in theatre-speak means “no show today.” This decision has allowed The Fireside to literally refine the iconic Wisconsin Fish Fry into a true work of art.
Consider your first impression as you approach the building from the spacious parking lot. Towering over two stories high is the iconic and impressive fire and water sculpture.
The wide entrance leads you down a gently sloping and brightly lit corridor, cheerfully decorated with theatrical posters from the current production: Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Work up an appetite by wandering through the many specialty shops that line the corridor.
Arriving at the hostess station to warm, friendly smiles you find yourself humming a tune from Annie Get Your Gun: “There’s No Business Like Show Business Like No Business I Know…”
Settling in, notice the linen table cloths and napkins, perfect table settings and how quiet it is, despite the presence of several hundred diners around you. The layout of The Fireside and the sound dampening ceiling tiles effectively eliminate outside noise, allowing for easy conversation. A real plus.
The Menu: Less is More
Confidently elegant in its simplicity, the Fireside Friday menu has two soup and just three entrée choices. An old maxim suggests that a restaurant need do just a few things and execute them flawlessly to be successful. That is the precise recipe employed at The Fireside. Oh my, how well this concept works!
The velvety Clam Chowder was to die for, with lots of clams and a rich, creamy broth. We decided to wait for the next visit to try the French Onion Soup with Muenster Cheese and Rye Crouton. The Chowder was just too yummy.
As mentioned, there are only three entrée choices: Steamed Norwegian Cod with Peppercorn Beurre Blanc Sauce, Deep Fried Beer Battered Norwegian Cod or Buttermilk Marinated Southern Fried Baked Chicken. The Chicken was crispy on the outside and moist/tender inside, the Deep Fried Cod melted in your mouth, but we all agreed that the star of the show was the Steamed Cod and that luscious Peppercorn Beurre Blanc Sauce. Oh, the sauce! I will dream of that sauce until we return. We even asked if the sauce could be purchased separately and taken home. Annie Oakley laments that she “Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” but I’d bet my bottom dollar that if she served her man a helping of The Fireside’s Peppercorn Beurre Blanc Sauce, she would not only GET him, she’d have to beat his brothers and friends off with a stick!
Potato choices include potato wedges, fries, baked potato or The Fireside’s Famous German Potato Pancakes, served with cinnamon apple sauce and syrup. We all ordered the pancakes. The pancake recipe is a closely held secret, and for good reason.
Cole slaw, a medley of stir-fried vegetables and fresh baked (in the Fireside’s own bakery) rye and cheese breads round out the main menu. The Cole slaw was tangy, creamy and very fresh, the perfect accompaniment to everything. It is difficult not to eat too much of the warm bread. But if you do, you might not have room for dessert!
Dessert choices are pecan turtle ball sundae, key lime pie and pecan pie. None of them lasted long on the plate.
Coffee, tea or milk are included with any entree.
Menu choices for those 12 and under include Deep Fried Cod, Steamed Cod with Peppercorn Sauce, Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Deep Fried Chicken Strips, Hamburger or Cheeseburger.
A vegetarian menu is available upon request.
No appetizers on the menu. Nothing fancy. Just flawless execution of a few simple dishes. In a word: Superb.
Did I mention that the entire place is spotless, with staff constantly cleaning here and there?
Service With “The Common Touch”
Seating up to 700 at a time, one would think that personal service might be somewhat lacking at The Fireside. Not so. The long tenured, well-trained Fireside staff is a model of cheerfulness and efficiency. Water is filled, dishes whisked away and we never felt hurried. I cannot tell you how impressed we all were. How much does top notch service add to a night out?
Not only did the owner’s son stop by to inquire on our happiness level, but the owner, Rick Klopcic himself, stopped and lingered long as well. To my amazement, Klopcic inquired about my 90 year old mother with whom I had attended a recent Fireside Theatre production, wondering how she liked the food and the show. I was flabbergasted and at the same time not surprised that he would remember. I recalled that at that evening’s dinner/show meal, I excused myself from the table for a moment, only to return to find Rick Klopcic chatting and laughing with my mother. It seems Mom dropped her spoon and Klopcic, noticing she was alone, picked it up, replaced it, and simply made my mother’s night. “Such a nice man, and the owner too?” she mused. “He picked up my spoon.”
Watching Klopcic and his son work the room, I was reminded of the Rudyard Kipling poem “IF.” In the poem, Kipling muses…
“IF you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch…”
Come to The Fireside for the food and the atmosphere. You will leave with a full tummy and a smile on your face because you have just experienced “The Klopcic Touch.”
Happy 50th Anniversary Year, Fireside Theatre & the Klopcic Family!
Here’s to 50 more!
Your Fish Fry Review Crew
Rating The Fireside
Katie was the Executive Director of the Lake Mills Main Street Program from 2011 to 2019 and was the Secretary for the Jefferson County Tourism Council. In 2019, she retired to explore a new fashion degree and travel throughout the world. Katie was also a writer and contributed a great deal of copy for our website and printed guide. She was a great asset to our organization and we'll miss her!