Fireside Bar & Grille
1211 South Bethlehem Pike
As you cross the threshold, the profusion of wall-mounted television screens should be more than enough to convince you that, at the Fireside, sports are the name of the game. No matter what your favorite – from bowling to badminton, weight-lifting to Wiffle ball – if it’s to be found anywhere on the tube, you’re likely to catch it in living color on one of Fireside’s 17 TV screens. And if you happen to drop by while the Phillies are playing, there’s even a special bar menu with a delicious array of $5.00 munchies and reduced prices on beer and wine.
Over the years, the building that is now home to the Fireside has been the site of a spirited game of musical restaurants – the Dublin Pub, the highly-respected Crane’s, Fonzo’s and Rookies, another sports bar – but the current resident is obviously here to stay. If you’re skeptical, just try snaring a table on a free-for-all Saturday night or during major sporting events.
But the Fireside is more than just a great sports bar. In 2008, in only its second year of operation, the Fireside was voted #1 for family dining by the Montgomery County’s Readers’ Choice Awards. And in 2012, the restaurant was voted the Montgomery Media’s Readers’ Choice winner for Best Business Lunch, Best Takeout Lunch/Dinner, Best Casual Dining, Best Pub/Bar, Best Burger, Best Wings, and Best Catering.
The food here isn’t about to set any new culinary standards, but its solid pub grub/eclectic fare is carefully prepared, generously proportioned, and moderately priced. The “Grille” menu – salads, pizzas, munchies, sandwiches, burgers, lunch-time pastas – is available all day, with the full dinner menu kicking in at 4:00 p.m. Dinner entrées also include your choice of soup or salad and two side dishes or pasta. In addition, the “Early Bird” menu is available every day from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. and includes all the above-mentioned dinner accompaniments plus dessert for a paltry $12.95. No matter when you dine, however, neither your stomach nor your pocketbook is likely to feel shortchanged.
If you’re a pizza fan, this is definitely the place to indulge, as Fireside’s pies (which come in 10”, 12”, and 16” sizes) are infinitely superior to those I’ve sampled at several so-called “artisan” pizza joints recently. All are prepared with house-made dough & sauce and are cooked in the restaurant’s huge wood-fired brick oven. The cheese pizza with pepperoni, for example, was outstanding: plenty of cheese, plenty of sauce… and plenty of pepperoni. The crust was thin but not anorexic; and the texture – which is to say neither Pillsbury Doughboy-ish nor burned to a crisp – was perfect.
Sandwiches round up the usual suspects, from clubs & wraps and hoagies & grinders with choices of BLT, tavern ham, turkey, tuna salad or chicken salad to burgers to chicken, meatball and eggplant parmesan to variations on the kitchen’s slow-roasted beef. All are worthy of consideration.
Among the new sandwiches on the menu, there are several standouts… The roast pork Calabrese served up on a toasted hoagie roll, for instance, is a sure winner. The slices of pork are inordinately tender, not at all dry, and are aided and abetted by broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers, and crown of melted provolone cheese. A side of pork juice for dipping adds just the right complementary touch. If you’re a pork fan, the Calabrese is something of a must.
Then, of course, there is the scrumptious grilled pastrami Reuben, a recent luncheon special. Everything here was just right: the lusciously lean pastrami… melted Swiss… creamy coleslaw… and a sensuous sea of Russian dressing gently oozing from between slices of perfectly grilled rye bread. Incredibly delicious.
As you move on to the entrées proper, possibilities abound. For those feeling Italian and lyrical, there are the classic pasta & meatballs and chicken or shrimp Alfredo. Chicken and veal specialties – Marsala, parmesan, Francaise – are also present and accounted for, as are a number of seafood representatives.
Combos are quite popular with Fireside’s patrons as well… like the kitchen’s petite filet & crab cake duo, an interesting take on the surf & turf theme. A single crab cake is topped with lemon butter sauce, the filet with a house-made merlot demi-glace. Neither constituent is slighted – ditto your taste buds – the crab cake is all succulent crab, sans filler, the filet is tender yet flavorful. The perfect dish for those who have difficulty making up their minds.
The veal & shrimp Francaise is another winning combination. Both constituents are gently sautéed in a subtle lemon-butter sauce, the crunchiness of the pristinely fresh shrimp playing nicely against the slightly chewy texture of the (real, not processed) veal. Sautéed spinach and chopped fresh tomatoes add a host of contrasting flavors as well as welcome swatches of color.
Since I’m an absolute sucker for eggplant parm, the “Eggplant Rosa,” a gastronomic variant, immediately caught my eye. Eggplant cutlets were lightly breaded, fried, crowned with spinach & fresh mozzarella, splashed with house-made marinara, and companioned by penne pasta in a Rosa cream sauce.
Undeniably delicious; the eggplant was, indeed, lightly breaded and perfectly cooked… It was also humongous (see photo); I was barely able to make a dent. The accompanying pasta was especially notable… and very, very rich. Plenty of cream here; you could almost feel your arteries clogging. Highly recommended, though. However, unless you have the appetite of a ravening hyena, be prepared to lug home a significantly large doggie bag. My wife and I consumed two full meals with the leftovers from this dish.
By the way, should you be incurably carnivorous, be advised that the Fireside Bar and Grille is known for its signature prime rib – both the 12-ounce prince cut ($16.95) and 18-ounce duchess cut ($21.95) – which is served on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings only. One of the members of our party ordered the diminutive portion and was thoroughly impressed.
Desserts (if you can possibly find room) consist of tried-and-true favorites: rice pudding, ice cream, chocolate mousse, New York cheesecake, warm chocolate lava cake, warm fudge nut brownie, and traditional and chocolate cream filled cannolis. My nod, however, goes to black and white mousse cake (pictured) that is as easy on the eyes as it is on the palate. Beautiful crust and white & dark chocolate mousse that are as light as a feather.
As noted above, the Fireside serves up good solid fare at more than reasonable prices. But, like all restaurants, it has its pluses and minuses. The sandwiches, pizzas and entrées, for the most part, are quite good. The straightforward desserts are first-rate as well. Conversely, side dishes are a mixed bag. The fries are OK but nothing special; the onion rings are long on batter and short on onion; the baked potato is… well, a baked potato. The coleslaw, which is made in-house, on the other hand, is excellent. Coleslaw may sound like a “no brainer,” but it is easily mucked up. Fireside’s version incorporates just the proper amounts of mayo, sugar and vinegar, and is appetizingly creamy. It’s the best restaurant version I’ve sampled in a long, long time.
All entrées come with a starter of either soup or salad. The house salad is generic at best. Trust me, go for the soup; it’s infinitely better.
RE: Liquid Libations… A big plus: There’s a good selection of brewskies here. An equally big minus: The only wines served are house wines, which are of nominal quality from dubious sources; and they are barely quaffable. The Cabernet, however, has the most to offer. On the other hand, at $5.00 per glass it’s hard to complain.
Bottom Line: The Fireside Bar & Grille is definitely worth a visit. Lunch is always a good bet. If you decide to pop in for dinner, be advised that the place is wildly popular – especially on an anything-goes Saturday night – and the restaurant takes reservations for five or more only.