Drawing a balanced mix between devoted locals and food savvy out-of-towners, the Fireside Tavern is a dining oasis in the middle of a desert dominated by Pennsylvania Dutch cookin’. The Strasburg restaurant distinguishes itself from other area eateries by offering a semi-formal dining experience in a heavily-travelled area chock full of chain restaurants and tourist laden smorgasbords. I’d been here several times before. I stopped in last year for some liquid courage before attending—in full regalia and alternate persona—the Strasburg Railroad’s Steampunk unLimited. I’d met friends here for beers and apps a couple times, but I had never tried an entrée.
What drew me here today was the Fireside’s signature dish, the apricot salmon. I put in a call to Chef David Roark to see if he could sit down with me while I delved into his celebrated creation. Roark’s been at the Fireside since the beginning; he was immediately tapped by owners David Haines and Steve Kirkessner (the D&S of what was D&S Brasserie—now under new ownership as simply, The Brasserie) when they considered opening a new venture in 2008. They knew Roark and what he could do in the kitchen.
Not long after I walked in the door, he presented me with a stunningly plated dish. The salmon, crisp from where the skin of the fish made contact with the pan, was browned well enough to start my mouth watering immediately. The 7-ounce portion rested atop a pile of sweetly scented jasmine rice. The apricot glaze glistened, and the dish was finished with grilled asparagus and sautéed spinach. The perfectly prepared flesh pulled apart easily at the end of my fork and I took my first bite—sweet and spicy. The flavor combination is the entire appeal of this dish.
The heat comes from Roark’s proprietary five-pepper blend inspired by Creole and Cajun cuisine. It has a solid warmth, but nowhere near enough to fire someone up enough to order a heat-quenching glass of milk. Instead, this dish would be greatly accentuated by an IPA—maybe Resin from Sixpoint Brewery or Green Flash Brewing Company’s West Coast IPA (which is actually a double IPA clocking 95 on the International Bitterness Unit scale)–something that could accentuate the mild heat and pair with the sweetness of the apricot. Both are offered at the Fireside. Beer is something the Fireside has become known for – just take a look around the barroom; it’s lined with tap handles of past pours.
The apricot salmon—a simple, yet delicate dish—has been a top seller since the menu was first published, and Roark credits tourism with allowing him to go outside the traditional, Lancaster County culinary box. The addition of the jasmine rice is a result of some trial and error and plenty of feedback from travelers who first scoffed at potatoes being served with fish.
“This dish has gone through many, many changes. It grew into what it is now as we’ve added things, and it’s better,” said Roark.