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During a recent visit to the Fort 88 Smokehouse in Fort Atkinson, The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes almost filled up on this order of tasty waffle fries before even getting to its entree orders.

FORT ATKINSON

Several years ago, I had a most memorable event at the Fort 88 Smokehouse, and I have been meaning to get back.

It’s a short drive away—just off Highway 26 in Fort Atkinson. I didn’t know there had been a change at the restaurant, but now I realize the place has only gotten better.

Fort 88 offers a great selection of barbecue items, and the atmosphere and service are top notch. We had a delicious meal there, and I will make a point to go back.

The restaurant has a welcoming feel, from the corrugated entryway with its convenient porte cochere to provide shelter from inclement weather to its reclaimed wood and vaulted ceilings. Colorful lights strung on a pergola above the large rectangular bar greet you at the entrance.

We didn’t indulge, but there is a fine beer selection on tap.

We sat in a cozy, padded booth that comfortably accommodated all of us with room to spare. Windows lined two opposite walls and provided a nice contrast to the warm wood of the interior.

Other seating choices include an adjacent dining space as well as a number of pub-style tables. It should be noted, too, that the eatery has two additional overflow dining areas ideal for events such as rehearsal dinners, showers and office parties. There also is an outdoor, dog-friendly patio.

As we perused the menu, hip, folksy blues music played in the background. We wanted to sample all of the appetizers, but we settled on the Fort 88 fries ($10). It was a wise choice.

The dish featured a heaping plate of crispy waffle fries topped with brisket, pulled pork, fresh pico de gallo, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Jalapeños provided just the right amount of heat. We all over-indulged, but I ended up cleaning the plate.

Although I was already full from the fries, the menu was so enticing that I wanted to try everything. I ordered the brisket dinner ($17), which offered a dry-rubbed, tender brisket, which was extra smoky and perfect for my sauce adventure. There were four barbecue selections at the table, and while I enjoyed the lightly sweet Carolina sauce, I was won over by the complex South African sauce’s light heat and a subtle curry.

My side order of Brussels sprouts were soft and yummy, boasting a hint of bacon in a sweet and sour dressing topped with Parmesan. Did I mention dinner also came with a nice serving of coleslaw and some wonderful cornbread?

Helene ordered the Asian ahi tuna salad ($16) which had just about everything in it—corn, thinly sliced red onions, walnuts, mandarin oranges, a mango-papaya pineapple salsa, seaweed, grape tomatoes, black sesame seeds, crunchy wonton strips all on a bed of mixed greens. Colorful and beautifully arranged on top were a half-dozen slices of ahi tuna that had a spicy herb crust along the edges and nice pink centers. There were a lot of flavors and textures, and everything was fresh and summery.

For her entree, Jennifer ordered a nightly special—the pastrami hero ($13). Served on a bakery hoagie bun, it was overflowing with shaved, smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, slivers of red pepper, a pickle and Dijon mustard. She had to admit that it was one of the best sandwiches she has had the pleasure of eating.

Jennifer also upgraded her side order to the braised purple cabbage ($2). The sautéed cabbage and onions had a sweetness to them, which our waiter explained was likely due to the house-made dressing added to the dish.

It’s not very often we find duck on a menu, so when Nikki saw that Fort 88 offers a smoked duck breast salad ($14), she decided to give it a try.

The smoky meat was served in thin slices on mixed greens with the perfect sweet and tangy combination of blue cheese, candied walnuts, Craisins and a raspberry dressing. We all took a taste and agreed it was a winner. For fans of the rich-tasting yet lean meat, it is definitely a dish worth ordering.

Did we have room for dessert? Barely. But after we heard the selections, we couldn’t resist.

Fort 88’s peach cobbler ($7) and its white chocolate banana bread pudding ($8) are both made in-house. As a bonus, both were served warm and came with scoops of vanilla ice cream and dollops of whipped cream.

The crust on the cobbler was moist and flaky, and the peach filling had a pronounced cinnamon taste. The bread pudding literally melted in our mouths, and the rich banana custard absorbed into every nook and cranny.

We highly recommend saving a little space for one (or more) of this restaurant’s wonderful homemade desserts.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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