Scene in South Bend: Fiddler’s Hearth
Mike Donovan | Friday, November 3, 2017
Experts position the Basque region of Spain at the forefront of progressive cuisine — lauding the region’s charismatic forays into gastronomic experimentation. Anthony Bourdain contends, “You could make the argument that there’s no better place to eat in Europe than the city of San Sebastian.”
Notice that Bourdain says Europe and not The World. He does this because, if he were to use the latter noun, San Sebastian’s gaudy Michelin stars would be pitted against South Bend’s finest traditional Irish pub, Fiddler’s Hearth.
Nay, Fiddler’s Hearth has never received a Michelin star, nor has it been featured on a hip travel show with a sassy host. But, we, the proud residents of the greater South Bend, area won’t hold this against it. We don’t base the quality of our food on petty qualifiers like professional criticism and innovation. Our taste, much like Hemingway’s prose, is simple, refined to a point and unquestionably beautiful.
Four basic categories define the ideal South Bend culinary institution: meats, beats, beer and people. Fiddler’s Hearth scores high marks in each.
Fiddler’s Hearth excels in all manner of beef, pork and lamb services, as one should expect from a self-respecting public house. The kitchen does its finest work in the area of bangers (pork sausages) and rashers (cured pork loin) both of which pair nicely with potatoes, mashed or carefully boiled but bursting with exquisite potato flavor. The core menu also serves up classic pies, most notably the Shepherd’s Pie (a spin on Lamb and potatoes) as well as Steak and Guinness Pie (a spin on steak, Guinness and, of course, potatoes).
While these meats are definitely the pinnacle of the menu, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Hearth’s respectable dishes in the sub-meat category — fish, eggs, vegetables, etc. The fan favorite Scotch Egg immediately comes to mind, perhaps because of the thick, juicy sausage blanket that surrounds the eggy material within. The Salmon of Knowledge is another viable choice, provided you like knowledge and wish to obtain more of it.
Sadly, Fiddler’s Hearth has never played “Wonderwall (Club Killer’s Remix)” on its premises, which, for some, is a deal breaker. But, to mitigate this dearth of electropop virtuosity, the restaurant hosts nightly live performances from local Celtic musicians. If the Feve-jay got you down and you’re looking to get your jig on, Fiddler’s Hearth (located mere paces away from “South Bend’s Hottest Nightclub”) has the jams to pick you right back up. Not to make pun, but Fiddler’s Hearth has some bangers to go with your bangers.
I’m not yet 21 years of age, so I definitely can’t speak with any authority on the topic, but my dad tells me that Fiddler’s Hearth has an excellent beer selection. The beers, he claims, taste really good. I’ll take his word for it. Also, Everybody seemed disproportionately loud and a bit dizzy, which, I’d assume, signifies a quality bar.
At a lame restaurant, you might walk through the door to meet a host or hostess and receive orders to wait as her or she, the boss master, imposes a table on you and your posse. Fiddler’s Hearth is not lame. When you walk through its doors, you find a chalkboard with a hastily written, “Please Seat Yourself,” inscribed on its defiant surface.
As you examine the pastiche of tables, chairs and personalities around the packed room, you initially wonder, “How could this system possibly work?” Then, after further reflection, you conclude, “Actually, I respect what they’re trying to do here. This dining room is living, microcosmic proof of benevolent anarchy. Fight the power!”
You and your squad then proceed to squeeze into a booth with 8-11. After everyone’s had a few drinks, you all become best friends. By the end of the night, everybody feels a part of a big and boisterous Irish Catholic family — but with a mix of people, many of whom aren’t Irish or Catholic — which is cool.
There is no comprehensive score of the meats, beats, beer and people at Fiddler’s Hearth (since I didn’t have the time to devise one). But, if such a score were to exist, I’m certain it would be high — a 27 at least. If this were an album review and Fiddler’s Hearth an album, I’d throw a few shamrocks their way. They definitely deserve it.
And to you, residents of greater South Bend, I issue a reminder. Your culinary lives can and should extend beyond the long, wooden tables of South Dining Hall and shiny storefronts of Eddy Street. Go downtown. Live a little. Eat some meat. Hear some beats. Drink some beer (if you’re old enough). Be the people you probably want to be. And do it at Fiddler’s Hearth because Feve is overrated.
Fiddler’s Hearth is located in downtown South Bend at 127 North Main Street, roughly 2.3 miles from Main Circle and 0.4 miles from Club Fever. Hours are Sunday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.