OVER THE COURSE of a leisurely dinner at The Fountain Room’s July grand opening, we watched through the floor-to-ceiling windows as no fewer than three different beaming couples posed for professional photos in front of the bronze double doors of the Bottleworks boutique hotel next door. The 1931 landmark’s majestic entrance is set against a sugar-white Art Deco façade, the centerpiece of the 12-acre, mixed-use Bottleworks District that opened last year after a $300 million revamp of what was once the largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in the world. Today, wrapped in glazed terra cotta and strung with twinkle lights, it stands as one of downtown’s most stunning step-and-repeat backdrops.
“We knew we wanted to take advantage of that great view of Bottleworks,” says Blake Fogelsong, owner and director of operations for The Fountain Room’s 57-year-old parent company, Clancy’s Inc. Restaurant Group. By the same token, maybe the grand old hotel should turn its Great Gatsby gaze in the direction of this handsome new build with two levels of glorious decor, including but not limited to: cobalt-blue tufted leather chairs, a vintage Akai reel-to-reel sound system, marble bartops, cascading chandeliers, terrazzo floors, performance shelving, pops of glossy ceramic tile and boldly patterned wallpaper, lots of dramatic lighting, and 6,300 square feet of curated flair. There is a lot to take in at “Mass Ave’s Finest Supper Club.”
And then there’s the food. The menu, and executive chef Andrew Popp’s uncommon direction, merges the best parts of a retro-classic steakhouse with the big-shouldered comfort of a Wisconsin supper club. Popp wanted to focus on housemade family-style sides, freshwater catches that you might bring back from a fishing trip up north, ice cream–based desserts like grasshopper pie, and proteins that pair well with elderly cocktails. A jumbo plank of beer-battered northern Canadian whitefish served with fennel slaw and tartar sauce is one of his more obvious nods to the backwoods-gentleman vibe. In the same vein, Popp does a classic supper-club relish tray of house pickles updated with peppadew jam and pimento cheese. The French onion soup’s herbed beef broth is deceptively light under its toasty mantle of fontina. The roasted carrots wear a bourbon glaze. And diners can enhance their Certified Angus Colorado steak with a horseradish crust, or perhaps a market-priced lobster tail.
Supper club or not, a standard Wisconsin restaurant is going to serve some version of fried cheese. “But I wanted to do something a little different with that,” says Popp. Instead, he stuffed pickled peppadew peppers with pimento cheese and rolled them in panko before frying the tongue-twisters to a gooey-cored crisp. It makes sense that the same kitchen would know its way around a showstopping wedge salad (a chilly iceberg doorstop piled with Gorgonzola, pickled red onion, chopped egg, pork lardons, and buttermilk dressing) and then cook a 20-ounce cowboy ribeye with precision charring.
The Fountain Room is proud of its red meat. You can tell by the way every server talks up the sirloins, strips, and filets. And rightfully so. Prime rib is served by the fatty slab daily in three sizes—a 10-ounce Mass Ave cut, a 12-ounce queen cut, and a 16-ounce king cut—with warm, salty au jus poured tableside. Wagyu fanatics can get their fix of exquisitely marbled beef in the form of meaty Bolognese; a hulking burger topped with pimento cheese, Nueske’s slab bacon, bread-and-butter pickles, and onion jam; or Fountain Room’s elevated meatloaf with its baked-on glaze of housemade ketchup.
Chef Popp, who worked previously at Blind Owl Brewery and Cortona’s Italian Cuisine & Wine Bar in Fortville, shows his imagination in a chicken and dumplings do-over that uses three pieces of fried chicken. All thighs, of course. He replaces the standard plugs of broth-steamed dough balls with crispy Fresno-cheddar biscuits. Creamy, pepper-flecked velouté poured over the biscuits like white gravy full of carrots, celery, and onion is the only familiar touchpoint from your grandmother’s Dutch-oven recipe.
Cream-based dishes are, in fact, their own food group here. And while the luscious mouthfeel is overkill in a gloppy button-mushroom casserole, it’s pure bliss in the chipotle corn pudding thickened with polenta and lavished with sour cream. The same goes for decadent whipped Yukon gold potatoes fortified with butter, and a silky lobster bisque that should be on every soup-lover’s bucket list. The stock is rich and briny, the flavor intensified with sherry and amaretto. Every spoonful dredges up mind-blowing amounts of sweet, tender claw meat.
The prime rib French dip and noble Coca-Cola ribs are predictably delicious, but I’ve never tasted anything like the luscious brie brûlée, served in a shallow dish with a crushed-pistachio crust. You scoop up the honey-sweetened soft cheese cut with cream (of course) to give it the supple consistency of savory gelato—on thin crostini, picking up bits of onion jam and Luxardo cherry juice.
Food like this is delicious enough to give you tunnel vision. Slicing into a blue cheese–crusted filet or trying to share a velvety bittersweet chocolate pot de creme topped with crushed cookies, whipped cream, and macerated berries, you might lose sight of the grandeur of this restaurant that was two years in the making, that waited out a pandemic to make its dramatic entrance. “I remember when I first toured the building, and they shut down a week later due to the pandemic. I wasn’t sure this was ever going to happen,” says Fogelsong, whose very modern restaurant (designed by renowned Indianapolis firm Phanomen Design, which also gave us HC Tavern, Vida, and the Ironworks Rize) still manages to feel timeless. Maybe that’s because The Fountain Room is a tribute—right down to the stylized water-feature logo—to its historically effervescent neighbor next door.