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Door County-style fish boil dinner comes to FitzGerald's in Berwyn

January 27th, 2015

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Chicago Tribune Media Group

Most Chicago residents are dreaming of warmer days, but in the meantime, an authentic Washington Island fish boil — straight out of charming Door County, Wis. — can heat up a cold winter night.

"I remember when I used to go up to Door County," said Bill FitzGerald, owner of FitzGerald's Night Club in Berwyn. "And the idea of going to an island off the tip of Wisconsin, to be transported by ferry, you knew you had really gotten away from it all. We're bringing that feeling to FitzGerald's."

FitzGerald's will have its first Washington Island Fish Boil Festival Feb. 7 with live music and a fish boil dinner of fresh-caught Lake Michigan Whitefish, red potatoes, cole slaw and dessert.

The festival will present live music in the club and sidebar, featuring Celtic rock duo Switchback, comprised of Brian FitzGerald on guitar, mandolin, and vocals, and Martin McCormack on bass and vocals. Performing American roots and Celtic soul, Switchback has an extensive repertoire that includes traditional material and originals as well as storytelling, history and humor.

Singer-songwriter Julian Hagen, a Washintgon Island native, will open for Switchback in the club, then perform in the sidebar venue, where he will be joined by friends and musical guests. Hagen will aim to recreate the spirit and sound of the sessions that go on at Fiddler's Green on Washington Island.

Hagen is a fourth generation Washington Island resident who runs a quarry on the island. But he grew up farming with his family, and music was always part of his life.

"Back in the '60s, it was still a farming and fishing community. There wasn't much to do on the island, but my father had an old guitar, and we sang every song in the world," said Hagen. "I started playing guitar when I was fifteen, used a vice grip that was under the kitchen sink to tune the guitar, and my mother always made sure I put it back. Then a nice lady gave me a hundred dollars to buy a (better) guitar, and I started writing songs."

Hagen originated the idea of the fish boil at FitzGerald's, as he had played at the club before, and has played with Switchback over the years.

"I think it's going to be a great night," he enthused. "And we love Ireland, so I'll do a kind of session in the sidebar. We play a lot at the Irish pub on the island, everything from Irish tunes to Beatles tunes, whatever comes to mind, and that's what we'll look to do."

The dinner ticket ($17) is separate from festival admission ($15), and must be purchased in advance of the event. This is because the fish boil cook, Ken Koyen, a fifth generation Washington Island native, will be catching the fish from his boat on Lake Michigan just prior to the event.

"The fish for this fish boil are still swimming," quipped Koyen, 62, owner of the Washington Island restaurant and bar, The Koyen Collection.

Koyen, nicknamed the "Fish Mortician," has been doing fish boils since 1973, and did the very first commercial fish boil on Washington Island. For the FitzGerald's festival, he plans to bring everything he needs with him from the island.

"I'll bring my own firewood and kettle, potatoes, onions, even the cherry dessert," he said.

"We'll do the boil out in the front parking lot, in between the heated tent and the sidebar," said FitzGerald. "Watching the cauldron boil over is part of the fun. So we're bringing this Washington Island experience to FitzGerald's, along with the flavors and smells. In the middle of winter here in Chicago, it will give you a taste of what it's like to be somewhere else."