City: Charlottesville, VA
Foodie: Extra P., Storming the Floor
Venue: John Paul Jones Arena
Team: Virginia Cavaliers (NCAA)
Address: 295 Massie Road, Charlottesville, VA
Extra P’s Taste
I know you hear people say all the time that they’ll eat just about anything, and you have to roll your eyes a bit. But I am seriously just as happy with a nice plate of macaroni and cheese as I am with high-end seafood. In my opinion, it’s all in the execution.
With that in mind, I’m still going to advise you to skip the indoor concessions at JPJ. They’re really uninspired, and there’s so much in a town like Cville that is truly local and fantastic. In fact, the sheer volume of good places to eat in this town is overwhelming enough that I’m going to limit my reviews to dining establishments that are within a one-mile radius of the arena. This is no handicap – you can get full and happy quite easily within that cordon.
In fact, one of my favorite restaurants in town is in the area, so let’s start there.
El Puerto Mexican Restaurant, 2045 Barracks Rd, Charlottesville, VA
There are lots of good Mexican restaurants in Charlottesville, but El Puerto is my favorite, and it’s very close to JPJ. It’s family-owned, which means the food is consistently excellent and authentic. The décor rocks, with hand-drawn artwork under the glass at each table, and bottles of jarritos soda lining the room divider to add a little neon color to the surroundings. For your aural pleasure, it’s Mexican pop music all the time, but not so loud you can’t have a conversation.
The food is out of this world. There are two things that consistently draw me to El Puerto: the spicy chorizo sausage, and the braised pork chunks called carnitas. I took my camera on a recent lunch outing so I’d be able to show you these wonderful items. What you see here is the queso dip with chorizo stirred in, which goes great on the chips, but is also served poured over a pounded chicken breast in the dinner special known as Chori-Pollo. For my main dish, I ordered a carnitas burrito, which comes with refried beans and Spanish rice. As you can see, everything is rustic and beautiful. And it tastes even better than it looks.
This was a huge lunch, so I had the added joy of taking half of it home and eating it later. Order anything on the menu, it’s all great. And if you like drinks, they make tasty margaritas, and the strongest Jack & Coke around. Prices are very reasonable as an added bonus, so my family and I come here a lot.
Panda Garden/Carmello’s Italian Restaurant, 380/400 North Emmet St.
For proximity, you can’t beat these two joints. They are literally right across the street from JPJ on lots adjacent to one another. Which you’d think might cause them to rest on their laurels a bit, but each place does a good job under completely different circumstances.
Carmello’s is a nice, sit-down Italian restaurant. You’ll be looking at more expensive and refined dishes, like escargot and veal. You don’t have to dress up, but you will need to make sure you’re willing to budget for a more expensive meal, especially if you order a bottle of wine. If you’re more the pizza and Stromboli type, go across the street and a block or so south and you’ll be at Italian Villa, a student favorite.
On a budget, it’s tough to beat Panda Garden’s lunch buffet, which is $6.40 all-you-can-eat. I’ve eaten at a lot of Chinese buffet joints, and I know every trick in the book that owners use to stretch a buck – scrappy cuts of meat under tons of breading, three parts bok choy to one part everything else, and tiny, lonely shrimp amongst others – and I can say with delight that none of those things happened here. My favorite buffet offerings are chicken w/ broccoli and General Tso’s, and I usually put both on my plate at the same time. Both passed my test – the broccoli was steamed just right, and the breaded chicken was plump and crispy. That’s probably why Panda Garden thrives so near the grounds of the University. A good meal at a reasonable price.
Bodo’s is a local treasure. It hits the trifecta of cheap, filling, and tasty. Last I counted, there were three locations around Cville, but this one is the closest to the ball games. Aside from the food, most locals also enjoy the piped-in deep cuts of classic rock and the college-hottie waitstaff.
The bagels are made on-site in all of the standard flavors, but they’re put together in all manner of ways to satisfy the palate for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One of my favorites in the morning is the deli-egg sandwich, which is sort of a mini meat and cheese omelette in the middle of a sliced bagel. There are also several varieties of flavored cream cheese, amongst which my preference is for the olive cream cheese (not to be confused with kalamata olive spread, which has no cream cheese in it), with its colorful slices of black olive, green olive, and pimento inside.
After 11am, I usually build a smoked turkey with avocado and either swiss or provolone on sesame – but you can do whatever you want.
The Tavern, 1140 Emmet Street North
Honestly, my family has other favorite breakfast joints, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention the Tavern. It’s a hugely popular greasy spoon with pancakes made from scratch and just about every other type of breakfast food you can imagine. It’s easy to find, just look for the sign painted on the roof.
Padow’s Deli, 2156 Barracks Road
Kind of a regional chain, but all of the meat is sliced on the premises and made into deli sandwiches that are decidedly southern in nature and won’t remind you of New York in the slightest. Nothing against the Big Apple, but I think a place should have its own regional take.
This is another place where standardization has never taken hold. The order-takers have a pad with each meat, cheese, bread and condiment on it, and they just circle what you want as you order. If you’re the indecisive type, look at the chalkboard menu for some favorites that have become standard offerings. Once you order your sandwich, you can ask for a scoop of potato salad from behind the counter, or accessorize your meal from the burgeoning rack of chips against the near wall. I always choose the small-batch Route 11 chips, which come in delicious flavors like Dill Pickle, Chesapeake Crab, and my favorite, Garlic & Herb. They also make a habanero flavored chip that really sears the taste buds.
A word of warning: in Virginia, ham means salty, fatty country ham. If that’s what you want, order the three (3) ham biscuits special. If that’s not what you want, look for modifiers like honey- or maple- in front of your sliced pig. This is a great place to hang out and nosh before a game. Answer the daily trivia question on the chalk board and you could end up with free food.
Arch’s Frozen Yogurt, 1232 Emmet Street North
This is just one of three Arch’s in Cville, but I love the total concept of this location. It’s housed in a free-standing modern building with two stories, tons of natural light, and verandas front and back for outdoor summer seating. The walls are brightly painted, and ordering can be done simply from the big chalk board (a popular concept these days).
This is one of those places where the staff mixes whatever you want into your frozen concoction, so I made a cup with peanuts and banana because that’s what I was in the mood for at the time. The pre-selected options on the board sound great, though.
Since basketball is played in the winter, you won’t likely be using the outdoor seating if you’re going to JPJ. But the upstairs area has plenty of seating, it’s nice and warm, and there’s art on the walls if you need a conversation starter. Can’t beat it for dessert.
Needless to say, there’s no drinking in the on-campus arena, so you’ll want to imbibe before or after. The closest place is Buffalo Wild Wings, on the edge of Barracks Road Mall. It’s your typical sports bar, but I love ordering the wings and then having the staff douse them in a sauce from the list of fourteen available – ranging from Caribbean Jerk to Parmesan Garlic to Habanero. There’s a similarly wide-ranging beer list, as well.
If you prefer hip to quick-n-easy, head over to the central grounds of the university to the entertainment district known as The Corner. That’s where you’ll find the beautiful people and the fancy cocktails. Just make sure you’ve had your booster shot to help you tolerate all of the popped collars.
That’s it for the basketball area. Come football season, we’ll look at the very different list of badass eats around Scott Stadium.
City: Charlottesville, VA
If you can stand Steve Somers' voice, the host of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives chats with the host "about Super Bowl foods representing both the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers."
When you click play, you can skip the jibber-jabber and get right to the FanFoodie red meat by skipping to the second arrow on the status bar.
City: Fairfax, Virginia
Foodie: Extra P, Storming the Floor
Venue: The Patriot Center
Team: George Mason Patriots (NCAA)
Address: 4500 Patriot Circle Fairfax, VA 22030
Extra P's Taste
During college basketball season, I like to take a few road trips to see what the atmosphere is like in other arenas. The atmosphere, and the food.
On an early January weekend, I decided to take my six-year-old son to his first basketball game. I’m an Old Dominion grad who lives in Charlottesville, VA, so it was actually just as easy to travel to northern Virginia to see my alma mater play at George Mason as it would have been to drive to Norfolk to catch them at home.
I know nothing about Fairfax, and didn’t come across any non-chain restaurants between the interstate and the George Mason campus, so I can only assess what was available in and around the Patriot Center.
The Johnson Center Food Court
We got to the suburban campus a little early, hoping to walk around and see what the surroundings were like. Extra P, Jr. was hungry, so as we walked, we kept our eyes open for some sort of student union building. After visiting the statue of George Mason himself, we found the Johnson Center, which seemed perfect.
Inside, the Center looked very much like a suburban mall. My son got off his first good line of the day, saying "Daddy, why did you bring me to the train station to eat?" Kids. I tell ya. But he had a point – it resembled nothing so much as Union Station in D.C., but without the trains.
We saw many people sitting at the food court tables, eating, but all of the restaurants had the screens down and locked. All that we could find open was a convenience store and the student merchandise store. Ordinarily, we would have been able to choose from the usual array of chain restaurants, as well as less-familiar names like Charleston Market and Jazzman’s
Alas, today this was not an option.
Figuring we’d be in the arena soon, we opted for bottled water and snacks. One unique item we picked up at the convenience store counter were these George Mason jelly bellies. They tasted like… well, jelly bellies. But they did have that neato specialized packaging that at least let us know where we were.
After a quick visit to the merchandise store to grab the cheapest memorabilia we could find (foam finger and pair of athletic socks with GMU logos), we were off to the game.
The Patriot Center
Now, since it was just me and EPJr, I planned to eat guy style: whatever we wanted, and however much we wanted. Which explains why my son’s meal began with soft-serve ice cream. Prices were the typical college arena level – overpriced, but not quite what you’d pay at a pro joint – but the folks behind the counter didn’t skimp on the vanilla, as you can see.
The rest of the food was a pretty standard selection, though there were noticeable quality gaps within the offerings. I was pleased to find that each window had different items, as I’ve been to other arenas that offered roughly the same stand every hundred feet or so. Nonetheless, EPJr can’t go to a game without eating a hot dog, so that’s where we started out.
You’re looking at fifteen bucks. It would have been twenty, but my son, strangely enough, does not like soda. The condiments left a lot to be desired – just mustard and ketchup to lubricate the five-dollar less-than-footlongs. I like the yellow stuff, and my son likes the red stuff, so we were relatively settled. Sadly, the buns were a bit stale, and the hotdogs were totally ordinary. I felt we could do better.
EPJr was perfectly happy to cleanse his palate with some cotton candy, and who can blame him? It’s a classic, and it’s hard to screw up. And there are few sights better than a brightly-dressed arena employee balancing the big tray of pink, fluffy goodness.
For me, however, something more substantial was required. I had it in my mind that I had passed a stand offering chicken BBQ at some point, so I went out for a quick recon. I was a little nervous about leaving the kid alone in his seat, even with the nice people sitting next to us, so I probably didn’t go far enough in my search. I stopped at the biggest and busiest window to ask about the possibly fictional Chix BBQ, and got this reply: “Wul, we’ve got chicken, and I can give you some barbeque sauce to put on it.” No… just, No.
I settled on the lovely grease bomb you see here. Now, I want you to know that I don’t use the word “grease” in a pejorative sense. Done properly, grease makes an excellent condiment. And this was done properly. This was known as a chopped steak sandwich, which I appreciated, because I’ve been to Philly, and calling something like this a cheesesteak is false advertising. But this was great for what it was – real chopped meat instead of steak-umms, the right amount of peppers and onions, and some stringy white cheese – and I enjoyed every sloppy bite. It filled the gnawing hole in my stomach and used grease in just the right way – it soaked into the bun just enough to make it moist, but not enough to make it soggy. Very nice.
Our final indulgence was popcorn. Some attendees got theirs for free, as the staff of the Patriot Center dropped paper bags from the gantries on the ceiling, suspended from little parachutes. EPJr was very disappointed when none fell to him, so I dropped the rest of our food dough on a large paper cup full. My son hates the fake squirt-butter, so I have to say that this tasted like Styrofoam to me, but he was more than satisfied.
In the final analysis, it seems to me that anyone familiar with stadium food will find plenty to enjoy here. While I can’t particularly recommend what is ordinarily a staple - hot dogs - there is a wide variety of other options that can be easily parsed out by peeking at the baskets your fellow sports fans are carrying around. It’s probably worth doing a little of that peek-and-sniff research to suss out the best options, because if you eat like me and the little nipper, you can easily spend more on comestibles than you did on your tickets.
For variety, decent portions, and floating popcorn, I give the Patriot Center a solid B. The inconsistency from booth to booth, and the lack of a signature go-to item kept them from scoring any higher, but a guy can eat there. If you’re there on a night when the nearby food courts are open, you might be in A- territory.
Oh, and they’ve got a heck of a basketball team going, too.
Rest of photos by Extra P
City: Lexington, Kentucky
Foodie: Straitpinkie Squad, Straightpinkie.com
Team: Kentucky Wildcats (NCAA)
Address: 1540 University Drive, Lexington, KY 40506 (The Wealth); 432 W Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40506 (Rupp)
Whether you are in town to see Rich Brooks and the revitalized Kentucky football program whomp on some fools in Commonwealth, or have came to watch the most storied program in all of college basketball, Billy Clyde's boys add another page to the history of Rupp Arena, these are the dining and drinking experiences you must try before leaving the L-E-X. The dining in Rupp Arena and The Wealth leaves a WHOLE LOT to be desired. Unless you wanna chomp on some Subway, Wendy's, A&W, or Fazoli's, you're gonna wanna eat before and after the events. Here's where to go:
385 S Limestone, Lexington, KY 40508
The best hand-tossed pizza anywhere and the largest draft beer selection in Central Kentucky. If you're just lookin' to have a couple slices and get hammered in preparation of the night ahead, here's your spot. Pazzo's has the main floor bar, a Bourbon bar, a Back Bar, a Downstairs Pub and an Outdoor Patio (in other words, plenty of room to get plastered). Chow down on Pazzo's signature dish, the Mezzaluna: pizza and calzone in one, served stuffed and topped with cheese and marinara.
Then its on to the drankin’!!! We can’t even begin to list all the beers Pazzo’s has available and chilled, just waiting for your palate to taste… Over 40 beers on tap with a full-service bar, and imports from just about every country on the globe. If you are a stout fan, try out a Russian Imperial Stout, the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10.6% ABV). Like Rye Beers? Go for a Goose Island Mild Winter Rye Ale (5.6% ABV) from Chitown. Wanna get hammered and fast? Down a Doppelbock from Austria entitled the Samichlaus (14.0% ABV). Happy Hour is from 4-7pm every day and features half price appetizers and $1.95 Domestic Drafts. They also have daily pint specials. LOVE THIS PLACE!!
101 Cochran Rd, Lexington, KY 40502
Billy’s has been featured in the New York Times and The Sophisticated Traveler, but no matter their success the staff at Billy’s will welcome you with down home Southern-style hospitality. Open for thirty years Billy’s has perfected the taste of real pit barbecue. But you’ll want to start out by sampling some of their appeteasers. From banana pepper rings, battered & fried, to catfish strips with homemade tartar sauce, Billy’s appeteasers do just what their name suggests, tease you with small samples of the deliciousness that is to come.
The straitpinkie squad’s favorite menu item is the Billy’s Blitz, a large Bar-B-Q samich, topped with slaw, cheese, onion & tomato, your choice of pork, beef, mutton, or pulled chicken, served with a pickle. But you really can’t go wrong with your selection, and it isn’t limited to just barbecue, if you wish you can try out a bratwurst, a hamburger, or some pork tenderloin and spare ribs. Billy’s side dishes are off the charts as well, from their sweet & tangy cole slaw to their southern favorite cheese grits and blackeyed peas, to their cooked on the pit baked beans. Mmmmm.
3347 Tates Creek Rd, Lexington, KY 40502
Best steak in Lexington hands down and is also attached to Oscar's oyster and piano bar, which makes for an excellent relaxed, yet sophisticated atmosphere whilst you are downing a cold Kentucky Ale and shuckin' some oysters on the half shell and reminiscin' about how the Whomp Squad just put a hurtin' on another high-powered SEC offense.
A La Lucie
159 N Limestone, Lexington, KY 40507
A delectable French dining experience awaits you at A La Lucie. Their menu is all-embracing, and you can stay local and try a Kentucky Hot Brown (ham and turkey served open faced over toasted bread and topped with tomato, bacon and rich Mornay sauce).
Or branch out and try another straitpinkie squad favorite, the Kentucky Rabbit (slow braised Marion County rabbit with white wine, herbs, mushrooms, and roast new potatoes). Dinner here can be a little pricy, so if your wallet is light, hit up A La Lucie for lunch which is much more affordable and just as appetizing. And lunch or dinner, you must finish your visit to A La Lucie's with Miss Lucie her self's Lexington Bread Pudding (served warm and topped with a Kentucky bourbon hard sauce).
265 N Limestone, Lexington, KY 40507
Part of the historic Downtown Restaurant District, Caribbean-inspired dishes and live reaggae music with a lively patio scene make the Atomic Cafe, a unique, fun experience. The straitpinkie squad recommends you start off with the sweet potato chips and salsa. Then its on to a cup of conch soup and finally go for the Jerk Chicken sandwich with black beans and rice (also highly recommended to swap out either the beans or the rice for their very tasty mac and cheese). Have a Sioux City Fine Jamaican Ginger Beer with your meal to perfectly offset the spice, cinnamon, and nutmeg of the jerk chicken. Hang around as the Atomic Cafe doubles as a nightclub and the ladies love the Latin dancing!!!
Mad Mushroom Pizza
341 S Limestone # B, Lexington, KY 40508
Perfect for the late, late night snack. Pizza here is good, but the way to go is the CheeseStix...Just $5 for a 10” small, these babies are mouth-watering goodness. Fresh homemade dough basted with garlic butter & smothered with mozzarella cheese. Served with Ranch and Pizza Sauce on the side for Dipping. Mmmmm.
249 E Main St, Lexington, KY 40507
For scrumptious I-talian food, treat yourself to a feast at Portofino's downtown on Main. The Focaccia Bread is out of this world, and again you can't go wrong with any selection off the menu. We would recommend starting off with the calamari and rock shrimp. Semolina dusted, lightly fried squid and rock shrimp, herb aioli and marinara sauces.
The straitpinkie squad is a big fan of Portofino's Lasagna and Chicken Parmesan, or if you're in the mood for a sandwich definitely try the Cuban Wrap. A sliced grilled pork tenderloin, turkey & swiss tortilla served with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pickles & cumin-lime aioli. Unreal.
367 E Main Street, Lexington, KY 40507
Home to reasonably priced beer and the best live music venue we have ever seen. The Dame recently moved into the Main Street Live complex and to be honest, none of the straitpinkie squad has seen the new setup. However, they retained 100% of their staff and Tom Yost is still the owner, so we have 100% confidence that The Dame is still one of, if not the best, places to see live music. If you are lucky enough, you will be in town during one of Slaughters, Kentucky's own Chris Knight's performances. And if you are not that lucky, you should still check out C Knight's music, he is one of the greatest singer/songwriters to ever grace the planet.
Two Keys Tavern
333 S Limestone, Lexington, KY 40508
When the day is done, and the night is young, this is where you’ll want to head to wrap up your evening. Only a stone’s throw (literally 0.1 miles from Pazzo’s) and essentially a legend, Two Keys offers a dive/frat house/outdoor ambiance complete with beer memorabilia and UK relics. A back deck, several bars, and sidewalk seating and the place is still almost always packed full of the city’s hardest partiers. Enjoy the live music, comedy acts, televised sporting events, pool tables, and tasty pub fare, and of course all the undergrads, cheap beer and drunken debauchery. Equipped with 18 flat screen TVs and a 10 foot projector screen, you can watch the replays of all the whompin’ highlights from the day, or catch a west coast game live. If you happen to be in town on Thursday night you should take advantage of Two Keys’ all you can drink ($10 for guys, $8 for girls)...
City: Dallas, Texas
Foodie: Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com
Venue: American Airlines Center
Address: 2500 Victory Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75201
Teams: Dallas Mavs (NBA), Dallas Stars (NHL)
Dallas is not LA and Dallas is not New York and Dallas is embarrassed by that fact. We fancy ourselves that sort of "entertainment destination," though, and in order to delude ourselves we elevate our sports personalities to movie-star strata. Roger Staubach is our Clint Eastwood. Dirk Nowitzki is our Elvis. Emmitt Smith is our Samuel L. Jackson. Mark Cuban is our George Clooney. Nolan Ryan is our John Wayne. Terrell Owens is our Andy Dick. Jessica Simpson and Angie Harmon get so much gossip/society-page burn around here, you’d think they were Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. Skip Bayless is our Anthony "Psycho" Perkins, or maybe our Nora Desmond, or maybe our Rosie O’Donnell, I don’t know.
So we worship these sporty sorts. And we eat and drink. What else do we have to do here? God screwed us out of mountains and oceans, leaving us to build billion-dollar monuments to our team owners. (Bow to Jerry.) But the highways meet here, so the food and the booze can be hauled in. As a result, it is said that Dallas has per-capita the most eateries of any city in the United States. We invented the Margarita and the Corny Dog (we also invented the sickness resulting from mixing the two), we re-invented Mexican food (Tex-Mex!) and barbecue, and if we leave any scraps on the table, we brush them to the floor where a waiting Nate Newton appreciatively gobbles them up.
I’m buyin’. You leave the tip:
AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER Two key points about the grub at the home arena of the Mavs and Stars. One, Mavs owner Mark Cuban long ago made a point to be personally responsible for making sure the nachos has enough cheese. Two, at least one Mavs player has developed a superstitious habit of eating an arena hot dog before every tipoff.
Gerald Green has a famous food association with the cupcake; he’s a past winner of the NBA Slam-Dunk Contest for having blown out the candle on a dessert while slamming one home. But he also slams hot dogs. 82 of them a year. He says one before each game. And if an American Airlines Center hot dog is good enough for a professional athlete – and is personally supervised by a billionaire – it should be good enough for you.
CAMPISI’S EGYPTIAN RESTAURANT There’s a lot of history here. Some Italian stuff. (I don’t know where the “Egyptian’’ comes from.) Some sexy stuff. One of the kids, Amber Campisi, is a recent Playmate of the Month. Nice girl, too. More curves that a NASCAR race at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Thin-crust pizza. Phenomenal. David Campisi is the muscle here. But Amber might be around here somewhere.
CLUB DRAGONFLY at HOTEL ZAZA This is as close as we get to a Beverly Hills Hotel-type scene. The hotel itself is unique and boutique, with expensive “theme’’ rooms. Downstairs is a beautifully-appointed bar, lush with curtains and candles.
And it’s beautifully–appointed with beautiful people, too. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Outside is where it gets a little rowdy; the pool is open most of the year, except when it gets chilly, when they put a plexiglass floor over the pool and erect a tent (with chandeliers) and the party goes on.
Jock regulars include NBA folks like Spud Webb and Erick Dampier, and ex-NFL standouts like Winfred Tubbs and Ray Crockett and Fox broadcaster Joe Buck. And when real-live stars are in town to perform, they often stay here … and then roam down by the pool, behind velvet ropes. Hey, there’s Christina Aguilera with her unnaturally large boobs!
You can look, but don’t touch. … unless you’ve got enough game to buy Christina Aguilera a very expensive drink.
Oh, and say hi to Andrew the bartender. If you want something fancy, do the calamari, specially imported. Me? I order the sliders. They’re affordable, and not as dainty as the rest of the place.
MO & HULLY’S Mike Modano took me into his home some years ago when I got a divorce. Brett Hull took Sean Avery onto his team some months ago with no knowledge of his views on “sloppy seconds.’’
A perfect team to start a new restaurant, right?
They’ll get guidance from hockey friend Bob Sambol of the legendary Bob's Steak & Chop House and from Eddie Cervantes, who will help run the place after years of overseeing Primo’s, an affordable see-and-be-seen Mexican food hangout on McKinney Avenue.
Modano tells me the goal for the soon-to-open joint is “an upscale sports bar with a special room in back for the guys to just hangout.’’ By “guys,’’ I assume he means “Stars teammates from past and present.’’ But go ahead on back there, assuming you’re not scared of getting crosschecked by Craig Ludwig.
MILO BUTTERFINGERS This is where your drunk grandpa can sit at the bar and ogle SMU co-eds, where Oliver Stone filmed part of “Born On The Fourth Of July,’’ where cheap pitchers and patty melts rule, and where the charming bartender who used to play minor-league hockey before falling due to a bout with mononucleosis is nicknamed “Mono.’’
LEE HARVEY’S You’ll go for the controversial name. You’ll stay for the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the burgers and the atmosphere – which includes dog owners bringing their pets to hang around in the yard. A dump. A delightful old-fashioned dump.
THE OLD MONK Want something more affordable, more earthy, a little more "alternative?" Let’s go to "the Monk," a hangout for beer connoisseurs, budget-minded consumers and journalist types. (And in this day and age, journalism types – who have always been beer connoisseurs – are now very much budget-minded consumers.) The guys and girls of D Magazine (a glossy chronicler of the city) hang out at the Monk with such frequency that they have their own designated table at which they seem to conduct nightly “staff meetings.’’
And they will quite possibly invite you on over.
SAL’S PIZZA It’s just Sal. And Pizza. Big, greasy, fold-it-over-like-in-New York pizza.
And Sal. I did see former Cowboys receiver Kevin Williams in here once. But mostly, you get Sal.
SONNY BRYAN’S “Since 1910.’’ Barbecue. There are other locations now, but the original is on Inwood, and here’s the deal: Get the affordable dinner plate, with a big pile of brisket and a big pile of sausage. Throw some Texas-sized onion rings on there. Find yourself a Corona bottle full of BBQ sauce and then squeeze yourself into your seat – which is an old-timey schoolkid’s desk. It’s all pretty comical, people from all walks of life trying not to spill on themselves while squatting in a chair built for a third-grader.
VICTOR TANGO Tristan Simon is a brilliant restauranteur who has created a kingdom of bars, clubs and restaurants in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood. Some of it’s a little pricey, but if you want to watch as a visiting Tracy McGrady try to picks up chicks – and struggle on the night a few years ago when I watched him -- it’s worth the price of admission.
ADAIRS SALOON Beer in cans, jalepenos on the burgers and country music on the jukebox. The wooden walls are covered with years and years of customers’ drunken scribbles. Cowboy hats are optional, but you should definitely bring a Sharpie.
NICK & SAM’S Bill Parcells loved this place, and little wonder: This is old-fashioned, men’s-clubby, dark-wood-and-leather East Coast class. The boss is Joe Palladino, who is always impeccably dressed and impeccably mannered and if you have a wallet-full and want to big-time it at Nick & Sam’s, I’d advise you to mind your dress and your manners, too. And when you order that big-ass steak, make sure they bring the mac-and-cheese. Everybody orders the mac-and-cheese.
THE LODGE It’s a gentlemen’s club. I’ve got to include it, though – even though I never go to such establishments because I’m too busy at church and all – because it is unusual in four different ways. 1) It just won an award for Best Gentlemen’s Club In America. 2) One of the managers is long-time Dallas newspaper guy Michael Precker, who is the last guy you’d expect to be a manager in a strip club; 3) The Lodge is owned by a woman, Dawn Rizos, and you wouldn’t expect that, either; and 4) the lunches are extraordinarily good and yes I’m talking about the food.
On a recent business visit – for the purpose of this article, actually, though I am somewhat hesitant to submit my rather large expense tab to FanFoodie – I had the buffalo burger (real buffalo meat) and one of the other guys had the tilapia. Terrific, all of it, and at prices like you’d spend at IHOP or something.
The idea, of course, is to get you and the many jocks who populate the place to spend your money on stuff besides the buffalo burger and the tilapia. But let me make it clear to you – and to my girlfriend, who is reading this over my shoulder – that I went all the way with the buffalo burger and I only flirted a little bit with tilapia and then I left.
Says Precker: “Coming to The Lodge for the food sounds like the old Playboy magazine line, when people say, ‘I read it for the articles.’ But it’s true. Our food is way, way better than it has to be.’’
DAIRY QUEEN This is the one located in Coppell, not far from the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch headquarters. If you’re not a Texan, you may not fully understand this, but Dairy Queens here are part of the old-school fabric of the community. In smaller towns, the DQ is still the congregating place, right there alongside the school and the church and the old lady who lives with 500 cats and tells you to get off her lawn. Now, this Dairy Queen in this town? It’s the one used as a stage for Mark Cuban to laugh at himself after his early 2000’s anti-ref rage. The owner had said that NBA officiating boss Ed Rush “couldn’t manage a Dairy Queen.’’ Cuban then demonstrated his marketing genius by arranging to show up at this fast-food locale, donned a DQ uniform (complete with a nametag that read “Tony’’ and we’ve recognized his alter ego of “Tony Cubes’’ ever since), and labored to get the trademark swirl atop the cones just right.
TEN SPORTS GRILL Nothing is more irritating to a “sports fan’’ than visiting a “sports bar’’ and discovering that it’s not a “sports bar’’ at all but rather just a fern bar with TVs. And you know how so often you’ll go into one of those places and the TV will be on ESPN by rote. … because the manager knows that ESPN means “sports’’ but the manager doesn’t know that right now on ESPN they’re showing a billiards tournament and somebody ought to wake the fuck up and turn it to the Duke-UNC game over on CBS?
They don’t do that at Ten. They’re on the ball, these guys. They’re on the ball the way you’d have to be if, say, you were the former strength-and-conditioning coach for the Dallas Mavericks.
Which co-owner Chad Lewis is.
His employment with the Mavs allowed him to build friendships with a number of NBA players, and even now, when Steve Nash is in town, he knows which bar will be able to find a soccer game for him to watch. (Chad thinks soccer is the reason he and Eddie Najera and some fellas called the joint “10.’’ The best soccer player wears jersey No. 10. But he’s clearly only guessing that’s the origin.)
You can get a 2-for-10 deal here, two lunches for 10 bucks. Fish tacos. I recommend the fish tacos.
CAPITAL GRILLE NBA teams come to Dallas and often stay at the fancy Crescent hotel. That makes for a convenient lunch just around the corner at the Capital Grille, where they are hosted by the extraordinarily mustachioed managing partner Greg Cavanagh. At night, it’s a “Wall Street’’ sort of place. Power brokers. They can buy and sell guys like us. But at lunch? You’re likely to see Shaq or Phil Jackson or KG eating alone, steak and a salad.
Come to think of it, Shaq and Phil and KG can buy and sell guys like us, too.
WILD ABOUT HARRY’S Because it’s located in hoity-toity Highland Park near downtown, it draws neighborhood locals like Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones, Tom Hicks and T. Boone Pickens. Because it has the best hot dogs in town and the most uniquely delicious frozen custard on the planet, it draws Troy Aikman and his daughters in from the suburbs, draws loaded of Sooners during Texas-OU Week, and draws high-school kids made to feel like grandchildren of the warm and personable proprietor Harry Coley. The walls are filled with photos and newspaper clippings. Nothing fancy, no custom framing or anything; it’s like the whole low-key joint is one huge refrigerator, with family keepsakes magnetized to it.
You can’t miss it when you drive away from downtown a few miles north on 75 and then a couple blocks east on Knox: Wild About Harry’s storefront features pink awnings, a 6-foot-tall statue of a smiling hot dog, and a line of smiling customers.
There’s no booze here – believe me, the hot dogs and the custard are a high all by themselves – but Harry’s no prude. Our friendship began in the mid-90’s, when he called into my radio show to brag about his sidewalk tables being “the best place in Dallas to look at the women.’’
“In front of a hog dog diner?’’ I wondered.
“Yessir,’’ the avuncular Harry told me and the audience with a wink that was almost audible. “The post office is right across the street. And this is the post office where all the ‘kept women’ in town do their business. Dallas has the most beautiful women in America, and they all come to this post office. I can sit out there all afternoon and girl-watch the day away.’’
CHAMPPS Now, it’s a little fern-bar’y, I know. A little chain’y, too. But the Champps in Las Colinas – near the Cowboys headquarters, near where they play the PGA’s Byron Nelson – has personality. Ask for Will the Waiter – he’s a savant who, when you tell him your birthday, will regale you with stories of every single thing that ever happened on that day. Sports, news, the weather, you name it. After you order the chopped salad and the pulled-pork sandwich and a very cold, very tall beer, Will will dish about the customers, too. All the beefy Cowboys come in here, as does Dallas’ First Couple (at least until George and Laura get here and establish their new home and the Bush Library, the world’s only library its living namesake will never use). Yes, Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson might be right over there, in a private corner. And when they leave, watch as Cowboys-crazed dinners rush Will the Waiter and beg for some of Jess’ leftover buffalo wings and a sip of Tony’s backwash beer.
“I want to taste greatness!’’ one of the scrap-beggars recently exclaimed.
Of course, that was before the Cowboys failed to qualify for the playoffs. So “greatness’’ is a slight exaggeration.
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Campisi's: Mr. Kimberly's photostream
Lee Harvey's François Hogue's photostream
Sonny Bryan's mysteryship's photostream
Adair's: Roadside Burger Blog
Nick & Sam's: GuideLive
Wild About Harry's: donovanhouse's photostream
City: Portland, Oregon
Foodie: Ben Golliver, Blazersedge.com
Venue: Rose Garden
Team: Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
Address: 1 N Center Court St, Portland, OR 97227
Like any giant corporate arena, the Rose Garden is more than adept at pulling the dollars out your pocket. No matter your budget, you’re probably going to walk out of the RG feeling like you spent too much money. But more than likely you’ll be full. Which is kind of the point.
The best food options at the Rose Garden break down into 3 tiers just like the seats. I call these tiers "Big Ballin," "Sorta Ballin" and "Budget Ballin." Hey, it’s a recession, so if you made it to the building, no matter what, you deserve the title "baller." First, the best places in the RG to ball on; next, the best places for the sports fan around Portland.
If money is no object, No doubt the place to eat in the Rose Garden is the Courtside Club. Open only to those with 100 level tickets, VIPs, and occasional VUPs (very unimportant people, like your friendly blogger), the Courtside Club provides some of the best service in a city that’s not nearly as concerned with top-class service as most places east of the Mississippi. The staff is courteous and quick to remember a face (and your favorite drink) and does a good job of managing the large crowds that gather pregame. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Blazers Dancers, a member of the team’s management or a local big shot car salesman stroll through with dime pieces on their arms. Get there early.
As for the food, the menu is mostly burgers and pasta, I usually go with the Southwest Chicken Penne but you’ve got options. The Club also has a full bar with most top shelf liquors, lots of beers (including the famous local microbrews) and they are very considerate about not caring if you get completely blasted. So I’ve been told.
The best section of the 200 level in the Rose Garden is, far and away, the Lexus Club Level. It requires that you sit in certain areas of the arena (along the two sidelines, not along the baselines) but your tickets, which are slightly more expensive, include access to a full pregame buffet and full bars as well. All food and non-alcoholic drinks are free, so you can literally eat 25 pieces of pepperoni pizza and 14 cokes and absolutely no one will stop you. Pretty sweet. The buffets have a lot of options – usually there’s some pork, seafood, salads, dips, teriyaki, you name it. Great place for young couples to go on a date and make out in the bathroom or something. The bars are stocked similarly to the Courtside Club but many knowledgeable fans simply bring a flask and get a free soda to use as a mixer. Much cheaper than 5-8 dollar drinks.
The rest of the arena offers your typical overpriced arena food: burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, Subway sandwiches, etc. I’m partial to the Chicken Strip dinner because they don’t skimp on the Chicken or the fries. You pretty much get your 8 or 9 dollars worth and it’s always hot out of the oven.
Another super popular option for the masses to gather pregame or postgame is Schonely’s Place, a makeshift bar/restaurant near the south/west entrance to the Rose Garden. The focus at Schonely’s Place (named after longtime Blazers radio announcer Bill Schonely, a local legend) is burgers and beer. Indeed, the Blazers Burger (two patties with optional bacon) is the best you’ll find in the stadium. It runs something like 10 dollars but it’s well worth it. Again, tons of local beer selections, popular with locals and tourists alike, can be had here.
Outside the stadium
Far and away my favorite sports restaurant in Portland is Nick’s Coney Island in SE Portland. In high school we would drive something like 20 minutes to go there in order to select between a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a chili burger, a single hot dog or a double hot dog. Literally that was the whole menu. Oh yea, they did coleslaw too. We’d marvel when the owner would park his big old Cadillac in the middle of traffic, come in to buy us (usually the only customers) a round of sodas (RC soda mind you, not Coke or Pepsi) and then talk sports. The place is decorated with all sorts of old-time pictures, many of them autographed, and tons of framed newspapers going back 50 or more years. In the last few months, Nick’s was sold to a new owner who has modernized it a bit, but I’m told it’s still worth the trip. The place is no-nonsense, very affordable and located a few miles from the Rose Garden in Southeast Portland.
A few other places worth checking out before or after a game are: Fire on the Mountain (famous for their wings and beers specials, located very close to the Rose Garden), Henry’s (one of the places “to see and be seen,” has a lot of flatscreens and a HUGE bar but closes early and is across the river from the RG), The Agency (brand-new place owned by the son of a Former Blazer, they do cool things like offer 10 percent discounts to customers that name-check BlazersEdge.com, also located across the river), and On Deck (the prototypical sports bar with outdoor seating, kind of sucks during the rainy season but could be a great playoff spot, assuming the Blazers ever make the playoffs, also located across the river).
Never to be overlooked in a Portland food article is Jake’s, which is a local institute famous for seafood, strong drinks, and top-class service. It really doesn’t have much of a sports tie-in (other than some Blazer autographs on the wall) but it’s a must for anyone visiting Portland.
Two other “can’t forget to mentions”: Huber’s (a favorite hangout of Blazers about 10 years ago and the occasional Blazer today, very private feel inside and is known for its famous Spanish Coffees) and Portland City Grill (located on the 30th floor of a downtown building, it’s one of the classiest places in the city and is purportedly Nate McMillan’s favorite spot in Portland).
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