By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The half-pound Angus burger I ordered at Fox Sports Grill, the gleaming new sports bar in the Galleria, comes to the bar medium-rare as specified. The patty sits on a bun, but it isn't yet a sandwich. The lettuce, tomato and pickles are over on the other end of the plate. There isn't any mustard or mayonnaise on the bun, and there isn't any available. A salad ordered on the side sits there without dressing. I wasn't supplied with a fork, a knife or a napkin, either.
I pester two bartenders and several waitpeople for mustard, mayo, salad dressing and silverware, but they just look at me helplessly. Everybody's in the weeds, which is to say a college football game and an Astros baseball game are both nearing dramatic conclusions and the drink orders are coming in faster than the staff can get them out.
The bartender who had been so chatty a few minutes ago is now grimly shaking cocktails as fast as he can while angry waitpeople watch him impatiently. So I sit and watch the naked burger get cold. When he took my order, the bartender asked me if I wanted fries or a salad with it. I thought I'd be healthy and get the salad.
Houston, TX 77056
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Well, okay, that's not entirely true.
Actually, I first took a seat at the bar a little before two-thirty on this sunny Saturday and got a beer and a large plate of homemade potato chips covered with sour cream and blue cheese, which is one of the appetizers featured here. The cheesy chips were pretty good with the brew, although they tasted like they'd been reheated rather than freshly fried.
Three and a half hours later, when I got hungry again and ordered the burger, I wasn't in the mood for any more greasy potatoes. But now I'm thinking I should have gone for the fries. At least I could be eating something.
Fox Sports Grill and a competing chain called ESPN Zone (which doesn't have a location in Houston yet) are part of a new wave of sports bars that attempt to go beyond food and televised sports to bring patrons "behind the scenes" of broadcasting.
On Wednesday nights at seven, for instance, Fox Sports Grill serves as the set of FSN Houston's show Texans Huddle, a weekly recap of the Houston Texans' fortunes. Fans are invited to visit the restaurant and become a part of the broadcast. Likewise, whenever Fox Sports needs some reaction shots from Houston fans, this is where they go to shoot them. A sports bar tied into a sports network sounds like a great idea.
But Houston has a lot of great sports bars. And at the moment, I'd rather be at any one of them. At least I'd be eating a hamburger. Maybe the suits who run Fox Sports Grill should visit a few classic Houston sports bars and learn the basics of the business before they attempt to move beyond them.
Griff's Shenanigans is Houston's oldest sports bar. Established in 1965, the wooden-floored Irish pub exudes funky local charm. I settled back to watch an Astros game there the other night with a pint of "half and half" (half Guinness stout and half Bass Pale Ale) and ordered some dinner.
Their "world famous Griff's burger" is a half-pound hamburger lovingly composed of a thick layer of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles and jalapeños (when you pay the extra quarter to add them) above the patty and a nice coating of mayo and mustard on the bun. I found the patty too flattened, and a little too dry for my tastes. But the hand-cut fries were spectacular, among the best I've had lately. The burger and fries here cost two bucks less than what Fox Sports Grill charges, and they're easily twice as good.
Griff's represents the earliest concept of the sports bar, essentially a neighborhood tavern with a couple of extra television sets -- a place to witness televised sports events in the company of your tribesmen. When the weather's nice, a lot of fans sit outside on picnic tables. But unfortunately, there's a disconnected feeling about Griff's; the interior is cut into several rooms so that you can never really assemble a decent mob. When the Astros got a hit, it felt like several different groups were cheering.
Bubba's on Washington Avenue has the same sort of natural wood interior as Griff's, but it's one big room, so you feel like you're in the bleachers at the ballpark. I watched another Astros game there, ordering another cheeseburger, a Dos Equis lager and a bowl of Texas chili.
I sampled the chili at Fox Sports Grill too -- it's made out of filet mignon and ground meat with three designer colors of beans and no discernible chile peppers. I wonder how much they paid the New York chef who came up with the brilliant idea of making gourmet chili by leaving out the chiles.
Bubba's chili was the real thing. It looked like a bowl of mud. It was made with ground meat rather than distinct chunks of beef, but it proved to be beautifully seasoned with comino, chile peppers and garlic. After a few spoonfuls, I added some cheddar cheese and raw chopped onions and scooped some onto a few saltines.