Sports bars are rarely great by culinary standards but at least they're consistent. Large servings of artery-clogging goodness that make your belly swell will always be in.
True to form, The Huddle--a new sports bar in the space that formerly housed Sweetwater's Tropic Zone and MilkyWay--isn't aiming to break new ground with its fare. The menu is a selection of burgers and giant piles of fried appetizers.
"We do simple things--do them really, really well," says manager Phil Howard.
Though the interior also adheres to Howard's thesis of simplicity, it's a pleasant departure from the smoky gloom that typifies so many sports bars. It has a slightly modernist vibe, with brushed steel surfaces and exposed metal support cables that gleam brightly in the light of the large front windows. A second-floor balcony provides extra seating.
Though there is no shortage of flatscreen TVs broadcasting all the major sports packages at The Huddle, the architecture of the second level makes their placement awkward. The TVs are cloistered around a group of tables that makes them constantly in your face or only viewable by a crane of the neck.
Howard says his personal menu fave is the muffaletta sandwich, but The Huddle doesn't have a dish that people always gravitate to. So, sitting at a lightweight metal cafe table, I ordered the K.O., a bacon bleu cheese burger--a sandwich that has never done me wrong. Until now.
Except for the reddish brown crisscross of bacon strips, my burger looked sad when it arrived. A dull patty that seemed frozen--though Howard said they are fresh--sat atop a bed of chopped yellow iceberg sheathed in a bland-looking roll.
Things went downhill from there. When I took a bite, I was unable to pick out the distinguishing flavors--the bright tang of bleu cheese to counterbalance the richness of the bacon was absent, as was the richness of the bacon. Even the fries were dull. They had no snap to their texture, no softness on the interior.
The whole meal was like the effect of turning down the color on a TV set, making everything slightly duller.
As long as sports are on the TVs, people will go to a restaurant, no matter how mediocre the food is. And though The Huddle fills a niche in downtown by bringing patrons all the sports they can shake a hot wing at, ultimately the quality of the grub is what will keep them from leaving "after the second half" of the hockey game.