Diner: Got Game? Got Eats?

High-fivin' at the neighborhood sports bar -- heaven in a deep fryer

Woodrow J. Hinton

With a veritable feast of professional football games on the Thanksgiving menu, not to mention holiday bowl games dotting December's calendar, it's clearly the season for sports bars. These establishments have expanded beyond the multiple televisions, video games and sports memorabilia: Now they're "entertainment complexes" and "venues." Technology has become more sophisticated, the food has improved and the settings generally offer something for everyone. In the past 10 years, they've garnered a significant slice of the dining-out pie— even during the holidays.

As CityBeat's food writers, we generally avoid "venues" on the grounds that they tend to compensate for their lack of clear identity by overcharging for drinks.

So, it sounded like a Really Good Idea to send out three food writers to seek camaraderie and tip back a pint in the intimacy of the neighborhood sports café on a Sunday afternoon, except for one thing we did not consider: We're all sports novices. The three of us are the arugula-lovin', tree-huggin' types who have never high-fived anyone.

OK, switch game plans: Call friends, acquaintances or the cute lawn guy (obviously blessed with an abundance of testosterone and therefore, natch, must know football) who can help us navigate the playing field. With said friends and family (sigh, lawn boy was busy) we warily dispersed to three neighborhood establishments in Covington, Reading and Norwood for weekend football.

While we did not return willing to own a jersey or knowing useless trivia to impress our friends, we did have a good time — the entire experience hit a homer.

Oops, baseball, right? (DC)

Family Matters
Something about a family-owned Italian restaurant makes me feel at home. Maybe it's the comfort food factor, layers of cheesy lasagna and sauce-laden pizza. Maybe it's simply the characteristic warmth and friendliness I've always found my Italian friends radiate. Wherever it originates, Sorrento's Pizza (5143 Montgomery Road, Norwood, 513-531-5070) certainly has this quality.

The restaurant/bar's passions are evident as soon as you approach the building: the steps leading to the door are painted red, white and green — the colors of the Italian flag — and the door handles are made from actual baseball bats. Inside, the bar and restaurant are furnished much like any neighborhood joint with red plastic diner chairs and banquet style tables, but the place is plastered with autographed sports figure photos and jerseys from local and national teams. (Oddly, a couple of Vanna White's dresses also grace these walls of testosterone.)

The DeLuca family has run Sorrento's since 1956, and Willie, the current DeLuca owner, often can be found working behind the bar. Sorrento's caters to families. It isn't unusual to see a table of a dozen or so Little Leaguers and their fathers enjoying soda and pizza, the dads watching the game on one of the big screen TVs and the kids running back and forth to the video games.

The menu has a definite Italian slant with lots of pizza and pasta. The pizza dough is homemade and Mom Deluca, reported to be in her 80s, still gets up and makes the meatballs fresh every morning. Beers include the usual sports bar fare such as Bud and Miller, but true to its heritage, Sorrento's offers the excellent Peroni and Morretti as well. You also can get a decent glass of wine in a glass decorated with — what else? — red, green and white stripes.

And while Sorrento's is a great place to go for pizza and to watch a game, if you visit when a group of kids is there, you might get to see Willie's show as well as the game du jour. On this particular night he gathers the kids around and wows them as he balances several items on his nose, including a chair, a burning napkin, a baseball bat with a drink perched on the end, a sword and a Bengals helmet. Nothing on any of those big screen TVs could top the look of that line of kids staring with their mouths hanging open! (LA)

Need Tickets
Before seating us, the host at Tickets Sports Café (100 W. Sixth St., Covington, 859-431-1839) surveyed the room and asked us what we were trying to catch. Being a total sports ignoramus and someone who generally tries to avoid catching things (colds, communicable diseases, garters at weddings), I had absolutely no idea what he meant.

Lucky thing that my companion, a bulging neck vein, yell-at-the-television sports nut, understood and piped up that we wanted to catch the Browns-Steelers game. The question was important, because with 20 televisions tuned into multiple games, you need to get your butt in the right seat to see your team(s) play.

I tried to watch the game, but quickly lost focus. It was far more interesting checking out the assembled fans in their jerseys hooting and clapping. I also kept staring at several nearby families with small kids. Call me old-fashioned, but kids in sports bars, with all the drinking and smoking going on? Who knows, maybe the family that works their way through mounds of wings and buckets of beer together, stays together.

I got busy with some food. The Tailgate was an arterial wonderland of cheese sticks, chicken fingers, potato skins, wings and broccoli-cheese poppers. The wings were a standout — meaty, with a tangy sauce. My companion ordered a charbroiled burger that was thoroughly satisfying and came with a load of fries.

I started to enjoy myself, taking delicious pleasure in chowing down large quantities of fried food and swilling beer in the middle of the afternoon, while the good people of the world trailed out of Sunday services from the church across the street. Family-owned since 1988, and located in a former firehouse, Tickets has lots of character (you sit where they used to park fire trucks, and a siren goes off when someone scores). Of course, it's absolutely crammed to the rafters with memorabilia.

If I ever develop any sort of abiding interest in sports, I'll head back to Tickets. Already a sports fan? Winch yourself out of that couch and enjoy some great atmosphere, camaraderie and tasty, rib-sticking food. Just don't forget to wear your jersey. (CB)

She Eats, Shoots and Scores
I was eager to check out Patterson's Bar and Grille (8372 Reading Road, 513-761-4700) because I had heard they have a flat screen TV in every booth.

I absolutely love the grace and strength of college basketball and will attend a baseball game or two during the summer, but I know nothing — and I must emphasize nothing — about football. I hoped that a personal television would allow me to catch a movie and not have to listen to the patter of my date and teenage son as they ranted and cheered at the Bengals-Redskins game.

I gave up that notion upon arrival. While Patterson's has an abundance of TV's per square foot (at least 20 including the booths, in a relatively small café), the personal flat screens are popular and, on that day, everywhere you looked was the Bengals (except for one television in the corner running an episode of Animal Cops).

My companion was ecstatic. "Cool!" "A TV right where you can eat!" "Brilliant move!" he added, " 'Cause guys like watching TV instead of talking to women." He's getting thrown back in the dating pool.

It came from all sides: "Please don't ask stupid questions, Mom," pleaded my son, so I busied myself with doing what I do best — reading menus. Patterson's array of food choices is larger than most sports cafés, offering a variety of salads, soups, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, pasta, pizza and (of course) anything that can be dropped in a fryer. I was compelled to order a lot, probably more than I could actually consume.

As we dug into our mound of food I listened to the cacophony of groans and shouts: "Hey! Interference!" "Brunell sucks!" and "Yeah! First down baby!"

I was anxious. Should I make some noisy support? Do you chant in a sports bar like you do at an actual game? How well am I throwing my arm around the others?

The sports bar was a different animal from games I was used to attending — truly a guy's world where even all the commercials were about beer, big breasts and cars, and sometimes big-breasted women drinking beer in cars. I just had to shush my inner Betty Friedan if I was going to have a good time like every other patron at Patterson's.

I stole some commentary I heard from the guys at the bar: "The Bengals have yet to beat a team on the road," I confidently stated. "Since Washington has such an awesome defense, this could be a turning point if the Bengals win." I added: "Go-go-go-go-go, Palmer!"

I was met with slightly inquiring glances from companions, but they raised their hands in a high-five. I had finally scored. (DC)

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