With increasing numbers, people are “cutting their cable”, opting for fast connections to the Internet and its growing offering of digital content. This includes streamed programming from many television stations on the World Wide Web, much of it in HD (high definition).
But, what happens when you want to watch the game?
During the recently closed London Olympics, I found myself with few options. With a Microsoft Silverlight-enabled browser, I tuned into some of CTV’s Olympic coverage via their website. Still, I would have enjoyed being able to visit an establishment, sit back with a cold beverage, and cheer with local fans as Canada’s Olympic Team gave it their all. I actually found myself looking at sports bars in Ottawa.
Downtown, MacLaren’s on Elgin (361) comes to mind. So does the Farm-team Cookhouse and Bar on Bank (683). In the ByWard Market area, Corner Bar & Grill, Milestones, and Lonestar usually have a game on. Industry contacts visit The Smoque Shack (129 York Street) for Monday Night Football.
There is a business opportunity here. None of the establishments in the ByWard Market are dedicated sports bars.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) decided to exploit the opportunity, commissioning a sister Real Sports Bar & Grill in the heart of the ByWard Market. The original is located in downtown Toronto, adjacent to the Air Canada Centre. It opened two years ago.
Having wandered through the Air Canada Centre in the past, I have an idea what what will be coming. Bar-type establishments in the ByWard Market may need to take heed if they aren’t already monitoring the renovations.
Real Sports targets sports fans, especially families of fans. They cater to no specific sport. For instance, during a cricket match, Toronto’s Real Sports cooked and served an Indian buffet to 500 people.
It was industry contacts who first hinted at the gargantuan two-story bar and restaurant that will open under the swanky condo building at 90 George Street. It would be Knock on Wood Communications (KNOWPR) who clarified some numbers. The “next level” sports bar will have a capacity of 419 people, so long as the count includes seats on the patio and second floor terrace. The space itself will be 14,000 square feet. There will be 99 HD TV’s installed, including one in every booth and a 25′ “big” screen.
This week KNOWPR offered us an opportunity to meet with Matthew Valentine, “master beer blender” and a general manager at Real Sports. Beer blends are featured on Real Sports’ menu. The thing is, I care more about food and took the opportunity to chat with Executive Chef Tony Glitz by phone several weeks ago.
During our conversation, I mentioned my brief experience with Real Sports Toronto, its enormous menu, its characteristic man-cave meets USS Enterprise feel, its plethora of HD screens, and its cheerleader-esque servers. Yes, Real Sports Toronto has some of the the hallmarks of a “breasterant“, a booming segment of the big box restaurant industry that features scantily clad waitresses.
Already the ByWard market has a breasterant-esque establishment that serves pseudo-barbecue. Fatboys on Murray Street (34) serves under-smoked food in troughs, sauce-at-the-table. The self proclaimed “smoke house” features a Planet Hollywood-feel with plastic wood floors, washroom corners emblazoned with Budweiser, Harley Davidson accents, and few craft brews. When we last visited, it served no local brews. It did serve raw potato in our potato salad and aluminum foil in our dry strands of pulled pork.
Glitz promises Real Sports merits more consideration. Under the direction of Chef Carl Baptista, like Real Sports Toronto, Real Sports Ottawa will offer real food. Every stock, the foundation for many a fine food plate, will be made from scratch. There will be no instant gravy. Fries will be fresh cut in-house. Beef will be freshly ground. Chicken wings will come in fresh everyday. This is no small boast as Real Sports Toronto can sell 500-700 lbs of wings a day, mainly during home games.
Both Glitz and Baptista are classically-trained French chefs with years of experience, working at the Four Seasons. During Glitz’ eleven year tenure with the luxury hotel and resort chain, he helped open the Four Seasons hotel in Miami. Later, he opened the $35 million Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys.
Promises Glitz, “Real Sports’ fresh food program is second to none.”
To ensure quality, he and Baptista will hold a hiring drive to attract culinary professionals.
“We hire for attitude. We train for skill,” said Glitz adamantly.
The core value he instills in his culinary team involves “being as passionate about food as fans are about sports.”
He already has a contact at Algonquin College’s Hospitality Program, one of several culinary schools he knows he can draw talent from in the National Capital Region.
Restaurant-wise, Glitz wants Ottawans to “come for the game, but stay for the food.”
Signature dishes on Real Sports menu, which starts with dozens of beers (lagers, ales, wheat, and beer “blends”) and wines (reds, whites, and sparkling), include the Thai Sweet Chili wings that earned Glitz awards at this year’s Toronto Wing Festival, a charity fundraiser. The wings retail for $14.49/lb, $27.99/2 lbs, and $51.99/4 lbs. There is also a clever spin on an old favourite, cheeseburger spring rolls with ketchup, mustard and relish ($8.99).
With a smoker going into the Ottawa location, there will also be much in-house barbecue from pea meal bacon to pork, brisket, and chicken. Having spent 9 years in Florida, Glitz promises from scratch rubs and sauces. To showcase the barbecue, Real Sports’ menu includes the Triple Threat Sandwich, which is piled high with pulled pork, pea meal bacon, and smoked brisket for $15.99.
Moreover, Glitz wants Real Sports Ottawa to be part of Sparks Street’s Chicken and Rib Cook-Off next year. He expects his off-menu smoked side ribs to “knock people off their socks.” At Real Sports Toronto, theses ribs are only available for VIPs.
When asked what to look for in good pub food, Glitz told me “people know what they’re getting.” It is more critical whether or not the staff is knowledgeable enough to pair patrons with dishes and dishes with drinks. They must make good recommendations.
“They need to have tried everything,” he pointed out.
Every member of Glitz’ front of house staff at Real Sports Toronto tastes everything on the menu. Most have formal wine training and can pair dishes with beer or wine.
When asked his favourite beers, Glitz pointed to the offerings from Granville Island Brewing, specifically their dark ale, which he describes as having a smoky tobacco flavour. His American favourites include Florida Beer Company‘s Key West ale with its citrus overtones.
Exclaimed Glitz, “It is great for the heat!”
Watching Real Sports Ottawa take shape, I look forward to substantiating Glitz’ promises come November 2012. When I visit a pub to watch a game, I don’t expect much food-wise. I order nachos, burgers, or something knowingly deep fried from frozen. These dishes are staples the kid in the back, who’s likely working to pay his way through university, can’t possibly screw up. It would be nice to tuck into something beyond “ding-ding” food.
On that note, our Sens are going to make to the playoffs this season, right?