Knock on Wood Public Relations (KOWPR) ran media through Ottawa’s newly constructed Real Sports Bar and Grill this week, rushing a surprise photo-op on Wednesday and inviting camera-toting journalists and dignitaries to a launch party on Thursday. For the media walk-through, food was staged and the 27′ HDTV was on, but there were still renovations to finish.
Somehow, the thirty or so skilled hands Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) hired to bring their “man-cave meets USS Enterprise” sports bar concept to Ottawa completed their tasks in between events. There were but a handful of hours between the walk-through and launch party.
When the 400 or so invitees arrived, we saw no traces of plaster or further work required. With re-sampled 80’s music piped in to set the mood, a photo booth by Anna Epp Photography, a half dozen food stations, passed appetizers, and an army of “little black dress” servers and “hostesses”, Real Sports felt more like a dance club than a sports bar. Still, we were celebrating quite the achievement.
Stats for the first of its kind in Ottawa restaurant and bar were printed on invitees’ lanyards: “14,000 square feet, 450+ sports fans, 195 custom cocktails, 100 HD TV’s, 70+ beer taps, and a VIP Zone.”
While I wandered the crowded space, I had to admit I still didn’t understand the appeal. Not a sports fan, I care more about whether or not Real Sports’ food would sicken me should I visit with my wife to watch a game. Well, she would watch. I would seclude myself to a booth with my tablet, ear plugs, and notes for a blog post. The only games I watch involve Olympic or playoff hockey. The latter may not happen this locked out NHL season.
On one of our first dates, I realized Jenn would be the sports junkie in our relationship. She once paid more attention to a World Cup match than to our dinner date.
To borrow from Pete Wells’ rather vicious lashing out at irritating Food Network personality Guy Fieri’s 500-seat Time Square restaurant, which is supposedly an ode to American home-style fare, here are my thoughts of Real Sports:
Partners of Ottawa sports fans, have you heard about the 468-seater Real Sports and Bar?
Do you worry about being dragged to a pub with your beer-guzzling, Cheetos chomping, and chicken wing inhaling husbands (or wives)? Do dishes served meet your expectation of ding-ding food you know there is a time and place for but would prefer to forget?
Does panic grip your soul when a local sports team takes a run at some trophy you’ve never heard of?
When you see a snack plate of deep fried edibles, do repressed memories flood back of gritting your teeth to stay awake as yet another athlete, who’s paid more money than you’ll ever see in five lifetimes, scores a touchdown [field goal? home run? basket? hole in one? what are we watching again?]? Do you pretend to understand when some coach gibbers unintelligibly about some play, trying to win an off-black cup [seriously, pick a solid colour!]?
Do you think a 100-screen monstrosity of a sports bar will compound the problem?
Did you notice its enormous 100-item menu with oversized pages dedicated to beer (lagers, ales, “wheat”, and beer “blends” thereof) and wines (reds, whites, and sparkling)? Did you know over 80 of those beers will be on draught rotation, a portion of which fall into the craft beer category? Were you told there are dishes on Ottawa’s menu that Toronto’s four-times larger location at the Air Canada Centre doesn’t serve?
Would your jaw drop if one of the waif-thin hostesses knowledgeably lists off the pedigree of the chardonnay she was serving: winery, country-of-origin, vintage, grape, tasting notes, and pairing suggestions? Did you stare unbelieving when she started discussing with another hostess, likewise in the prime of her youth, other wines from the mentioned winery and competing wineries’ wares?
What is it about fried from frozen fries and grilled from frozen sliders that seems safe to you? Would finding a White Castle-inspired hand-shaped medium-done patty in a Wonder Bread-esque bun surprise? Would fresh cut and prodigiously fried fries with a crisp exterior and tender interior seem out-of-place?
If you were to meet Executive Chef Carl Baptista and be invited to see his kitchen, what would you look for in a promised non-ding-ding food program?
How about dishes coming together from first principles, like pulled pork you watch being pulled and assembled into sliders? How about reach-ins stocked with carefully prepped ingredients; a multitude of pots and pans to actually cook with; squeeze bottles of purees and sauces; and sheet pans loaded with dish components being assembled? How about gleaming white chefs’ whites worn by culinary disciplinarians who pride themselves on keeping them clean? How about no deep-fryer smell? [That is, despite your seeing stations in the dining areas, serving enormous breaded, fried, and sauced wings.]
From what little I saw or sampled (about 5% of the menu), Real Sports serves some of the better pub food I have encountered. Theirs isn’t particularly creative, but it doesn’t need to be. Though, I was left to wonder when a server walked by with a tray of freshly baked bread sticks, wrapped at their tips with thin strips of smoked salmon.
I still want to see the fabled in-house smoker and confirm prices for dishes in Ottawa will compare with those in Toronto.
Bottom line? Real Sports actually fills a void in downtown Ottawa. It is a dedicated sports bar.
If I were to watch a game and wanted some pub grub, there are much worse options.
Real Sports opens to the public this coming Monday (November 19th), just in time for Monday night football.
Aside: By the way, as its founder, I will shut down foodiePrints before I ever release anything as sadistic as Wells’ sarcastic review, no matter how entertaining it may be. I am not a fan of the abomination that is Guy Fieri. But, as much as I dislike the poster child of a television network that makes food enthusiasts look like fetishists, 1) I would not misuse such incredible writing talent to slag him and 2) I prefer to be respectfully critical.