Rations for the Sporting Life

Ricky O's, Ahwatukee Palms Plaza, 4855 East Warner, Phoenix, 893-6525. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Come football season, I'm a stranger in a strange land, a man without a country, a king without his castle.

That's because my football viewing habits rouse my all-female household to unladylike levels of derision and contempt. I couldn't get more grief if I were watching Pat Summerall and John Madden broadcasting the Christians-Lions play-by-play from the Colosseum:

"The Christians appear to be outmanned today, John. They just don't have the weapons to deal with the Lions' potent running attack. Persecutions have depleted their bench, and they got banged up pretty bad last week in that overtime win against the Pagans. It looks like it may be a long afternoon for the God Squad."

"Pat, I spoke with Coach Peter Paul during warm-ups. He knows the Monotheists will have a hard time handling the Lions' quick-strike offense and swarming team defense. But he's hopeful that special teams and divine intercession will keep the Lions off balance. And don't overlook the Christians' heart. These players are used to adversity and just won't quit. They're always going to give 110 percent."

It's not easy following three games simultaneously, furiously working the remote, calculating my up-to-the-minute standing in several office pools, keeping track of the point spread and making sure I don't run out of cold beer. My efforts aren't made any easier by my unsupportive family, which inexplicably fails to see that watching 14 hours of football on Saturday and Sunday does indeed qualify as "doing something on the weekends."

Invariably, I reach a point where I can no longer put up with their sneering comments. "Football is for morons," chants my wife, each time she passes the couch where I'm stretched out. My daughters, like a disapproving Greek chorus, nod their heads in estrogen-fueled agreement. How can a man relax?

So I'm forced to seek refuge outside the home. Guys like me flock to sports bars for the same reason that other guys flock to Judy Garland-impersonator shows: I'm with my own kind, and no one there is likely to scoff at my choice of amusement.

But I'm fussy about where I do my football viewing. Of course, plenty of television screens and icy brewskis are required. But the food needs to have something going for it as well. For me, it's not enough to beat the spread. I want to eat the spread, too.

Ricky O's occupies the spot that used to house another sports bar, Shannon Alexander's. There are so many television screens here that the place looks like CNN headquarters. No matter where you sit--at the sprawling bar or in the dining area--you'll never have to swivel your head to catch the action. Management also thoughtfully labels the screens with the games they're showing. This way, fans interested in the Green Bay-Minnesota match-up don't find themselves with a close-up view of the Jets-Dolphins game.

The place attracts an eclectic mix of folks. Families, dating couples and hard-core football fans all seem comfortable here.

Sports-bar fare tends to follow a predictable course: The only thing most sports-bar "chefs" do is shake out a prebattered edible from a 50-pound bag and drop it in a vat of boiling oil. But Ricky O's kitchen doesn't shrink from culinary challenges.

You can tell from the appetizers. Sure, you can find the usual potato skins, chicken fingers and deep-fried veggies. But you can also follow your team while nibbling curried chicken skewers, tender grilled white meat accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce, and a nifty cucumber-tomato salad freshened with mint. The bubbling spinach-artichoke dip also fires on all cylinders, served with crisp, cheese-flavored pita chips.

Full meals come with soup or salad. How many sports bars have you been to that serve cream of artichoke soup? Ricky O's does, and it's good.

You have to salute a sports bar brave enough to put filet mignon on the menu. I'm happy to report that, in this instance, Ricky O's reach doesn't exceed its grasp. Covered with sauteed mushrooms and a somewhat thin brandy cream sauce, the beef hit all the right carnivore buttons. Excellent grilled veggies and tasty herbed rice complete the platter.

If your team is losing, the grilled pork loin may assuage your disappointment. You get two medallions, paired with a zippy apple-mint salsa and pleasing roasted potatoes. Baby-back ribs, however, aren't in the same porcine league. The meat's chewier than you'd find at the best rib houses, and the nondescript barbecue sauce won't create any memories, either. The first-rate side of creamy garlic mashed potatoes, however, is a plus.

Burgers are a key sports-bar element, and Ricky O's models have nothing to be ashamed of. The Steeler burger brings six ounces of juicy beef on a kaiser roll, teamed with mushrooms, bacon and cheese. Don't bother forking out an extra four bits for onion rings, though. They're not worth it.

And keep away from the barbecued-beef sandwich. Mine tasted so "off" that I had to toss it. At least the French fries were hot.

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1 comments
my.secondary.address
my.secondary.address

"Nobody eats rare burgers anymore" ahahahahahh. When I was a link cook at a fine dining restaurant, probably about 20% of the burger orders were rare.... and 15 years ago?

I love old newspaper articles. We've gotten so much better at reviewing food.

 
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