Rations for the Sporting Life

Ricky O's offers a mixed lot of desserts, all fashioned by outsiders. The flavorless New York cheesecake has nothing going for it except calories. You're much better off calling an audible for the Oreo mud pie, a huge wedge of coffee ice cream laced with chocolate and fudge on a cookie crust.

They say there's no place like home. But on game day, guys like me feel much more at home at Ricky O's.

Jet Lag Lounge, 7908 East Chaparral, Scottsdale, 941-9144. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

A windowless bunker tucked away in the far corner of a Safeway shopping center, Jet Lag Lounge looks, from the outside, like the kind of place it would take some courage to enter.

Don't be deterred. It's a friendly neighborhood spot that dishes out some pretty fair pub grub and all the football action.

Actually, you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy this place. Art lovers ought to stop in, too. That's because the walls are covered with some of this town's most eye-catching murals. If I didn't know better, I'd swear they'd been commissioned by the WPA during the New Deal. These colorful scenes of old Scottsdale give the Jet Lag Lounge real character.

This place markets itself as a meeting spot for Nebraska Cornhusker and Minnesota Viking fans. Don't look for rowdy. Almost nobody here has been carded since the Carter administration. And not too many patrons seem overly concerned about the surgeon general's warning about the danger of tobacco.

The food reflects the sports bar's Middle America fan base. Most every recipe here begins, "Heat the oil." The beers, too, reflect a certain Midwestern conservatism. There are no boutique microbrews, no exotic suds from faraway lands and no brews on tap. About a dozen familiar bottled beers--icy, icy cold--will slake your thirst through four quarters.

If you're here to munch, the chicken wings offer simple, uncomplicated, oily pleasure. So does the huge pile of breaded and fried zucchini. But steer clear of the $4 onion rings, freezer-bag specimens that don't even get back to the line of scrimmage.

As you might expect, the main dishes don't push the culinary envelope. Midwesterners will feel right at home digging into the massive breaded pork patty, placed atop a slice of toast and smothered with gravy. It's paired with the lumpiest mashed potatoes west of the Mississippi. The fresh, grilled walleyed pike will bring a smile to the lips of displaced Minnesotans. And I'd come here for the baby-back ribs even if the only sports event on television were an ESPN tractor pull. These meat-laden bones are excellent, smoky and tender. But they come with awful mixed veggies, the kind your mother made you eat.

The filet mignon needs to be reconsidered--the kitchen is out of its element here. And somebody goofed big-time on the burger. I ordered it medium, but what I got looked like steak tartare. Attention, line cooks: Nobody eats rare burgers anymore.

Desserts aren't usually a sports-bar highlight, but Jet Lag's are an exception. They're made in-house, and worth the splurge. German chocolate cake is outstanding, and the pumpkin bread rolled with cream cheese is even better.

Do you miss the Minnesota Vikings, walleyed pike and secondhand smoke? Then Jet Lag Lounge is where you should be hanging out.

Arena Sports Grill, 6245 East Bell, Scottsdale, 948-0008. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

I liked the food at Arena Sports Grill. I enjoyed the large microbrew and around-the-world beer selection. But the service pace here is so frenetic--someone is asking if you want more food or beer every 30 seconds--that it's hard to get into the flow of the game. The staff should be tested for methamphetamines.

Too bad, too, because someone in this kitchen knows how to cook. Naturally, there are the familiar fried munchies: mushrooms, zucchini, mozzarella sticks. But they're crisp and right out of the fryer. The nachos platter, meanwhile, is first-rate, heaped with beans, cheese, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos.

The culinary talent is evident in the pollo fundido. If you've ever dreamed of playing defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers, this mouth-watering baby will bulk you up. It's an enormous fried burro, loaded with chicken and mild chiles, then topped with a green sauce, sour cream and an acre of melted cheese. Penne pasta is also well-fashioned, aided by grilled chicken and a whiskey cream sauce. Smothered chicken is another effective poultry dish, a sauteed breast lined with cheese and coated with tomatoes, onions, peppers and red chiles, served over rice.

The hefty Philly cheesesteak sandwich is all it should be, thin-sliced beef, grilled onions and cheese. The steak sandwich, seasoned with garlic and pepper, gets high marks for tenderness and lack of gristle. And the half-pound burger should see you through to halftime, especially if you top it, as I did, with onions, grilled peppers and feta cheese.

All Arena Sports Grill has to do now is just take a deep breath and settle down. Sometimes you just have to stop and let the folks smell the pigskin.

Ricky O's:
Curried chicken skewers
$6.25
Steeler burger
6.25
Filet mignon
11.95

Jet Lag Lounge:
Chicken wings
$4.75
Ribs (full rack)
13.00
Pumpkin-bread roll
2.75

Arena Sports Grill:
Nachos (small)
$3.25
Three-topping burger
5.50
Pollo fundido
7.95

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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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