Vittle League

Coach & Willie's isn't in the ballpark

The headlines scream that the Diamondbacks aren't making money. Attendance is down, and the baseball team is struggling. All eyes are on Jerry Colangelo to fix things.

I've got a suggestion: Rather than pump more cash into hotshot player salaries, give the fans something palatable to munch on while cheering for the home team. Please. The cantina grub served at Bank One Ballpark is wholly unappetizing and overpriced.

Barring a complete revamp of vendors inside, Colangelo should focus on wooing some worthy enterprises for out-of-park feeding. If downtown is to be such a gathering place -- attracting clientele comfortable enough to afford expensive game tickets -- why is there such a lack of quality eats nearby?

Come to Coach & Willie's for the cocktails, but not the food.
Erik Guzowski
Come to Coach & Willie's for the cocktails, but not the food.

Location Info

Map

Legends Sports Bar & Restaurant

412 S. Third St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Appetizers:
Prosciutto wrapped prawns: $10.00
Spinach dip: $7.75

Entrees:
Sausage and artichoke pizza: $9.25
Fettuccine Alfredo: $9.00
Turkey burger: $7.75
Italian Stallion: $8.00
Ahi: $20.00

Dessert:
Pear and amaretto pizza: $9.75

602-254-5272. Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to midnight daily.

412 South Third Street, Phoenix

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We don't need another sports bar like Alice Cooper'stown or Hi-Tops. And we sure don't need a restaurant like Coach & Willie's, such a sad salute to dreary American dining that even several pitchers of beer can't salvage the experience.

Coach & Willie's opened last October, just on the edge of the train tracks at Third Street and Jackson behind America West Arena. It closed briefly a month later when a neighboring business erupted in flames. Only a few of the restaurant's windows were broken then. If only the flames had taken out the kitchen. Because Coach & Willie's is the kind of why-bother, overpriced restaurant that clings to a captive sports-fan audience like fungus on an athlete's foot.

Like any self-important sports celebrity, the look is handsome, dressed in sophisticated tan, black and mahogany, with tile floors, natural rock accents and a pretty patio with a waterfall that's soothing when it can be heard over the rumbling, horn-bellowing freight trains that roar by (they pass every hour or so, moans our waitress).

It's also small, with a half-dozen booths, plus a few dozen seats around the horseshoe bar and tall seats on the indoor-outdoor patio. Cozy it ain't, though -- televisions are the focal point. And though the place is virtually empty at an 11:15 lunch, no, our party of two can't have a booth, we're told. They're reserved for parties of four or more. Ah, well, the lounge seating gives us priority view as a staffer lugs in a huge sack of frozen, warehouse-variety chicken wings, stomping past us into the kitchen.

Coach & Willie's promotes its homemade pizzas and pastas, and if we were to stick to those staples, the dining experience would be passable. Pizzas are hand-spun and come fresh from a wood-burning oven visible from a copper-hooded exposition kitchen.

Traditional pies like Italian sausage and artichoke hearts are well crafted, with lots of fennel-studded meat and fresh vegetables on a tangy bed of garlic and olive oil blended with mozzarella and provolone cheese. Another mix of prosciutto, and portabella is dynamite -- the Italian ham delightfully salty and nicely tempered by the meaty mushrooms, olive oil and leafy arugula. And if the crust were more fully baked, a roma and basil pie would be worth revisiting, layering ample marinated tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil with more mozzarella and provolone.

A barbecue chicken pie loads mild sauce, red onion, cilantro, chicken breast and mozzarella cheese for an effective nosh, though a "BORP" pizza needs rethinking -- in name, and in ingredients. A chop of black olive and red pepper is boring in black and red, spread on a too-subtle garlic-and-olive-oil crust with mozzarella and provolone.

The kitchen cranks out homemade pasta daily, and cooks it to a competent al dente. Too bad the chefs don't take as much care with the sauces -- even the freshest pasta doesn't stand a chance under this assault. The Alfredo's star ingredient may well be wallpaper paste, rather than butter and cream.

And how hard is it to make red sauce? Coach & Willie's marinara fettuccine sickens with that distinctively musty aroma of burned garlic, and no hint of the artichoke hearts, red onion or cabernet flavors listed on the menu.

The staple of any sports bar is snacks, and there are few surprises in Coach & Willie's pre-game nibbles: nachos, quesadillas, calamari and chicken fingers. No foul with the nachos; it's hard to ruin fresh tortilla chips under a blanket of chicken, veggies, Cheddar and jack cheeses, jalapeños, black olives, guacamole, sour cream and salsa.

Those straight-from-the-freezer wings are inoffensive, too, if completely lacking heat in the "hot" version -- rather than ranch dressing and crisp celery sticks "to cool us down," this dish needs a pulse.

Coach & Willie's spinach dip is a secret, the menu says, and it's a secret worth keeping. Hopefully no other restaurant will attempt to duplicate this monstrosity of flaccid cheese, so greasy it's separated from itself -- perhaps in embarrassment. Adding insult, the soup-bowl serving has spent too much time under a broiler, its cap burned and pulling back like plastic wrap as we sludge through with tortilla and pita chips. The kitchen tries to get fancy with prawns, meanwhile, and fails profoundly -- rubbery shrimp aren't fresh, a wrapping of Italian ham is much too thickly sliced, and why in the world dunk these beasts in chunky marinara, except to hide the appetizer's unfortunate quality?

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