JOCK IN THE BOX
Goldie's Sports Cafe, 10135 East Via Linda, Scottsdale, 451-6269. Open Sundays at 9 a.m. during football season.
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," wrote Robert Frost.
Frost obviously never encountered my televised-sports-hating family. When football season rolls around, home is the place they kick me out of. Compounding my frustration, this year I'm particularly excited--the Cardinals finally look good. But Buddy Ball has as much chance of getting past my front door as Dracula has of getting past a crucifix. So on Sundays from September to January, I'm a prophet without honor at the Seftel castle, a stranger in a strange land, a man without a country. Even worse, I'm a man without a television. So I head out to sports bars, where I can enjoy the company of like-minded folks. These good people all understand that watching football for ten hours on Sunday qualifies as "doing something on the weekend," a point of view my wife, for some inexplicable reason, finds difficult to share. Trying to cover the point spread from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. is exhausting work that can make a person powerfully hungry. That's why it's important for me to find a place where I can not only beat the spread, but eat it, too. Goldie's is an exceptionally good place to do it. About a year old, it's located in an upscale, north Scottsdale area that made me anxious about the clientele: I expected a den of yuppies. Instead, I found an unassuming neighborhood hangout, without a single foreign beer on tap. Sports fans, dating couples, pool players and even families seem to make up the customer base. It looks more or less like every other Valley sports bar. There are several big screens and lots of smaller televisions, as well as pictures of athletes and the usual display cases of memorabilia. One photo did cause me some unease. It's a snapshot labeled "Your chef at Goldie's," featuring a 3-year-old on a horse. I hoped to heaven it was an old photo. Apparently it was, or else there's a child prodigy in the kitchen. Your team may not always be victorious, but you can almost always count on getting a winning meal. Naturally, you can munch on wings or nachos. But not too many sports bars serve up green chile chicken rolls, hunks of white meat and mild chile in a light, crusty, egg-roll-like wrapper. Dunk them in the outstanding jalape¤o mayonnaise sauce. The spinach-and-artichoke dip is also a worthy starter, although the homemade chips tasted like they had been homemade the day before. The more substantial dishes would make me consider eating at Goldie's even if there were nothing more interesting on television than a tractor pull. At the top of the list is the steak sandwich, an absolute taste knockout. It's a fabulous piece of tenderloin, marinated in balsamic vinegar, rosemary and garlic, coated with saut‚ed onions and brushed with garlic mayo. Without exaggeration, it's soft enough to gum. Then it's rolled up in what the menu calls foccacia, but what's really grilled pizza dough. Served with a bowl of sizzling fries, it's good enough to take the sting out of losing. Pizzas are also expertly fashioned, nine inches of appetite suppressant. Goldie's makes its dough fresh and uses primo toppings, and you can taste the difference they make. And you aren't limited to the usual pepperoni, sausage and mushroom models. You can choose offbeat pizzas like the grilled salmon with pesto, Gorgonzola and walnuts or sun-dried tomato and goat cheese. We went for the leeks, pancetta and goat cheese version. Hard to believe we were in a sports bar and not California Pizza Kitchen. Pasta is another good option. Don't look for anything as simple as noodles and red sauce. The pasta is as fashionable as the pizzas, like tenderloin and asparagus linguini and Southwestern shrimp fettuccine. The boursin chicken pasta comes with hunks of roasted chicken breast flavored by boursin cheese, walnuts, scallions and roma tomatoes, all draped over spinach fettuccine. It's as good as it sounds. Even the desserts have some flair. Does your sports bar whip up cräme br–l‚e? This one does, and the menu even manages to get the accent marks right. (In just about the sole lapse, however, the final "e" is missing from "br–l‚e.") But the signature dessert is the apple pizza, pizza dough slathered with apricot preserves, ricotta cheese and tart, Granny Smith apples. This is filling enough to take you on through Monday Night Football without additional nourishment. In the Valley food-and-football-sports-bar league, Goldie's looks like a sure bet to make the playoffs. Max's Sport Lounge, 6727 North 47th Avenue, Glendale, 937-1671. Open Sunday one hour before first game starts. Max's is the quintessential blue-collar sports bar. What does that mean? Don't look for a smoke-free environment, hand-crafted, microbrewery suds or appetizers without the phrase "deep-fried" in front of them. A recent five-hour visit suggests it also means no toilet paper or towels in the bathroom, either. This is the sports bar for hard-core sports fans. Screens are everywhere, including the bathroom, and there's a sports ticker constantly updating the action. Sports-themed posters and photos are impressive, but the football-helmet collection is something else. Every team in the galaxy seems to be represented, except the University of Krypton. The place vibrates with energy. Max's also offers off-track betting on the ponies and dogs. That activity seems to attract the kind of fan who will watch race replays, praying for a different result. Unlike Goldie's, the food here is not going to provide too much consolation if your team doesn't cover the spread. It's also not going to provide much in the way of green, leafy nutrition. Oily, deep-fried zucchini slices, onion rings and cheese balls all have something in common, and it's not a heart-healthy logo. But they do come from the kitchen right out of the fryer. Generally, what the food lacks in quality it makes up in heft and affordability. The Iowa pork tenderloin sandwich, however, doesn't have any shortcomings, unless you're a vegetarian. It's an enormous slab of tasty meat, beaten and battered, but not abused. It's served open-faced, just right with a cold one. Prime rib is also a reasonably digestible option. The meat's not stringy or too fatty, and it sports real beefy juices. The New York steak, on the other hand, was probably run out of the Big Apple for impersonating a sirloin. It's tough and fatty--good qualities in an offensive lineman, but not what you look for in a steak. The Louisiana Cajun sausage sandwich is cheap and inedible. The side dishes show no mercy. It's obvious Max's isn't paying anyone to peel fresh spuds or hack up cabbage and carrots for the coleslaw back in the kitchen. Potato "zonkers," fried cubes slathered with cheese, seem palatable only by comparison.
Despite the lackluster fare, Max's is a great place to watch a game. It's almost like being at the stadium. And the $10 Sunday viewing charge shouldn't be too much of an obstacle--you can use it against food and drink. My suggestion? Get the pork tenderloin and a pitcher of Molson, take the Cardinals and give the points.
Sports Fever, 2031 West Peoria Avenue, Phoenix, 331-8033. Open Sunday at 11 a.m.
Sports Fever is a terrific place to watch football, as long as you like Miller beer on tap and don't go anywhere near the food. I love the Vegas-style touch of each booth having its own television, so you zap in any game you want. I love the interactive trivia game you can play on it. And I enjoy the memorabilia--Pete Rose's uniform, team pennants, old photos. But this food will leave a bad taste in your mouth even if your team is winning. Take, for example, the dish called Michael Chang's Oriental Chicken. Is this supposed to be cute? What's next, the Boris Becker Aryan Tuna Melt? Anyway, the menu says this entree consists of "tender pieces of chicken saut‚ed with carrots, bell peppers, celery and onions in our special Oriental sauce." I say it's a bit of dull chicken, a smidgen of veggies and a sauce with enough salt to take care of the daily sodium requirement of all the Changs in the Beijing phone book. It all sits on a small mountain of pasta. Can a dish be less appetizingly named than Michael Chang's Oriental Chicken? Yes, it can, if it's called Oliver Miller Meat Loaf. Even Mama Seftel never served up meat loaf this unappealing. From texture to taste, it aroused all my latent suspicions about what actually goes into this dish. And it came topped with what can only be charitably described as a very strange dark sauce. Whoever dreamed up the name for the Muhammad Ali Pork Chops should be boxed around the ears. This must be a great hit with Valley Muslims. Can the Mahatma Gandhi Prime Rib and the O.J. Simpson 100 Percent Innocent Ground Beef Patty be far behind? Munchies and sandwiches are somewhat better, but you shouldn't take this characterization as a ringing endorsement. At 10 cents a pop, Buffalo wings raised the fewest doubts. As for the Sports Fever mushrooms, there must have been a hundred of the battered critters in the serving basket, but numbers alone couldn't make up for the soggy interiors of these once-frozen fungi. Sandwiches don't signal a skilled chef back in the kitchen, just someone with a toaster and a jar of mayonnaise. The Outland (named for a football lineman award) is a coffee-shop triple decker, with ham, turkey, cheese, fatty bacon and a schmear of mayo. The Butkus features a battered and fried pork slab coated with mayo, nothing special. And the fries are awful, unpleasantly spicy curlicues that made me wish I were shortening my life with something a bit tastier. Sports Fever? If you like to eat while you watch football, it's not what the doctor ordered.
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