Cafe Reviews

Sports Digest

Shannon Alexander's, 4855 East Warner, Phoenix, 8936525. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 11a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10p.m.

My friends know I like to be hospitable. If my pals are hungry, they know they can come over and eat. If they're blue, they can come over and talk. If they're stressed out, they can come over and relax in the hot tub.

And if they're interested in watching televised sports, they can come over and get verbally abused.

That's because the members of my all-female household think Saint John the Divine seriously erred when he stopped counting the Horsemen of the Apocalypse at four. Had the NCAA and the NFL been around 2,000 years ago, they're certain the apostle would have added Football to the apocalyptic mix of War, Pestilence, Famine and Death. ("Behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Buddy Ryan.")

It's not easy to stretch out on the family-room sofa with a brewski and concentrate on analyzing the finer points of the Cardinal offense while those nearest and dearest to me glower and mutter "Neanderthal" and "moron" under their breath.

"Why don't we do something today?" begs my wife, unpersuaded by my reasoned argument that nine hours in front of the tube trying to cover the point spread qualifies as meaningful activity. "How do you get Dad to do sit-ups?" asks one of my daughters. "Put the remote between his knees," says the other, to mutual, teenage, high-fiving hilarity.

A man's home is supposed to be his castle. But during football season, mine isn't even a Motel 6. If I want to watch a game in peace, I'm compelled to flee to the comforting environment of a sports bar. There, I'm surrounded by nurturing folks who don't regard my viewing habits as evidence of social deviancy.

Shannon Alexander's is just about as good a spot as there is for the football demimonde to gather in the Valley. It's an uncommonly genteel-looking place, adorned with potted palms and vases with dried-flower arrangements. The inner part of the room houses the bar, while booths and tables run along the tiered perimeter. No matter where you are, however, you won't have to swivel your head to catch all the satellite action, broadcast on four ten-foot screens and 34 monitors, each measuring 26 inches.

But what separates this Ahwatukee sports bar from most of its competitors is the breadth of its menu and the quality of the fare. I could even see coming here to watch an ESPN tractor pull.

Shannon Alexander's seems to have cooks in the kitchen, not merely employees armed with can openers. For first-quarter nibbles, you can't go wrong with fresh, homemade tortilla chips accompanied by a thick, spunky salsa. The Cardinal Skins munchie sends out good vibes, as well. These are potato skins stuffed with chicken and cheese, and it's clear they weren't poured out of a frozen 50pound bag.

There's something on the menu for just about any taste. Fans into greenery might try tackling the enormous cobb salad, a trough-size platter filled with grilled chicken breast, a scoop of blue cheese, shredded jack and Cheddar cheeses, real bacon, tomato, olives and hard-boiled egg. A perky honey-mustard dressing makes all the ingredients easy to swallow, even if your team just turned the ball over.

Sandwich fans will be delighted with the Philly cheesesteak, a tasty blend of lean, thin-sliced steak and sautŽed onions and peppers bonded with a layer of melted cheese. The side of homemade onion rings that came with it added to the sandwich's charms.

The 12-ounce cut of prime rib is perfect if you dream of playing on the defensive line. I've had sports-bar slabs of prime ribs that were tougher than Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. But the meat here is surprisingly tender and juicy, without excessive gristle.

Preparing fish taxes the abilities of most Valley seafood restaurants, let alone sports bars. But the kitchen here did a competent job with the broiled halibut, which came out of the flames before it could turn leathery as pigskin. Terrific, right-out-of-the-fryer potato chips and steamed veggies, meanwhile, furnished worthy complements.

Even dessert gets some attention. Inparticular, there's the wonderful caramel apple granny. Tart Granny Smith apples are loaded into a shortbread crust, then moistened with caramel and toffee-studded custard. Sometimes, life is sweet.

Remember Buddy Ryan's pronouncement when he sailed into the Valley: "You've got a winner in town." He must have been talking about Shannon Alexander's.

Big Daddy's Sports Lounge, 721 East Dunlap, Phoenix, 8611034. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6p.m.

Big Daddy's Sports Lounge is a grandiose name for an unpretentious, blue-collar neighborhood tavern. The regulars amuse themselves in a variety of ways. They down pitchers of Coors and Bud. (Foster's and Beck's are on tap, but, in three visits, I never heard a call for either of these higher-priced suds.) They shoot pool and toss darts. They bet at the OTB window and root in the greyhounds. They play sports trivia games broadcast over a closed-circuit network, then hoot when the "No Gambling" warning is flashed. They compare tattoos. They flirt with the waitresses. And they smoke like Mount Saint Helens. You'll inhale enough secondhand smoke to require a nicotine patch.