Cafe Reviews

Sports Digest

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And they show good judgment by eating while they watch football. Some of this pub grub is pretty tasty.

You couldn't tell from the Buffalo wings. I ordered them at the "suicide" heat level, which caused the waitress to gasp, "No one orders them that way." Well, maybe some customers do, but, after a couple of nibbles, their mouths are too numb to talk about it. If you need a physiological stimulus to down an enormous quantity of beer, these wings will provide it.

Don't look for Shannon Alexander's-style cobb salads or halibut entrees here. This is sandwich territory. And Big Daddy's sandwiches manage to find the target.

The meat in the Philly cheesesteak had no gristle, and it came lined with lots of oily onions and peppers. The barbecued beef and ham sandwiches were even better, aided by a snappy barbecue sauce that brings the meat to life. The French dip is just a fancy name for a roast beef sandwich, but the beef here was reasonably juicy. So was the burger, a sizzling quarter-pounder topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. The menu says that the accompanying fries are fresh-cut. Well, maybe. But the rubbery ones I got surely hadn't just jumped out of the fryer into my burger basket.

One caveat about the sandwiches, however. They're small, gone in maybe five or six bites. I wouldn't blame some of the guys here for thinking that they were hors d'oeuvres.

You could order pizza instead, but that would be about as wise as betting on the Cardinals. Big Daddy will never be mistaken for a Neapolitan pizza maker. The pizza is done in by a stale, off-putting crust and a barbecue-flavored sauce that's about as Italian as Frank Gifford.

If you're into the upscale-sports-den scene, BigDaddy's is probably not for you. But if you're looking for a chance to watch a football game in peace, chow down on a decent sandwich and nurse a cold one, this place meets all the criteria.

Philly's Sports Bar & Grill, 1826 North Scottsdale Road, Tempe, 9466666. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1a.m.; Sunday, 10a.m. to 1 a.m.

Perched on the Tempe and Scottsdale border, Philly's aims to appeal to both populations.

The university crowd should enjoy the low prices--nothing goes for more than $6.95--and the comfortable sports-bar feel. That means beer-company-supplied pennants and posters, friendly young waitresses and plenty of televisions.

Scottsdale patrons should find satisfaction in the number of good beers on tap, like Harp, Bass Ale, Sierra Nevada and Celis. They may also be attracted to what Philly's calls its new "international menu."

Yes, there are the usual fried mozzarella sticks and Buffalo wings munchies. But there's also a fresh veggie platter with a dill dip. The first-rate basket of beer-battered artichokes is a welcome deep-fried change of pace. And the enormous plate of blue corn chip nachos, laden with beef, cheese, tomatoes, jalape–os and onions, should take care of the entire offensive line's appetite.

Occasionally, however, Philly's reach exceeds its grasp. Can anyone give me a rational explanation as to why chicken Kiev is on a sports-bar menu? What is this, the Russian Tea Room? And, as you might expect, Philly's dried-out version of this classic dish is fit for neither Russian royalty nor the football-viewing proletariat. Your best bet: punt.

The accompanying salad brings good news and bad news. The good news is that it's a classy mix of greens, without a shred of iceberg lettuce in sight. The bad news, though, is that these tired greens had lingered in the kitchen long past their prime.

I don't think too many Englishmen would recognize the shepherd's pie, ground beef and vegetables under a layer of cheese-coated mashed potatoes. That's because ye olde ground beef is sharply flavored with chili powder, not exactly a traditional ingredient. On the other hand, this recipe twist produces a tasty result which the English would do well to consider.Continuing the globetrotting theme, Philly's offers Oriental chicken salad. There's not much to it--a huge bowlful of romaine, crisp Chinese noodles and grilled, teriyaki-basted sliced chicken breast. A salty, piquant dressing, though, helps goose everything up.Closer to home, there's a righteous wineburger that can be profitably teamed with zippy blue cheese. This coupling produces aburger that bites back. Look for eight different versions of Philly cheesesteaks, too, as well as a vegetable sandwich on whole wheat.

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Howard Seftel