Split personality

Photo by David Robert

The evolution of the sports bar has to be one of the more interesting histories in American casual dining. Unfortunately, the typical sports bar tends to be mum on the subject. Neon beer signs of corporate logos, a predilection for stadium nachos and multiple televisions seem to be the only prerequisites in this genre. In Nevada, add a bunch of slot machines in the bar, and you’re set.

On the surface, Coach’s appears to be following this formula, with about a dozen TVs broadcasting various sporting events, plenty of neon and the ubiquitous pool table/dart combo. But behind the scenes, there is the heart of a restaurant trying to be free.

My husband, Tony, and I wandered in on a recent Tuesday night to find the horseshoe-shaped bar about half-full. The TVs were turned down low and some bubblegum pop music was playing on the stereo. One of the gals at the bar had already worked on several cocktails and was good-naturedly singing along for our amusement.

Although we had no trouble finding a table, the one we selected was beer-spillingly wobbly, even though we noticed it was already propped under one leg with coasters. Glancing around to see if there was a more stable table, I noticed that many of the others were similarly shimmied, so I decided to stay put.

The menu is in deep denial that it resides in a sports bar. The large kitchen cranks out appetizers, salads, sandwiches, personal 10-inch pizzas, pastas and steaks. Our bartender/server pointed out to me how large and varied the menu was in such a way that I was certain that somehow my cover (as a reviewer) had been blown. His slightly nervous over-attentiveness was another clue, unless he just needs to switch to decaf.

The appetizer section featured many of the usual suspects found on most bar menus. Onion rings and nachos are there for the guy who is there to watch the game, and the non sequitur of New Zealand mussels must be there just to keep us guessing.

We decided to split a half-and-half order of barbeque ribs and chicken thighs ($6). The oval plate arrived piled high and slathered from end to end with BBQ sauce. A nice touch was the side plate with a moist towel for cleanup, although there was only one for both of us to use. Well, if I don’t have Tony’s cooties by now, I guess I never will.

The ribs were fully cooked and quite hot, but still managed to seem underdone, with a fatty, chewy texture that was slightly unpleasant. The bone-in-chicken thighs were better, with a tender juiciness that can only come from the much under-utilized leg of the bird. I liked this meatier rendition of the typical “hot wing.” It was easier to eat and gave a greater return on the hunger investment.

Tony’s pepper steak sandwich ($7) was a reasonable take on the classic Philly, with a large, chewy French roll, gooey with cheese and tangy grilled peppers and onions. The mayonnaise-based pasta salad on the side, however, was piercingly, distractingly sweet. I tasted it twice before shaking my head and giving up.

My pizza—chicken with white garlic sauce ($7.50)—was pretty good. The crust was pleasantly crisp and chewy. It was covered in a cheesy garlic-cream sauce, red peppers and onions and chunks of grilled chicken and topped with still more melted cheese.

By that time, our server came around to point out that we had a lot of food and presented our check as evidence that we were getting a good deal. Perhaps he was just too eager to please, but by then, I was sincerely hoping he knew I was a restaurant reviewer. I hope he doesn’t act that way with everybody.