In an old firehouse on West Colorado Avenue, a couple of guys named Andy and Joe have turned the tables on the former residents. Instead of extinguishing flames, these two are lighting them, and cooking up a firestorm of tasty treats. As chef-owners of the new Fanz Sports Grill, they are on their way to major-league success. Fanz has everything you would expect to find in a sports bar, and almost everything you wouldn't as well.
Start with the room itself, a bright and airy space anchored by a black bar with red accents. When late afternoon light floods the room, it reflects softly off of the lacquered red tops of the tables for four. Also prominent are the requisite half-dozen or more television monitors served by several different satellite feeds -- on my visit they showed Rockies baseball, motorcycle racing and playoff games in the NBA and NHL simultaneously. Yet, television watching is not mandatory, as the screens themselves do not dominate and Fanz also offers a nice patio out front.
Next, check out the crowd. You'll see lots of locals, usually on a first-name basis with the bartenders and the chefs. The catch here is that more women than men had either dropped in for dinner or bellied up to the bar to guzzle one of Ariel's tart and potent margaritas.
All of this notwithstanding, it's the menu at Fanz that really raised my eyebrows. I anticipated their healthy list of burgers and finger foods, but not pecan-crusted pork loin, cedar-planked salmon and seared duck breast. On my way in the door, I had thought that deciding what to eat would be easy -- no tough choices to make, no gastronomic agony -- just a burger and fries. Now I had to deliberate, to ponder, to puzzle.
After hemming and hawing for five minutes, I finally asked myself: Who orders duck at a sports bar? Only a snotty restaurant critic would pull a stunt like that, and I really didn't want to be that guy. I told myself that my job was to assess the sports bar food, so I went for the whiskey pepper jack burger ($5.95), which boasted grilled onions, bourbon barbecue sauce and pepper jack cheese. It only took one bite to realize I'd made the right choice. The enormous and deliciously juicy burger came on a large Kaiser roll, accompanied by some tasty fries.
Fanz also offers the fish- and vegetable-eating crowd a variety of appetizers, salads and entrees. Although I was flying solo, my wife fits into that category, so I decided to look out for her. I took on a crab-stuffed mushroom appetizer ($5.95), consisting of eight, button mushroom caps packed with crab, covered in a sweet and tangy sauce made from Brie cheese. The mushrooms were hot and cooked perfectly without burning and the sauce really held together, proving again that Andy and Joe sure know what they are doing.
By this point I was really wishing I had a friend along so that I could try more food ... so I could order duck at a sports bar after all. It cost only $8.75, which happens about as often as it shows up on the menu at a sports bar. Then, much to my excitement, the woman next to me at the bar, a regular, ordered it. I peeked into the kitchen repeatedly, hoping to watch the chefs in action. When her duck arrived, sliced on an angle and served over a massive potato croquette with fresh vegetables and a cherry sauce, I had to restrain myself from swiping a sample. She clearly enjoyed her meal and repeatedly said how much she liked it.
This was more than I could take, so I asked for an order to go. Since I was meeting some friends, I reasoned that I could share it with them, get a second opinion, and get off the hook for eating two dinners in one night. As soon as I unveiled the treat, my pals descended on the bird and took it down in 90 seconds flat. Seared in a hot pan, it had a crisp peppery crust on the outside and remained pink and juicy in the middle. The restrained cherry sauce thoroughly accentuated the duck's natural sweetness, and the light creamy potato croquette matched the flavor and texture perfectly. This is one duck dish that belongs on the menu!
Taken together, Fanz is a home run and then some. They have plenty of televisions for watching the big game, and a friendly bar where they want to learn your name. If you're hungry, you can get a great burger to go with your beer. And, if you want something different, Andy and Joe are ready to nurture your taste buds at unbelievable prices. Now that's worthy of a cheer from the crowd.
Fanz Sports Grill
817 W. Colorado Ave.
Open Sunday - Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday - Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.