I must admit I'm a sports bar ingnue. And with the exception of NCAA basketball playoffs, that annual pitting of the forces of evil (generally UNLV) against the forces of good (Duke, say, or Kansas), I haven't been terribly interested in watching sports on television. That is, until I walked into the Dublin House and saw a screen so big the hockey sticks looked life-size with reception so clear I could feel the cold coming off the ice.
Until some multimedia wizard comes up with a 3-D, hologram-like device that simulates the feeling one gets at a live sporting event, a sports bar is the place to be for major games. With a pitcher of cold beer nearby and the contagious enthusiasm of one's fellow sports fans, an enjoyable time can be had. Just remember you're there for the game, not the food.
If you must munch something, keep it simple. Hot wings are a good bet, as are nachos -- both rarely done well but seldom done poorly. The fried veggie combo at the Dublin House was good; it wasn't greasy and offered a nice assortment of vegetables. The Queso and Spinach Dip was less successful. Served with uninspired packaged chips, the dip seemed to have been made with a low-end Velveeta; even a teenager would have second thoughts about a second serving.
One oddity amidst the more typical bar fare was the Supreme Sauted Mushrooms. Served with sour cream and Parmesan, it was just nasty. If you want to experience this at home -- though I don't recommend it -- open a can of mushrooms, mix in some sour cream and serve lukewarm.
Appetizers are priced a little dearly, on the safe assumption (I'm betting) that, in the throes of athletic excitement, diners will want to eat with their fingers. You can buy an order of fries or onion rings for $2.95; the big-ticket items, like the Dublin Sampler (wings, mozzarella sticks, fried veggies and jalapeo poppers), tip the scales at $8.95. Portions are large, however.
Health-conscious diners wanting alternatives to all the fried starters might be drawn to the all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar for $6.95. Check it out before you decide, though. The night we were there it offered little besides iceberg lettuce, potato salad and pasta salad.
The entrees we sampled were uneven, but generally pretty good. The Philly cheese steak sandwich was huge, and the thinly sliced beef was tasty. The burger we tried with mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese was equally large, juicy and flavorful, served on a fresh bun with just enough texture to make it interesting. No puffy Wonder Bread bun here. Burger prices range from $5.95 for the basic to $7.25 for one with guacamole and Monterey jack cheese.
Chicken dishes got mixed reviews. The chicken tenders were divine -- juicy, perfectly breaded, fried to a nice crunchiness, and served with a pleasant honey mustard. The chicken with barbecue sauce, however, was dry and gristly; its accompanying sauce was ghastly.
We tried the other white meat, a generously sized pork chop for $10.95. It was a little overcooked but went well with the applesauce and roasted potatoes that accompanied it. Choices for side dishes typically include onion rings, French fries, baked potato, and unnamed vegetables. They were out of a few choices, so we sampled only the potatoes. The crinkley fries would have made Ore-Ida proud. The baked potato, if you skip the sour cream and go easy on the butter, is a healthier bet.
The star at our table was the beef filet with crabmeat and bacon -- a tender cut of meat topped with a spicy mustard sauce. At $15.95, it's the priciest item on the menu, but how often do you get to splurge at a sports bar?
In reality (and despite the decorative banners proclaiming the joys of Budweiser), the Dublin House is more than a sports bar. The vast dining space -- separated from the smaller bar area, the video game arcade and the pool tables -- is a kid-friendly area. Several families with small children were there. The kids can run around without causing much of a fuss and the menu offers all the items kids raised on fast food are accustomed to. Hot dogs, grilled cheese, nachos and kid-sized burgers are reasonably priced from $2.95 to $3.95. Pizza, -- that staple for kids of all ages -- can be ordered with toppings like pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and olives. A good-sized cheese pizza can be had for $8.95; toppings go for 50. The real bargain, however, is the combo, which holds six toppings for $10.95.
One caveat for anyone with lungs: Smokers go to sports bars. It's what they do. And it's the price non-smokers pay to enjoy the camaraderie, the noise, the adrenaline (however vicarious) of March Madness or a Super Bowl or just another Avs game. As they say at the Dublin House, they offer "All Sports for All People at All Times." Gotta love 'em for that.