Fox Sports Grill: Gusto, fun and games at a price

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's a typical mid-week evening at the newly opened Fox Sports Grill in north Scottsdale. The parking lot is jammed; every seat is filled at a giant bar in the middle of the main lounge; huge screens vibrate with scenes of passes being thrown and Coyotes skidding across the ice.

If the raucous rock music in the background makes it hard to talk to the person next to you or to concentrate while eating at the bar or at groups of couches nearby, you can head off to the quieter dining rooms next door. But if you don't have a reservation for a table, better get there early.

The plugged-in, well-wired, wood-fired grill opened in November and has been on a roll ever since that will probably carry it with gusto through the winter high season in Arizona. Expect it to be jammed from January through March.

And if you live in a town where sports and dining out have strong appeal, it's possible that a Fox Sports Grill may land in your neighborhood as well. That's because this grill is the first in a hoped-for chain of premium sports bars that B&B Restaurant Ventures of Westlake Village in California wants to launch. B&B is in partnership with Fox Sports to create "a new category of sports bars and restaurants that elevate the dining and entertainment experience associated with traditional sports bars," according to the company's marketing department.

For the hyperkinetic, the $3 million, 20,000-foot grill offers more than food, drink and 20-plus TVs, including three with giant screens. Outdoors, there is a plastic-turf putting green. That's free; you get the clubs inside the restaurant.

Near the bar is a neon-lit billiards room where it costs $10 an hour on weekday evenings or $12 on weekends for a chance to play. There's also a pro shop where you can buy shirts and caps with the Fox Sports logo. Special events are in the works with live bands and big-name sports stars, including a possible taping of Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show." But admission to those types of evenings will cost you extra.

The dining room in stone and dark wood with lots of inviting booths has two waterfall walls and a fireplace instead of big-screen television.

The restaurant is certainly a sight to see in itself and the menu is pretty good. But all the ambiance and food don't come at bargain prices, even though the portions are certainly hearty and made for sharing.

A good tactic to keep the bill down is to order two or three appetizers to split among your group, and then opt for a sandwich or a salad.

Some of the possibilities:

As appetizers to share go, the crispy calamari ($8) with two sauces and jicama slaw is a great beginning. We also liked the Maryland crab cake ($8.25) served with remoulade sauce - although it's really only enough for one person. (You can also order the crab cakes as an entrée for $18.75.) You can also get a half pound of shrimp, barbecued with a New Orleans style sauce ($11.95).

The best of the salads are the pear, blue cheese and pecan salad ($9), served with romaine and baby greens and a mustard-and-cider vinaigrette and the grilled Caesar salad - hearts of romaine marinated in Caesar dressing and then flash-grilled. You can make a meal out of the grilled chicken cobb salad ($10.75) with bacon, avocado, kalamata olives, tomatoes and blue cheese and chopped romaine.

But avoid the house greens ($8) - mixed baby greens tossed with shaved carrots, tomatoes, green beans, and toasted sunflower seeds. The balsamic vinaigrette dressing is sticky and overpowering.

The sandwiches are hearty and served with shoestring fries: a half-pound Angus burger ($8.50), a grilled Mediterranean tuna steak ($11.25) on an onion roll and a New York steak sandwich ($12.95) are typical.

For bigger appetites, or maybe after 18 holes played from the back tees at the TPC Scottsdale, try the cider-cured smoked double-cut pork chops ($17.50) brushed with a bourbon molasses glaze or maybe the Atlantic salmon fillet ($17.50), grilled and finished with garlic lemon aioli sauce or glazed in a soy-ginger sauce. Main dishes like these and the 16-ounce New York strip steak ($25.50) come with a choice of buttermilk whipped potatoes, pecorino au gratins, a baked potato or pesto shoestrings. Avoid the baby-backed ribs unless you can handle hot - as in very spicy - barbecue sauce.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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