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By Jim Duncan

Sports bar metamorphosis

In the late 1980s I started writing a column in Cityview called “Since I Quit Drinking.” Like Rip Van Winkle waking from my long oblivion, I suddenly noticed changes that took place over two decades: Gambling had gone from a sinister crime to a government-run industry; cops no longer escorted drunk drivers safely home; taverns sold food that wasn’t packaged in cellophane bags. Another two decades have now passed and the changes in the local food and beverage scene are no less amazing — beginning with sports bars.

Twenty years ago sports bars were pretty much restricted to casinos. Today, there are so many in Greater Des Moines that we need sub-categories to classify them. At the top end there are “connoisseur sports bars” like Coaches Corner, where a shot of cognac can cost more than a night at Prairie Meadows. This group includes steak house sports bars like the converted Iowa Beef Steak House and heirloom sports bars like Francie’s. “Tribal sports bars” are team or sport-specific (Hawkeyes, Clones, NASCAR, soccer, etc.). “Ethnic sports bars” specialize in games from Latin America and nothing sells Corona like a Chivas-America game. “Industrial sports bars,” franchised by corporations in far away places, complete the familiar genres.

Two sports bar niches remain barely tapped in Des Moines — the culinary type and the non-smoking type. Since local cable coverage of baseball and college football has become unreliable, I visited two places that try to fill those voids. In Waukee, Legacy is a multi-niche sports bar with service that transcends expectations. On my visits, I was not only immediately escorted to a table, which is rare enough, but asked what game I wanted to watch. My television choice was delivered even before my drink. I have eaten entire dinners at other sports bars before anyone could tune in my game. Legacy’s menu has changed quite a bit in the year since it replaced Woodee’s BBQ. At first, it was pretty much a steak house sports bar. Now it’s a family sports bar, with significantly lower prices, fewer wines and more beers. Breakfast is still served, but only on weekends now.

I tried three recommended dishes: A Reuben delivered good corned beef in generous portion; a hand-pattied burger had perfect sear; a pork-tenderloin showed off its hand-cut freshness with a thick cut. There are a few steakhouse choices on the menu, but the bustle was more family-oriented during the dinner hour. Servers told me that changes late at night after the patio becomes packed during decent weather.

The Game in Urbandale resembles my ultimate dream of a sports bar during my drinking days. And not just because they have Guinness on tap. It’s 100 percent non-smoking, which is the only kind of non-smoking that has meaning. It has every sports package a bar can buy and enough high definition televisions to keep all kinds of fans happy. It also runs affordable road trips, like an $89 all-inclusive day at Wrigley Field in September. It has billiard tables and free wi-fi service. And it operates a bargain short order kitchen. The Game turns out good Nathan’s hot dogs, burgers and sausages, plus all the usual deep fried plates that come with the sports bar moniker. The last time I had a good $3 pork-tenderloin was before I quit drinking, too.

Side dish

Taste! To Go is moving into the former Bass & Ringneck store at 4700 University Ave. They hope to be remodeled and moved by Oct. 1... Insiders say that something resembling Hank & Sharon’s Giant Tenderloin is the favorite to take over Taste’s current venue by Drake. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place (5-3-07) Suburban Restaurant (5-10-07)
Gateway Market Café (5-17-07) Irina’s Restaurant Bar (5-24-07)
Trailer Tripe (5-31-07) Azalea (6-07-07)
Pho All Seasons (6-14-07) Farmers Market (6-21-07)
El Sabor Latino (6-28-07) Crouse Café (7-5-07)
Bistro Montage (7-12-07) Jaliscolita rebounds (7-19-07)
New Saigon (7-26-07) Smokey D's BBQ (8-2-07)
Gourmet Burgers (8-9-07) Iowa State Fair (8-16-07)
Rolling Wok (8-23-07)  

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