I have gotten used to it every time I walk into a sports bar – the drab tile floors, basic furniture and walls covered with neon beer signs, cardboard NASCAR or Colts cutouts and other freebies from vendors.
Separating one from the other is sort of like trying to decide which New York politician is creepier, Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer.
So when I tell you that Mitchells Bar & Grill in the Marketplace of Canterbury is something different, something more high-end in terms of décor, I mean it.
Modern black iron barstools and chairs sit on a marbled painted floor, painted to match the tabletops. The soft mustard walls are decorated with black-letter stenciled quotes from sports figures, both fictional, If you aint first, youre last – Ricky Bobby, and real, Ability gets you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there – John Wooden. Flat-screen TVs are everywhere – even a small one above the urinal in the mens room and a giant one outside overlooking the front patio. An array of gorgeous antique sculptured liquor decanters along shelves near the dark brown ceiling adds a touch of class, too.
The place was also spotless, which is seldom the case at sports bars.
The service followed suit. I was greeted with a smile during both visits by servers adorned in referee outfits, but not the risqué types that some themed sports bars incorporate. Those servers were eager to make suggestions and helpful, asking when I wanted my childrens meals served and whether I needed cups with lids for them.
The food also delivered.
The menu has the standard bar fare with a few interesting additions, and breakfast is available all day. Mitchells is located in the spot formerly occupied by Sharons Diner, which was known for hearty breakfasts, and owner Todd Smith is the son of the Sharon from Sharons Diner, Sharon Adams. So many of her breakfast recipes remain.
The Home Run provided a little taste of everything, including some of the best biscuits and gravy I have had in a while. The half order, which came with two eggs, choice of meat, one pancake and hash browns or home fries, had a dense, softball-sized biscuit covered with thick gravy that was dotted with small pieces of still-tender sausage and a fair amount of black pepper. It was heavy and rich, and the pepper perfectly accented the salty sausage. But beware: The biscuits and gravy are only available until 2 p.m.
The pancake in this combo was also quite dense – not a fluffy airy cake – and was just a little crisp on the outside. I chose the hash browns over the home fries based on my servers recommendation, and they were perfect.
The Triple Play Platter appetizer also allowed me to taste a variety of items as it included three sliders: sloppy joe, hamburger with grilled onions and pulled pork. The hamburger was OK and the sweet sloppy joe was tasty, but the pork stole the show. It had crispy pieces of bark mixed in and an intense smoky flavor that melded beautifully with the sweet barbecue sauce. The best part of this starter, however, might have been the lightly breaded, sweet onion straws on the side.
The sauces were the highlight of the wings at Mitchells. The sauces are made in house, and the most interesting was the Boom Boom, which was a creamy orange sauce with a little sweet heat. The hot sauce, Smith said, is an original recipe from the old Brubakers Bar and Grill. It had a nice peppery kick, as did the Caribbean Jerk, which sort of snuck up on me with its heat. All of the wings I tried were crispy, but they were so crispy that the meat was a little overcooked.
The meat in the Philly Fanatic was perfectly cooked. This version of a Philly cheese steak was loaded with moist, tender slices of steak that could not have been improved upon. Buttery strips of onion and pepper and tangy Swiss cheese completed the sandwich, which was served on a soft, fresh sub bun.
I would choose one of the homemade soups over the homemade coleslaw, which was a rather standard sweet, creamy version. But you cant go wrong with either, given they are homemade. The chicken and wild rice soup had a creamy, almost buttery broth with plenty of dark rice, chunks of grilled chicken and the standard mirepoix. It was perfectly seasoned, and I enjoyed every last bite.
I enjoyed most of my bites at Mitchells Bar & Grill and will be back to try more. Given its attention to detail and beautiful décor, I will probably bring the family with me, which isnt often the case when it comes to sports bars.
Restaurant: Mitchells Bar & Grill
Address: 5607 St. Joe Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-Friendly: Yes, but 21-and-over only after 10 p.m.
Menu: Triple Play ($7.99), soup ($1.99 cup; $2.99 bowl), Philly Fanatic ($7.99), Home Run breakfast ($8.99), wings ($4.99 for 6; all you can eat $8.99 daily)
atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
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