Bill Mertz enjoys a Miller Lite and a conservation with the bar tender during happy hour at Game On Sports Grille on Sixth Ave. S. in Tacoma, January 13, 2009. Janet Jensen/The News Tribune
EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is today's Drop-In Dining, a restaurant dining report published Fridays where reporters drop in unannounced and sample the food, on TNT's dime, then report what the scene and the food were like. Have a suggestion for a Drop-In Dining feature? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Game On Sports Grille
Where: 6409 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-460-1400
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. most nights, closed early when slow
Price range: $-$$ (Entrees under $30)
By Ernest A. Jasmin
I'm a hopelessly addicted NFL junkie. And with the playoffs in full swing, I had the perfect excuse for both scoping out a new sports bar and for spewing out all those color commentary clichés I've soaked up from years of vegging out in front of ESPN.
So I dropped in on the new Game On Sports Grille, which kicked off its first season in Tacoma in late 2008 at 6409 Sixth Ave. S. But honestly, this is a restaurant that didn't bring it's A game to the big dance.
The scene: Game On boasts decent sight lines to all the widescreen TVs hanging overhead, as well as a family-friendly vibe. At least, there were plenty of little squirts running routes through the dining room during a recent visit. But the décor was a bit bland, with only a few pendants and photos decorating plain, white walls – not much to get sports fans pumped up for the big game.
The food: There are no new tricks in Game On's playbook, with lots of burgers, nachos, fish and chips, steaks, pastas and other fare you'd expect to find at a sports bar. And keeping it simple is fine at a sports bar, where it's all about a kitchen crew and a wait staff coming together to win customers. At least that's the way it should be.
Dishes sampled: On the first visit, it was the shrimp scampi ($10), which arrived in a rich, buttery sauce but could have used a little extra time in the bullpen. It was lukewarm, and the soft, slimy texture made me wonder if it had been cooked all the way. My waitress stepped up to the plate, whisked it off to be nuked in the kitchen and brought it back a minute later. It was not the sort of statement a cooking team wants to make with its opening appetizer.
Next, Game On barely got on base with the pot roast melt ($9). It was warmer but still a bit chilly around the edges. But it was at least hearty, filling and satisfyingly cheesy.
Despite a lackluster first visit, I recruited a teammate for a return visit, hoping the kitchen crew would step up its game.
For meal two, clams ($10) were rubbery and cool, and surf-and-turf penne pasta ($14) was as frigid around the edges as a playoff game at Hines Field. Had they just zapped it in the microwave? How bush league would that be?
Furthermore, the pasta tasted as if it had been simmered in some generic, canned sauce picked up at Top Foods. I ate a few bites and was quick to throw in the towel.
Before that, we warmed up with some calamari ($10), which was tender but bland, served with marinara dipping sauce to give it a little kick.
My teammate was pumped about the steak fries the menu promised with her sirloin steak ($15), but felt the bitter sting of defeat when mashed potatoes (instant, by the taste) showed up instead.
The steak itself seemed juicy and tender at first, which was good since no steak knife came with it. But the mushroom and Gorgonzola sauce was a total bust, consisting of thin gravy, exactly three mushrooms and no discernible Gorgonzola.
But it wasn't until halfway through the steak that we realized the Game On team had totally self-destructed. My companion had asked for medium rare but the steak was noticeably bloodier with each bite. And she gave up after discovering a mushy patch that felt raw enough to slap on a boxer's swollen eye.
Drinks: Still, we managed to make it to overtime, sipping a couple of post-dinner coffee cocktails ($5 each) which at least hit the spot as we watched the Arizona Cardinals romp over the Carolina Panthers on TV. (Huh? Did we get drunk on those things? Don't the Cardinals stink?) Each drink was served with rich whipped cream and a splash of Starbucks liqueur.
Service: Our waitress had her head in the game, at least. She was prompt, polite and supernice. But one position does not a team make. And it looks like a rebuilding year for the folks at Game On.
Ernest A. Jasmin: 253-274-7389