The Sports Bar is an interesting type of place. On game day it’s a hive of activity. Fans fixated on the screens hanging all over the walls, cheering, booing, or groaning as they follow along with their favourite teams. Other times, when there’s nothing of significance happening in the sports world, they can be almost tomb like. I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum when visiting Underdogs Sports Bar on Portage Avenue.
Underdogs in the Afternoon
My first visit to Underdogs came after I had been at a clergy gathering at St. Andrew’s Woodhaven. I wandered down Portage Avenue afterwards trying to decide where I wanted to stop for supper. I passed by a few options, a couple of which were closed and ended up at Underdogs. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long for my meal, because there were only about four other people in a space that holds a couple of hundred. (kinda of like some Anglican Churches on a Sunday morning).
I was seated at a table, facing the wall and the televisions. There are a lot of televisions in Underdogs. The tables are nicely spaced, and there is even a small area with pinball machines, video games, and arcade style basketball hoops, among other things.
One of the interesting things about that time of day is that the televisions were tuned into three or four different channels. Late afternoon at the sports bar is when the various sports networks air their talking heads shows. It’s the land of PTI, Around the Horn, and other shows where panelists try and see who can talk most. Or you might find a pundit on the Golf Channel lamenting how Tiger Woods’s absence from the PGA Tour has forced them to actually work rather than write another click-bait Tiger story.
So, as it turns out there really wasn’t any entertainment value to speak of. The only other people near me were a couple who had brought their tween aged grandson to the bar, so that he could spend time staring at his electronic device while ignoring them.
As you may know if you’re a semi-regular reader here, I’m a wing fan,(chicken not Detroit). So when I saw Underdogs menu advertising something described along the lines of “stupidly hot wings,” I had to order it. My server was upfront with me and told me that they wings really weren’t all that hot, and that they would likely be taking them off the menu, at least under that name, (they have).
Still, I decided to give them a try, and they were quite good. The server was right, they barely registered on the heat scale. However they were moist and the sauce was good and plentiful.
I had the feature soup to go along with the wings. It was quite awhile ago, so I don’t quite remember exactly what variety I had. As you can see from the picture below it was a cream of squash, or pepper, or something of that nature. Despite not remembering the exact soup, it was quite good and I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of the Underdog’s soups again.
It was one of those days when I was in the mood for dessert. I went with what is called on the current menu, the five hole. It’s a dozen cinnamon doughtnut holes, with a Nutella dip. The doughnuts were delicious, and the dip was all right. I’m not the biggest Nutella fan in the world, but it went nicely with the doughnuts.
For beverage choice I went with the Shock Top Belgian White. This is one of my favourite beers. Worth taking note of if you were thinking of buying one for International Buy a Priest a Beer Day. (If you can’t meet me in person for a draft, I’ll gratefully accept bottled offerings).
Being one of a very few people in Underdogs, naturally the service was quite good and attentive, so I needed to go back some time when the place was quite a bit fuller.
A Great Night For Underdogs
I don’t watch as much NFL football as I used to. I don’t watch football in general. As concussion knowledge improves, it’s just harder and harder to do. Especially after reading stories such as this. However, I still haven’t totally weaned myself away, and I figured that the opening night of the NFL season would be a good night to revisit a sports bar. It also ended up being a good night to be in a place called Underdogs.
The season opener featured the defending Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots, and their age defying QB Tom Brady. Their roadkill for the evening was the Kansas City Chiefs. A quite good football team. The Chiefs are lead by Alex Smith. Smith was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, before he was benched and later traded so that Colin Kaepernick, (he that’s no longer capable of being an NFL backup) could become the new 49ers starter.
So, it was an underdog QB playing for an underdog team, with the game being on the big screens at Underdogs. Underdogs are one of the big reasons people are fans of sports. Especially when the team they are playing are deemed to be the “Evil Empire.”
One of the things that makes the NFL so popular is all the hype they generate, and the big production values that go into games such as the season opener. Unfortunately, I missed all that as Winnipeg Transit was operating on a no Portage buses for half an hour followed by three in two minutes schedule.
I got to Underdogs a few minutes into the game itself. Being late, the tables were all filled up and I ended up with a seat at the bar. After the bartenders obligatory attempt to get me to drink a Budweiser, I ordered at Shock Top and grabbed a menu. As an aside, if you can only afford to buy your priest a Budweiser, be kind and consider making Buy a Priest a Beer Day, a biennial event.
Any way, by the time I was ready to order the Patriots had already had a touchdown called back, and were soon to score one that counted. I decided I would try the Ballpark Pretzel. The pretzel comes with cheese sauce and a fairly hot grainy mustard. I really like this pretzel. The crust required a good bit to get through, but the inside was soft, light, and fluffy. It was well, but not overly salted.
The crowd at the bar seemed to be fairly pro Kansas City, and for a bit it looked like the Patriots would reassert their dominance, but a late 2nd quarter TD by the Chiefs made it a three point game at the half.
While all this was going on I finished off my pretzel and ordered a pound of Cajun Spiced Dry Wings. The Cajun Rub was not a particularly hot one, but the flavour mix was good. On top of that the ribs themselves had a good crispy skin and were moist and well cooked. As good as the hot wings were on my first visit, these were even better.
At half-time I ordered another Shock Top and waited for the inevitable adjustments that would lead the Patriots to the first of their 19 straight victories. Hey, the pundits said it might happen. As the game wore on it seemed likely that Kansas City was in fact going to hold on. However, the game was still in doubt. One can’t count out TB12, especially after this.
I decided to order one more light-ish dish, and went for the Chips with the Roasted Garlic Caramelized Onion Dip. It’s a good thing I was on my own, because that’s quite a powerful, but tasty dip. Despite the power, it was still also lighter than a lot of onion dips. The chips were well cooked and really crispy.
In addition to the game being up on every screen, there was a general lively atmosphere to the bar. Underdogs was well staffed, and I never had to wait when I wanted to order something. I got a good view of the edge of the kitchen and could see that food was generally coming out in a timely fashion. All three of my dishes came without out much of a wait. One thing I really appreciated was how quick the staff was to wipe down the bar every time someone left.
I left just before the end of the game. Well fed and a satisfying evening all around. No 19-0 for the Patriots this year, but unlike 2007, I’m sure their fans wouldn’t mind if they end up 19-1.