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Big and Tasty 

Sport's on Congress offers big burgers and sandwiches that will leave you more than satisfied

On paper, Sport's on Congress doesn't sound too impressive.

The bar and grill looks a bit rundown, and I can't really describe the place as "clean." (Nor is it dirty, although it seems like the tables aren't wiped down as well and as often as I'd prefer.) Clutter is the rule, with a service cooler and all of the serving utensils sitting in the main dining area. A bike was stored next to the Big Buck Hunter II arcade game during our second visit. When we asked for napkins on our first visit, our server brought cocktail napkins.

Fine dining, this ain't. And while Sport's may lack proper napkins, it offers a friendly, neighborhood-bar charm that's undeniable. And then there are the large, delectable burgers and sandwiches. Yummy.

Garrett and I first visited Sport's on one of those dead downtown weekday evenings. The dining-area portion of Sport's had a few occupied tables; the bar area, complete with a pool table and a couch, had several imbibers. The big-screen TV in the dining room, sitting on some sort of stage, was turned to ESPN HD. We sat in a booth next to a brick wall (on which hung posters depicting Wrigley Field and the movie Ali), and our table, which had seen better days, was covered with a laminated collage of sports cards and pictures of athletes clipped from various publications. An ESPN 1490 The Fan banner was on a wall, and an upstairs balcony area was sort of roped off.

The server/bartender--who was polite and keeping his cool as he worked his butt off--brought us menus and took our drink orders. The menu is pretty simple: some appetizers, some salads, some burgers and a ton of sandwiches, both hot and cold, including "Sport's originals" and a make-your-own option. We decided to start off with the Sport's nachos ($5.95). Garrett ordered the benipeno burger (a double burger with cheddar, bacon, blue cheese and jalapeños, $9.95), and I picked the heart attack (a sandwich with eggs, ham, cheddar, tomatoes, onions, bacon and jalapeños--all on a bed of tater tots, $7.50).

After a bit of a delay during which we enjoyed our beverages and chatted, the nachos arrived on a big, hot plate. On that plate: standard round tortilla chips with tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, olives, tomatoes, cheese and onions, with salsa and sour cream on the side. This was a tasty treat, a filling appetizer that could have been a whole meal. The nachos were highlighted by the chicken, which had a blackened flavor, and the fact that the ingredients were layered, rather than just thrown on top of the chips.

Our server cleared the plate and brought us a condiments pack in an old Budweiser six-pack bottle container (nice touch), and said the main courses were soon on their way. They did not disappoint.

Garrett's benipeno was big and tasty. He loves blue cheese far more than any human should, meaning that when he described the quantity on his burger as "adequate," that was a grand compliment. He said the onion bun (he was given the option of that or a regular bun) was a nice addition, and he enjoyed the burger. He liked the accompanying fries (thin and crispy) but thought the ketchup tasted cheap.

My heart attack (the sandwich, although eating too many of these could lead to the coronary kind) was also a hit. The ham and jalapeño stood out but didn't dominate. Although I was surprised at how little the tater tots added (I barely noticed them), and the sandwich was a bit dry, I'd order this again in a heartbeat. No pun intended.

We paid our bill and left, fat (somewhat literally) and happy. We'd return for a lunch visit about a week later--and we encountered a restaurant that was not having a good day. Our server was scrambling, even though only one other table in the dining area was filled; I can't help but wonder if Sport's suffers from understaffing.

We ordered the hummus plate ($6.50), while I got a burger, the mushroom Swiss ($5.95), and Garrett got the brick sandwich (roast beef, salami, pepperoni, bacon, onions, provolone, cheddar, Swiss, salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar; Garrett asked for them to hold the onions, $9.50). It took a while for the hummus plate to show up, so we passed the time by discussing current events, spurred on by the big-screen TV, now tuned to MSNBC. We were happy to dive in when the appetizer arrived: a big pile o' hummus (topped with carrot shavings and dried fruit) with lots of lemon, tomato slices, cucumber slices, pita bread and regular bread. The dish was huge and an overall success, although the tomatoes could have used another day or three to ripen.

Then came the bad news: The server informed us they were out of the onion rolls that both entrées were supposed to be served on. Oh, and they were out of regular hamburger rolls, too. He apologized profusely; we said we'd accept wheat bread instead.

Garrett's sandwich was fine, except that it came packed with onions, when he'd asked for there to be none. The server apologized, marched off to the kitchen and came back with the ticket, to show us he had, in fact, told the kitchen to hold the onions. Thanks for sharing! He also removed 10 percent of the price of Garrett's sandwich, or a whopping 95 cents, from the bill.

My burger was merely OK. Being on crisp, toasted wheat bread rather than a nice, soft roll messed up the texture, and it didn't help the taste. Oh, well.

Sport's needs to work on staffing and inventory issues. But there's no denying the place's charm and the delicious, huge sandwiches and burgers.

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More by Jimmy Boegle

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