A friend of mine recently told me that sports bars are "killing the dining culture in America."
On one hand, I understand his point. The food at a lot of sports bars is terrible; it's basic, unimaginative fare designed solely to keep sports fans and drinkers in their seats.
On the other hand, some sports bars try to rise above mediocrity, and actually make an effort in their kitchens. One of our readers recently wrote to tell me such an effort was underway at Mulligan's Sports Grill, and she recommended that I give the eastside joint a try.
That's how I wound up visiting Mulligan's on what happened to be the night of the seventh game of the World Series. What I found was a fun neighborhood hangout that is indeed trying to elevate the quality of the stuff that comes out of the kitchen—although the execution could sometimes be better.
St. Louis Cardinals fans were out en masse on what would turn out to be a rather happy evening for them. I enjoyed watching the game while waiting for our food: a Cajun blue classic burger (featuring Cajun seasonings and blue cheese, $8.99) for me, and the evening's special, all-you-can-eat fish and chips ($9.99), for Garrett. We also tried the steak-martini appetizer ($5.99).
Burgers and fish and chips are among the eats one expects to find at a sports bar, and both of these items were rather average. My burger looked mouth-watering, thanks to the large Angus-beef patty and the presence of a bunch of blue cheese. However, the only significant "seasoning" my palate picked up was salt—and too much of it. Garrett's fish and chips also suffered from an execution flaw: The pieces were mushy due to the presence of too much oil; the fryer oil's temperature was apparently a bit too low. The thin fries I got with my burger were good enough, but Garrett's side—a chicken pasta salad that our server raved about—lacked flavor.
However, that steak-martini starter was pretty special. It consisted of strips of medium/medium-rare steak on a bed of tomatoes and lettuce, all served in a martini glass—with two green olives to boot. The steak featured a subtle but complementary seasoning, and the accompanying horseradish mayo was fantastic. This was certainly not run-of-the-mill sports-bar fare.
Our second visit came on a Sunday night, and we started with the potstickers ($6.49), which were tasty and came with two sauces: a teriyaki-like sauce, and a ponzu concoction. For my main course, I ordered the 16-inch chicken, bacon and spinach pizza with the "special" red sauce ($12.99; Alfredo sauce is also available). Garrett still had steak on his mind thanks to that delicious steak-martini appetizer from visit No. 1, so he went with the Mulligan's steak sandwich with his choice of cheeses ($8.99); he chose blue cheese.
The menu at Mulligan's is expansive, with more than two dozen burgers, pizzas, lots of sandwiches both hot and cold (including almost a dozen chicken sandwiches alone), soups, salads, 18 or so appetizers, several pasta dishes and even a few special entrées (like a rib-eye steak). As the cliché goes, there's something for everyone—but I can't help but wonder if quality is taking a back seat to quantity in some cases.
Take my pizza—please, because it was quite subpar. I liked the cracker-thin crust, and the chicken and bacon were OK (though there could have been more of those toppings). But the "special" sauce was anything but. It merged with some grease from the cheese and took on an unappetizing pink color; it had almost no flavor. The spinach was actually the highlight of the pie. 'Nuff said.
As I was frowning at the pizza, Garrett was delighting in his steak sandwich. Mulligan's uses breads from Viro's Italian Bakery, which is a very good thing. Also good was the abundance of juicy, astonishingly tender steak, and high-quality blue cheese.
The service on both of our visits was fine, aside from a few longer-than-usual waits between courses. The atmosphere is very golf-course-green—and if you like golf, then you'll love the fact that golf clubs and framed pictures of golf courses are worked into the décor throughout. The wood-trimmed bar area has a touch of Irish class, and the patio, complete with TVs and a view of Golf Links Road (for better or for worse), is kind of awesome.
Due to scheduling issues, I was unable to enjoy one of Mulligan's most-buzzed-about specials: On Wednesdays, wings—which come in a wide variety of flavors—are only 35 cents with a drink purchase.
Speaking of drinks: The bar offers a great selection of cocktails, including some fine specialty drinks at decent prices, but be careful: On occasion, they'll throw you a high-priced curveball. ($11.50 for a Grey Goose martini? Really?)
After two visits to Mulligan's Sports Grill, I feel that I have definitively debunked my friend's claim: Sports bars cannot be blamed for killing the dining culture in America. While some of the food at Mulligan's failed to impress, other items—like that steak martini—were worthy cuisine in every way.