These days sports bars are a dime a dozen, and they're usually so big and overdone that one can get a little overwhelmed.
Not so at O'Malley's, one of the many eateries on Fourth Avenue. O'Malley's was here long before those other pretenders, and if those other guys had any sense they'd take a lesson from this old-timer. You can hang with friends, bring both nana and her grandkids, enjoy a wide array of cold beer, watch a few games and even get some pretty decent food.
O'Malley's practically invented industrial chic décor in Tucson. This is, after all, the site of a former lumberyard, one of the city's most successful prior to the arrival of all those big-box stores.
The TVs may not be as plentiful as those found in those new shiny sports bars, but in this writer's opinion, that's a good thing. Signage is as expected, with lots of beer signs and one really cool leftover from the lumberyard.
Both our visits were laid back; the college crowd wasn't in town just yet. But in a couple of weeks this place will be packed with youths looking for a good time. That's cool, but a Saturday afternoon might be to more people's liking, especially if you're there to eat.
For the most part our food was good, in some cases even great. The one exception was the seared ahi tuna ($10.95). While I applaud the effort to have something a little more hip on the menu, this tuna was oddly colored and the sear was more seasoning than anything else. The wasabi mayo on the side didn't help, and the huge mound of Asian salad was unevenly dressed.
Our starters ($5.95) fared much better. The beer-battered onion rings were humongous, lightly battered and cooked to a deep golden brown. They came with two dipping sauces: a standard ranch and a nice tangy house-made Jack Daniels barbeque sauce. There were enough for two or three people, especially if you're drinking one of the 16 beers on tap. Happy hour prices make a beer and rings a really good deal.
The wings (six for $6.95, 12 for $10.95, 18 for $15.50) came with a choice of three sauces: mild, hot or that Jack Daniels sauce. We went mild and found the wings cooked just right with a sauce that was just a little heat with a sweet undertone.
Our fave was the tempura chile rellenos ($7.25). Fresh Anaheim chiles are stuffed with a pepper jack cheese and then tempura battered and fried. Yum! Hot, spicy, creamy, gooey, they tasted like giant poppers only better, because the chiles were fresh. This would pair well with a light summer beer.
As expected at a sports bar, O'Malley's offers several burgers and sandwiches. We had the black and blue burger ($8.50), the O'Malley's Italian beef ($8.75) and the turkey avocado BLT ($7.75).
I ordered the burger medium and got well-done instead, but other than that this was a really good burger. The bun was soft and buttery but held up well. The toppings were top-notch (you also get a lettuce, red onion slices and a tomato), coming together nicely. Seasonings were there but did not overpower the meat. Had it been cooked to my liking, this would've been a great burger.
The BLT was a perfect example of what a bar sandwich should be. The bread was perfectly toasted. There was just the right amount of each item in the sandwich. The bacon was crispy, the turkey tender, the avocado creamy and ripe, and tomato and lettuce rounded it out nicely. The jalapeño ranch dressing served on the side was almost unnecessary.
The only sandwich that disappointed was the Italian beef. The meat was pretty bland in spite of the house-made giardiniera (which was mostly jalapeño peppers), and the roll wasn't crusty enough.
We tried three different sides that came with the sandwiches: a serviceable potato salad, crispy well-prepared fries, and the soup of the day, tomato bisque. The soup was surprisingly good, smooth and creamy with an undecipherable undertone. (I don't think it was sherry.)
A handful of salads appear on the menu. On the server's recommendation we went with the Southwest chicken salad ($8). This was a good-sized salad piled high with mixed greens, corn kernels, black beans, shredded jack cheese, tomatoes, avocado slices, salsa, sour cream (umm, have I forgotten anything?) and some of the same jalapeño ranch dressing on the side. Grilled chicken pieces encircled all those goodies, and four deep-fried flour tortilla triangles were tucked artfully on the edge of the bowl. All the flavors came together wonderfully.
The dessert offerings are limited but the chocolate lava cake ($6) was too tempting to pass up. Time was this dish was only found in high-end restaurants. I guess the times they are a-changing. Here, it is served with two huge scoops of vanilla ice cream. OK, so this isn't house-made, but it certainly would tame a chocolate craving.
Service was perky and on top of things in spite of the fact that on one visit a party of 30-plus arrived shortly after we ordered. I had to call a few times to check on information and the staff went above and beyond to get me the info I requested.
It's hard to argue with success, but I do have a few suggestions for the O'Malley's team. Eighty-six the tuna; it just doesn't fit with the rest of the menu. And get the website up and running; a Facebook page is OK, but believe it or not, some people actually are not on Facebook.
But I will return especially during UA football season. Go Cats! Go O'Malley's!