Gridiron Grub

Box Seats Grill Will Take You Out To The Ball Game In Culinary Style

By Rebecca Cook

FOR CONNOISSEURS OF fine food, who have struggled through more mustard and ketchup meals than they care to remember at our nation's sports stadiums, it's an exciting time to be a bleacher bum. These days you can find chardonnay and sushi in California ballparks, and we're promised Tucson's new stadium will feature some tasty restaurant fare as well.

But when it's not possible to make it out to the stadium--much less out of the state--for that big game, it's nice to know a few local sports bars are following the stadiums' lead and broadening their culinary turf beyond the old beer, weenie and Corn Nut fare.

Chow While there are many gastronomic possibilities for a Tucson sports fan, I narrowed the scope one Sunday afternoon to the far eastside. After learning the sushi at one popular spot would not be available until after 5 p.m., I finally had the good fortune to stumble upon Box Seats, a pub with enough televised football to please fans of every NFL persuasion, as well as a menu that magnificently outpaces the fried foodstuff typically found in bars.

True, a traditionalist can still get a hamburger or frankfurter (kielbasa and bratwurst, served with or without sauerkraut, rule the day here) but those wishing to enlarge their game-day repertoires will be tickled to find Sicilian-style pizza on the menu, as well as bower of green salads, gourmet-type sandwiches and good, old-fashioned chicken or beef barbecue.

Box Seats serves breakfast until 11 a.m., at which time a special football menu is the only game in town until after 2 p.m. After this, it's possible to order from the regular menu, which is much more extensive and includes some alternatives for vegetarians.

For the carnivore, however, the football menu is more than adequate to quell your hunger. Appetizers include killer buffalo wings, with just the right amount of hot-sauce piquancy and a cool blue cheese dressing dip, as well as an array of fried goodies, a few with innovative twists, such as the turkey and duck strips and the tequila jalapeño poppers. After 2 p.m., they serve bruschetta, slices of toasted garlic bread drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh tomato and basil.

We kicked off our meal with an order of onion rings, a generous platter of thickly sliced and ethereally coated sweet onions served crisp and piping hot. At first blush it didn't seem possible that two people could polish off the entire load of these lovelies, but, before the first quarter was over, the plate was bare.

The NFL Sunday special, a hearty combination of barbecued beef and chicken, french fries and ranch-style pinto beans, smelled heavenly as it drifted past us on its way to a rival fan's table. After careful consideration, however, we opted instead for Box Seat's intriguing house special salad and a small pizza with black olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

The Sicilian-style pizza is made with an ample supply of puffy crust garnished with your choice of regular or "gourmet" toppings and plenty of mozzarella cheese. A small one of these was remarkably filling due to the crust-cheese ratio and the smoky richness of a veritable blanket of sun-seared tomatoes.

The salad was an interesting blend of mixed fresh greens and lettuces, chunks of feta cheese, minced bacon, chopped walnuts, tomatoes and onions tossed with a semi-sweet celery seed vinaigrette. To the side of the salad was a grilled and sliced portion of boneless, skinless chicken breast, which can be eaten alone or cut and mixed in with the rest of the ingredients, depending on your halftime mood.

I found the vegetable portion of the salad to be delicious, if somewhat wilted due to an excess of the delicious celery seed dressing, but the chicken left me unmoved. Apparently rubbed with a blend of spices, including something chili-flavored, and seared to the point of ebony doneness, the meat smelled and tasted unfortunately barnyard gamy.

To make matters worse, the home team had fallen behind and a ditzy waitress chose this moment to fiddle with the remote control, which abruptly terminated the action we were viewing. Rather like NBC's infamous Heidi preempt during the final moments of a close Oakland Raiders game, this incident was enough to induce a serious case of indigestion.

All in all though, Box Seats is well worth the trip, regardless whether you're a sports nut. The food is generally very good and the service and atmosphere efficient and convivial. It's not quite the same as being out in the stands with the roar of the crowd in your ears, but it's a blast just the same. But please, don't change the channel. TW

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