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It’s that glorious time of year again when entire days can be spent watching running plays, passing plays, tackles, turnovers and precisely choreographed touchdown celebrations. For many of us, the best way to enjoy football is at a vibrant sports bar (via Uber). The kind of place where cheers are occasionally peppered with obscenities hurled at the unfortunate and underperforming.
Of course, not just any place will do for football watching. Before investing an entire afternoon or evening at an establishment, certain criteria should be met. For starters, the business needs the NFL Sunday Ticket to legally air all of the games. Next, you’re probably gonna need a dozen or more big screen TVs showing the matchups, from various points above the bar and dining area. And, if you’re serious about clear sightlines, consider arriving early, say, 12:30 for that 1 p.m. game that, thanks to TV timeouts, could last until the sun goes down.
Best things to eat:
Which means you need nourishment. Quality pub grub always elevates, and often elongates, the booze-fueled viewing experience. In fact, the thing many of us enjoy most about watching football is feasting. So, for this week’s Best Things to Eat column, I visited a sports bar in downtown Sarasota, another on Anna Maria Island, and one in Bradenton that also has locations in Sarasota, Palmetto and Venice. Plus, if you keep reading, you’ll find my roundup of some additional local sports bars you’ll want to visit this football season.
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Brewster’s Tavern for wings, tenders and brussels sprouts
Brothers Jacob, Curtis and Billy Brewster were apparently born to open a tavern called Brewster’s, which is what they did in 2018 after spending years working in the hospitality industry in Illinois and then at several well-known Sarasota restaurants and bars. Billed as a gastropub, Brewster’s takes pub grub as seriously as any place in town, which I was happily reminded of earlier this month.
Occupying a prime spot on Main Street in downtown Sarasota, Brewster’s offers patrons a dark, rather narrow room with a long bar facing a brick wall with a row of TVs and a neon sign that reads, quite accurately, “This must be the place.” On a recent Saturday afternoon, nearly every bar stool and the several indoor tables were occupied. My wife and I took a seat outside, in the covered area with a large fan overhead and several TVs mounted to the walls for alfresco football watching.
Brewster’s offers a full lineup of liquor, wine and craft beer with local as well as national selections on tap, including the always welcome Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Golden Road’s Mango Cart ($6 each). You order at the bar, grab your drink, return to your table, and then the bartender brings your food to you. Despite the crowd, our appetizers arrived with minimal wait, which means I’d probably only finished about half that magnificent pint of Sam Adams.
Start with the wings (6 for $11.99). Brined, slow baked, flash fried and tossed in their judiciously crafted house Buffalo sauce, they’re a master class in texture, tenderness and taste. Yeah, the Brewster brothers have their chicken game down pat. The tenders, marinated in a pickle juice blend ($9.99), made most other chicken tenders I’ve had in recent years seem about as appetizing as sticks of kindling wood.
Looking for vegetarian options? Go with the flash-fried brussels sprouts with side of citrus aioli or the fried street corn brushed in chipotle mayo ($7.99 each). Brewster’s serves a bunch of burgers (including a Beyond option) and sandwiches, too, which I definitely see in my near future.
Brewster’s Tavern is at 1454 Main St. For more information, call 941-343-2380 or visit brewsterstavern.com.
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Island Time for Buffalo egg rolls, wings and jerk tacos on Bradenton Beach
If you’re looking to watch football within a Tom Brady pass of a sugary sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico, be sure to secure a spot at Island Time. The restaurant and bar are completely open-air, occupying a choice spot at the bustling corner of Gulf Drive and Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island. Big screen TVs line the walls of the dining area and hang across both sides of the boat-shaped bar, with additional screens positioned at the bow and stern.
For beverages, Island Time offers multiple selections of margaritas, frozen drinks, and beach cocktails including orange crushes, the refreshing, often deceptively potent mix of orange vodka, orange juice, triple sec and lemon-lime soda that originated on the Maryland shore. Island Time also offers a solid craft beer roster including local selections on tap, with our recent visit finding me drinking a plastic cup brimming with Darwin Brewing’s Cyan Pineapple Sour ($5.50). It is blue. It tastes like a sour apple Jolly Rancher. And it is delicious.
Dining at Island Time should probably begin with an order of their big, juicy chicken wings in a well-balanced Buffalo sauce (8 for $14.95) but then, be cautious, or you won’t have room for the Buffalo egg rolls, which would be a shame. Each bite of deep-fried decadence bursts with a mood-lifting medley of slow-roasted chicken, gooey jack cheese and spot-on hot sauce (4 half-rolls for $10.95). Seeking a lighter option? Go with the jerk chicken tacos $12.95). They’re made with a mild, yet tangy, jerk sauce, the real flavor coming from the sweet plantains and avocado set off by cilantro and lime aioli.
The Island Time Burger ($11.95) is another solid option I’ve turned to at least once after an intense pub crawl down Bridge Street. Also, it’s worth noting, Island Time’s sister restaurant, Riviera Dunes Dockside Social Bar & Grill in Palmetto, is featured on my recent list of best burgers in Manatee County. Lastly, when visiting Island Time you will want to inquire about their special football menu, which had yet to be unveiled ahead of deadline.
Island Time is at 111 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach. For more information, call 941-782-1122 or visit facebook.com/islandtimebarandgrill.
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Joey D’s for all things Chicago in Sarasota, Bradenton, Palmetto, Venice
Chicago natives have been gathering at Joey D’s like a bunch of “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” since 1994. Originally opened on 14th Street in Bradenton (where you’ll now find Pho Street) Joey D’s relocated to Manatee Avenue West, with additional locations in Sarasota, Palmetto and, most recently, in Venice. The West Bradenton spot we recently visited is basically wall after wall of pure Chicago sports memorabilia, peppered with plenty of TV screens showing nothing but the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls and, of course, ”Da Bears!”
Joey D’s is beer and wine only, and mostly macrobrews, but be sure to take advantage of the ice-cold pitcher deals, or just order a mug of Mich Ultra for three bucks. The long list of items on “The Streets of Chicago” side of the menu includes the Chicago-style hot dogs made with Vienna beef ($4.49), the Italian beef sandwich ($9.49, order it “juicy”) and “World Famous Chicago Pizza.” The menu notes it takes at least 25 minutes to make one pizza, which leaves you just enough time to enjoy some nice-sized Buffalo wings (10 for $14.99), thin-cut homemade potato chips ($5.99) and the Chicago beef rolls, which are flavorful bundles of Italian beef, giardiniera peppers, sweet peppers and a bit of mozzarella cheese, served au jus ($9.99)
I’ve lived on both coasts but have yet to visit Chicago, so I’m not going to pretend to be a connoisseur of a culinary icon apparently first created at Pizzeria Uno during the 1940s. Also, my pizza of preference is New York-style thin crust. That said, I’ve had a few deep dishes in my day. As for Joey D’s version, let’s begin with making clear there’s nothing “personal” about their personal pan-baked pizza, which could probably feed a family of four (for just $13.99).
In addition to being one of the better deals I’ve encountered around town, it’s a memorable dining experience. The thick, high, walls of flavorful crust contain treasures of mozzarella and chunky tomato sauce, with the generous layering of pepperoni slices and fistfuls of sausage making each bite an event. Joey D’s serves thin-crust pizza, too, which I have happily eaten there in the past. But, really, while watching the Bears what could be better than stuffing your face with thick, heavy, overflowing slices of deep dish?
Joey D’s has locations in Sarasota and Manatee counties with the Bradenton location I recently visited at 6401 Manatee Ave W. For more information, call 941-753-8900 or visit joeydschicagostyleeatery.com.
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More local sports bars for eating out
Island Time isn’t the only sports bar within a walking distance of the beach. Another option is MVP, aka My Village Pub, in Siesta Key Village. Featuring about three dozen TVs as well as indoor and outdoor seating, both at tables and at the bar, MVP offers everything from signature margaritas and craft beers to a full lineup of burgers and wings. Other fun items include the freshly baked Big Daddy Pretzel that’s as large as advertised and an ideal alcohol sponge, which I enjoyed during a visit to the Village earlier this year.
Looking for another open-air sports bar? Check out Caddy’s on Bradenton Riverwalk. The waterfront restaurant offers a full bar, some tasty chicken wings (get ’em blackened) and if the game gets boring, just look out across the Manatee River for dolphins, which like to hang out by Caddy’s, especially near the mangroves.
Philly fans will want to congregate at Slim’s Place in the city of Anna Maria to nosh on legit cheesesteaks and hoagies plus a full menu of various dishes including pizza, and the wings, which are mojo marinated, grilled, served whole and should impress even a Dallas Cowboys fan, if such a person were ever allowed inside Slim’s Place.
Green Bay Packers fans will want to meet up at the Bridge Tender Inn, which has been an Anna Maria Island fixture on the west end of Bridge Street since 1989 and now also has a tiki bar smack dab on the Intracoastal Waterway. Packers fans should be happy to find the Wisconsin bratwurst on the menu, with choice of chili, cheese or, my preference, sauerkraut (with old-school yellow mustard). During a recent session at the tiki bar, I enjoyed their steak and cheese sandwich with thin cuts of ribeye, caramelized onions and provolone.
And Packers fans, which somehow outnumber the entire population of Wisconsin, should appreciate a visit to downtown Sarasota to Raffurty’s, which serves deep-fried Lombardi cheese curds ($8) in addition to wings, burgers and a full-liquor bar. Also, Raffurty’s offers plenty of open-air seating in full view of big screen TVs downstairs, with an additional outdoor seating area upstairs.
The Sarasota-based Oak and Stone, which premiered off University Parkway in 2017, now has locations from Naples to St. Pete with my favorite found in downtown Bradenton. There, TVs are downstairs in the dining room and around the you-pour-it beer wall as well as upstairs on the rooftop bar, if you can tear yourself away from the vista of the Manatee River, Tampa Bay and Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In addition to offering one of the most impressive craft beer selections in the region and craft cocktails, Oak and Stone serves some of the area’s best pub grub. Must-try items include the oven roasted chicken wings, thin-crust, stone-fired pizzas with myriad toppings, fried pickles with house remoulade, and some Philly-fan worthy cheesesteak egg rolls.
Another sports bar that always satisfies, the Evie’s chain began with a golf driving range on Bee Ridge Road in 1997 and now features several high-profile locations including the gorgeous, waterfront restaurant and tiki bar overlooking Little Sarasota Bay. For watching sports, though, my favorite is the one on Main Street in downtown Sarasota. There are TVs everywhere, from the high brick wall behind the bar to the strategic settings right in front of the cozy booths. The full liquor bar also includes lots of local craft beer selections such as Brew Life’s fruit juicy, highly drinkable Pink Guava IPA. The extensive food menu has everything from wings and pizza to protein bowls and fish tacos. My go-to order these days? The Buffalo chicken dip smothered in melted cheese and served with baked pita chips. Plus, I love the Main Street location because if the game’s a blowout, you can always just go bowl a few frames.
No article about Sarasota-Manatee sports bars would be complete if it didn’t include Gecko’s, which was founded in 1992 and now has multiple locations spread across both counties. I highly recommend Gecko’s Centennial Lager – light and crisp and brewed by Big Top in honor of Sarasota County’s 100 year anniversary – paired with wings ordered “Mike’s way,” which is Buffalo-style medium with Jack Daniel’s sauce. Also, Gecko’s recently unveiled a full football menu with items such as the Champa Bay Burger, Bucs Firey Jumbo Shrimp and a Nashville Hot Honey Chicken Flatbread.
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Don’t forget about Clancy’s, Clam Factory, Food + Beer, Wolves Head
We again included Clancy’s Irish Sports Pub & Grill in Bradenton on our annual list of best Irish pubs. As its name suggests, it’s also a sports pub, a first-rate sports pub, in fact, with each visit requiring at least one bite of their Clancy Rolls, which are egg rolls filled with corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. Wash it down with a fresh pint of Guinness.
In June, I raved about the B.L.T., smoked wings, and fish spread at Cortez Clam Factory. The restaurant and full-liquor bar located near Clancy’s on Cortez Road in Bradenton is also among my all-time favorite, most frequented spots.
Last month, I had such a good experience at the new Food + Beer location in Bradenton that I returned about a week ago for a first-class feast featuring chicken wings (yes, I tried the PB+J wings, which make smart use of Thai peanut sauce) and a cheesesteak that even Philly fans familiar with the joys of Pat’s and Geno’s should appreciate.
And hopefully you recall my Best Things To Eat column from last week, in which I had the privilege of finally trying the pizza, wings and fried chicken slammers at Wolves Head in Lakewood Ranch. I’ll definitely be returning to Wolves Head.
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Didn’t include your favorite sports bar?
Shoot me a note at [email protected]. I’d love to check it out, perhaps for an upcoming edition of my Best Things to Eat restaurant review column.
Wade Tatangelo, the Herald-Tribune’s entertainment and dining editor, may be reached by email at [email protected]. Support local journalism by subscribing.