NCAA's March Madness brings about a tangible form of religion to many, especially those who prefer public places of worship, which feature booze, food, and, most importantly, cable sports packages us salt of the earth people cannot quite afford. For your own mental reparation, here is your dining guide to the crème de la crème of sports pub grub across West Michigan.
The Grand Slam Platter at Saugatuck's Spectators Sports Bar & Grill (6432 Washington Rd.) has all you could want in an appetizer: BBQ Ribs, Chicken Wings, Mozzarella Sticks, Jalepeno Poppers, Bottle Caps & Portabello Mushrooms. After completing that, your BMI may be as high as Marquette's Final Four chances. The ribs fall off the bone and have a unique tangy sauce that makes everyone else's anachronistic Bull's Eye clones crud. The 26 TVs will cover your basketball needs, free Wi-Fi for your online Vegas betting, and a private banquet room for closeted Villanova fans.
The Score (5301 Northland Dr., Grand Rapids) is the stock market trading floor of sports enthusiasts: boisterous, chaotic, men berating anyone for their opposing team allegiances, 60 HD TVs and an eternally running sports ticker. Coordinator Brandon Monroe says you should "show up for the Basketball Tournament with a PS3 grand prize, fight for their VIP leather chairs for the NCAA championship, play darts, shoot pool, play videogames, or enjoy the private cigar room" while nursing your Pain In The Ass, a frozen rum runner pina colada combination. And if your team bows out ungracefully early, indulge in its revitalized burger menu, featuring the half pound Guacamole Burger (Black Angus topped with guacamole, onion straws, buffalo sauce, melted Mexican cheese, lettuce and tomato on a soft, toasted bakery bun), the Hangover Burger (Black Angus topped with fried egg, peppered bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo, toasted bakery bun), or if you are burgered out, the Grilled Tilapia Fish Tacos: flour tortillas, tilapia, shaved lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, pico, sour cream, ancho sauce and a side of fresh, grilled pepper salsa with refried beans and Spanish rice on the side.
Since October, downtown Grand Rapids finally has its very own sports lounge with Peppino's Downtown Grille & Pizzeria Sports Lounge (130 Ionia Ave. SW). Located in the former EQ3 furniture store, the family friendly Peppino's has made great use of space and augmented the 100-year-old building with a fully operational bar, decent wine list, and a heated hearth with leather chairs to kick back and gorge. General Manager Mark Stankus presses that it is a restaurant first and foremost, yet the 52 flat-panel HD screens (many implanted into the booths themselves) showcasing any/all sports say otherwise. Bribe your boss into Okaying your department's attendance at the Peppino's Work-In on Thursday, March 18 for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament with the sound ON. For $100, your company may reserve a table and help raise $5k to replace all the basketball backboards and rims for the Grand Rapids' Parks and Recreation Department. Peppino's offers free WiFi and many prizes and gifts for those in attendance. Call in sick if you can't convince your boss.
Plus, the food is fantastic-cheeses, sauces, dough-all created in-house and not from a can or freeze-dried bag. The menu is predominantly Italian and includes its signature thin crust pizza, a staple in the community since 1976, but also has your standard game day fodder of wings, burgers and Tex-Mex. Highlights include The Downtown Burger topped with provolone, onion rings, and ancho sauce; the blackened Black & Bleu Top Sirlion smothered in bleu cheese; or the Create-a-Pasta, which puts you in the chef's hat to develop your own bastardized dish of Italian goodness.
Burnt out on basketball? Hit up the Muskegon Lumberjacks for some hockey goodness. Adjacent to L. C. Walker Arena in downtown Muskegon, Racquets Downtown Grill (446 W. Western Ave.) will still cater to basketball fanatics, and Chef Yosef Johnson has his hand in the interesting menu enhanced by the fresh herbs and spices grown in the front window. While toying with their quiz boxes and outfoxing those lesser than you, try the deliciously indescribable Taco Soup or the standard traditional American fare of burgers, steaks, sandwiches and wraps.
After lighting a candle for WMU's Broncos, Kalamazoo county residents should drop by Fat Tony's Grille & Sports Bar (5222 Portage Rd., Portage) and nosh on the Mount Vesuvius Nachos, a mountain of tortilla chips smothered with cheese, scallions, tomatoes, black olives, and jalapenos, or the Albuquerque Turkey Sourdough Sandwich loaded with chipotle, smoked turkey, cider-cured bacon, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and red onion. Curb your carbo-loading with an epic game of darts or pool or loll in a food coma while watching someone else's championship dreams come true.
Spectators Sports Bar & Grill
6432 Washington Rd., Saugatuck
spectatorsrestaurant.com, (269) 857-5001
5301 Northland Dr. NE, Grand Rapids
thescore-restaurant.com, (616) 301-0600
Peppino's Downtown Grille & Pizzeria Sports Lounge
130 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
peppinospizza.com, (616) 456-8444
Racquets Downtown Grill
446 W. Western Ave., Muskegon
Fat Tony's Grille & Sports Bar
5222 Portage Rd., Portage