Dinner Alert: The following is a review by someone who doesn't much care for sports bars.
The West End grill is a sports bar.
It looks like a sports bar with more than a dozen screens … one visible at every turn of the head. It's got pictures, posters and team paraphernalia on the walls and lots of brewery logos everywhere else. You can imagine the place packed for a big game.
The food portions are big because, well, big eaters patronize sports bars. And you can chow down on typical sports bar staples: big burgers, steak and cheese sandwiches, fish and chips, a "Triple Pig" sandwich piled with pulled pork, shaved ham, bacon, cheese, and slaw smothered in barbeque sauce (I'd have to wash it down with alka seltzer!), and chicken wings … really, really good chicken wings.
But you can also savor a French onion soup, a Parmesan risotto, a quesadilla stuffed with boursin cheese, and Greek shrimp. Huh? The West End Grill, you see, is a sports bar with a food attitude that can pull a meal there well above the usual pub grub fare.
We dropped in on the early side of a Thursday evening, well before an NBA championship game. The place was quiet. The few folks at the bar were "regulars." Everyone knew everyone. We quickly were shown to a comfortable booth, ordered a draft beer and a glass of wine from what was my first jolt — a wine list with choices by the glass and bottle that outclass the plonk poured at most other sports bars. Someone was thinking beyond the beer.
We started with an order of endamame ($6.50), those addictive steamed soybeans sprinkled with course sea salt and an order of chicken wings ($10.50). The soybeans were perfectly steamed with just enough salt. An addictive they were. We easily could have polished off another bowl.
West End chicken wings arrive at the table sizzling hot and with a choice of 14 different sauces. Our platter of 10 "naked" wings (no sauce) was finger food that very nearly required a fork to catch the falling-off-the-bones meat.
A quick glance at the menu? Typical sports bar fare. Look again. There are familiar sandwiches and salads (28 choices in all) but then chefs Andrew Bruno and Cory Cich, like jazz musicians, take the familiar and improvise. Ever had a Greco-Roman Caesar Salad? Take a well-made Caesar and punch it up with Kalamata olives and feta and see what happens or add marinated tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and offer up a Bruschetta Caesar. The results of these riffs pretty much hit the mark.
The sandwich department follows suit … sports bar familiars (burgers, chicken) plus gyros (lamb, chicken or beef) on warm pita or a Junkyard Po'boy starring fried fish, jalapeno tartar sauce and cheese. I tried that Triple Pig ($10). It's a big saucy sandwich with lots of flavor. You'll need lots of napkins and time to eat it slowly. Do not plan on dessert.
We settled on two entrees from a menu that includes chicken, steak, pork, tuna, salmon, and crab cakes.
The Bruschetta Chicken ($16) was two large grilled chicken breasts topped marinated tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. The moist and tender meat was hot from the grill with the tomatoes and mozzarella much cooler. The kitchen was aiming for contrast, but our server was happy to warm the topping. It was a pleasant dish accompanied by fresh mashed potatoes.
My Margarita Haddock ($16) was a huge loin of fish ladled with fresh tomatoes and smooth balsamic vinaigrette. The surprisingly good Parmesan risotto proved to be a fine side for a dinner portion bigger than I could eat.
The West End Grill is adding a gluten free menu and planning a few menu adjustments in the future.
This quiet, unassuming spot has been around for well over a decade. In all those years, I never tried it til it popped up on the review agenda. It's small compared to some other local sports bars that feel more like miniature stadiums rather than places to unwind with whatever game is on at the moment.
The menu here is a very pleasant surprise … there's real cooking going on in the kitchen.
It's surely friendlier … the serving staff clearly loves the kitchen team … and vice versa. You get the feeling they want you to walk away happy with what you've eaten, regardless of the score on the screen.
It's the kind of place that makes someone who "doesn't care much for sports bars" want to come again sometime.
West End Grill
WHERE: 2049 West St., Annapolis
HOURS: 11-2 a.m. Daily
CHEFS: Andrew Bruno, Cory Cich
1ST COURSES: $5.25 - $11.50
MAIN COURSES: $9 - $24
CREDIT CARDS: All Major Credit Cards Accepted