April 8, 2006

Varsity Grill in Downtown Tacoma

Filed under: tacoma — sparkrobot @ 9:31 pm

In spite of a recent slaughter by The Tacoma New Tribune food critic, Ed Murietta, I’ve found Varsity Grill to be good spot to grab a bite to eat.

Let’s face it — there aren’t many restaurants downtown. Varsity Grill opened quietly early this year in the space that the former billiards/burger joint Jillian’s used to occupy filling a void left in the heart of downtown. VG is about a block from the new bazillion dollar convention center and basically a quick walk from most anywhere in downtown Tacoma. Recently while fulfilling my civic duty I made the walk there nearly every day to grab lunch and take advantage of the free wireless internet. (‘sup Tacoma? Where all the internet at?) I’ll admit, there’s no stunning beacon of creativity beaming from the kitchen, I have to disagree with Mr. Murietta. Though Varsity Grill has an upscale atmosphere, the food is what it is. It’s comfort food. It’s not pretentious — it’s burgers & steaks. It’s ribs & chicken. It’s entree sized salads and soups & fresh-baked bread. Always enough to take home a bit for a snack later.

There is technology wired throughout the restaurant. In addition to the aforementioned free wi-fi, Varsity sports a ton of plasmas screen televisions usually broadcasting sports games. From any angle in the restaurant, chances are stellar you’ll be able to watch the game you’re looking for. Now, I’m not big on TV sports, but here’s why I like it: the sound is off. If you’re into the game, that’s great. You can grab a remote Sound Dog unit from the host or up at the bar and tune into any TV you choose. If you’re not into the game. That’s also great. You won’t be blasted out by sportscasters yammering on about ERA, RBI, DNA, CIA and so on. See?

Also of note to sports fans, there’s a 17 seat theater in the center of the restaurant. It’s like your own personal home theater, except you can pay someone to bring you beer and you don’t have to sport the cash for the 120″ projector and surround sound system.

*Tangential rant warning*

What’s wrong with Ed Murrietta’s review of Varsity Grill? Lots.

First off, this is not a T.G.I.Fridays or a Red Robin or Applebee’s (or any of the other myriad of corporate franchises for that matter) moving into Tacoma offering the same vanilla experience you’ll find anywhere else in America. This is a homegrown spot, bringing an experience that’s from Tacoma. If the effort to revive the empty halls of downtown succeeds, I’d rather bet on locals to own it and drive it.

Secondly, I’ve enjoyed the food every time I’ve been in. It’s not gourmet, but that’s not why I went in there. I’ve had burgers, steaks, chicken sandwiches and salads.

Lastly… * (one star)? Come on dude. They guy recently gave the Swiss *****, The Harmon **** and Meconi’s Pub ****. Okay, I like all of these places too, but what’s with the order of magnitude here? Okay so you didn’t like it. That’s fine… I can dig it. But honestly, it’s not worth slamming them that hard…

*End of tangential rant*

My wife’s twin sister was visiting from San Francisco a while back and we stopped in for a drink. We sat in a secluded corner near the rear of the restaurant, sipped martinis and had a great conversation. There were a gazillion games on, and the place was busy with sports fans. We didn’t even hear them. Name one other “sports bar” where that can happen.

My thoughts… Try it yourself. Don’t listen to a restaurant critic. Try it out. Go downtown and grab a bite to eat. It’s a vast space with plenty of room to catch — or totally avoid — the game. Your choice. There are plenty of places to hang out and comfortably chat or simply chill. It’s moderately priced ($$) and there’s a full bar if you’re into a cocktail or two.

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