NBC Sports Grill & Brew Provides Excellent Place for Sports Fans, but Leaves Something to Be Desired
The other day, I finally got the chance to experience the newest addition to Universal Orlando’s City Walk, the NBC Sports Grill & Brew. For months, I’d been excited about trying this new restaurant. When it was announced the NASCAR Cafe would be closing at City Walk, excitement rose into the air with what could possibly be replacing it. After all, that restaurant was never very good, and Universal had been on a roll of opening new restaurants that were a complete knock-out for Guests; looking at you Cowfish and Anjojitos, so naturally I had high expectations food wise! Before NBC Sports had been announced, one of the big rumors as the replacement for the City Walk location was a Cheesecake Factory, a rumor still being tossed around as the replacement for the NBA City Restaurant which closed a few months ago. But for me, it didn’t quite fit. I looked around City Walk wondering what needed to be added that it didn’t have yet. My answer was a sports bar of some kind. Lo and behold, the NBC Sports Grill & Brew was announced.
Let me preface this review by saying I hate sports. For me, sports are incredibly boring to watch, and don’t even try asking me to throw you a football. But I was personally very excited for this new restaurant. Probably mostly because I love craft beer, but let’s come back to that. I knew this was perfect for City Walk because we needed a place that was more low key in terms of atmosphere, food, and pricing for guests who didn’t want to spend the money on sushi and fancy burgers, or wasn’t in the mood for contemporary Mexican food. We needed a place guests could just hang out, enjoy some beers and replace after a day of walking in the theme parks. And Universal gave us what we needed.
As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you’re greeted by their bar complete with a huge selection of draft beef. It’s quite impressive. The dining room is dimly lit, florescent basketballs hanging in the ceiling, and the area is filled with TVs of all sizes. There isn’t a place you can sit without being able to see a TV or three! In the center of the dining room is their open kitchen. From here, you get to see flames fly high as the chefs prepare the food for the diners. Outside has a nice patio for guests to sit, which will definitely be a hot spot in the spring and fall, but unfortunately, space is limited. We didn’t get a chance to see upstairs, but I’m sure it is much of the same as down. A really neat touch for the restaurant is some of the tables have games like shuffle board built into them underneath. So while you are waiting, you can stand and play a round or two.
At your table, you are greeted with a very large menu complete with appetizers and desserts, and their Playbook, which is their drink menu and wow is it extensive. For beer drinkers, there are pages and pages of beer, sorted by type, which is incredibly helpful. There is also a couple pages for cocktails and mixed drinks. I needed at least five minutes to just read through the menu and decide what I wanted. Then I needed even more time to look over the large menu for the food. It was a bit overwhelming but I narrowed it down, eventually. Finally, we decided on two appetizers and our drinks. The alcoholic drinks came in special glasses that each had a sport ball etched into the bottom. Mine was a basketball, but we also had a football, baseball, and even golf ball.
For our appetizers, we ordered the Wisconsin Cheese Curds and the Fire Grilled Chicken Flatbread Both were delicious and were setting us up for a good meal. The Cheese Curds were a lot like mozzarella sticks, which I’m always a sucker for. They were served with a spicy tomato jam. Basically, their version of marinara sauce and it was delicious! We ate them way too fast. The flatbread pizza was also very tasty, even if it doesn’t look the best. The flatbread came with basil pesto, mozzarella and ricotta, topped with caramelized onions and peppers. It was so good, I had to refrain myself from finishing it so I had room for my main meal.
For our entrees, we each ordered something very different. I was in the mood for a really good burger and was hoping NBC would be equally good as Cowfish’s burgers, so I ordered the Smokehouse Stack. My finace ordered the Filet Mignon, her father get The Combo, and cousin ordered the Seasoned Smoked Chicken. The Smokehouse Burger came topped with smoked brisket, smoked pork, smoked Gouda, barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions on a toasted brioche bun. Unfortunately, the burger did not even come close to the ones at Cowfish. They forgot to put the brisket on it, which apparently comes diced, and I received no barbecue sauce. I had to ask for more on the side, as well as have to have my burger taken back to the kitchen an topped with the proper meats. Overall the flavor was pretty good, but the burger itself was a bit dry. I wouldn’t order the burger again, but the pulled pork was pretty delicious. Since the brisket was then mixed in with the pork when diced, I could never be sure how much of it was actually tasting. A very disappointing experience. I am not a steak person, but I was told the filet was very good. I did try the corn bread though and it was cold and dry. Another unfortunate thing. The Combo, her father ordered, came with a half rack of Midwest Ribs, Smokehouse Angus Beef Brisket, barbecue pulled pork, French fries, kettle grilled corn, and corn bread. He didn’t have any complaints and cleaned his plate. And finally, the Season Smoked Chicken came with a half chicken, slow smoked in-house, French fries, coleslaw, and corn bread. I did try a little bit of the chicken, and once again, I felt it was a bit too dry for my taste. However, I will say their barbecue as a whole was very tasty and if (when?) we return to sample more of the menu, I will definitely be ordering some of it.
Finally, it was time for dessert. Their desserts had a good variety to them and they weren’t all chocolate which some restaurants can’t seem to comprehend that not everyone likes chocolate. It was a tough choice between the Big Banana Cake or Apple Crumble. Since it was my birthday dinner, we decided on the cake. At a price of $20, the Big Banana Cake is a 7 layer cake with alternating layers of rich banana cake, fresh whole bananas, banana flavored cream and caramel, topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. It serves for people, so it said, because when it arrived, we were shocked at its size. The slice is as tall as the glass of water and we couldn’t finish it! We even had to split it in half for two people to take home. The cake is clearly made in house, which was nice. The banana pieces in the layers were fresh and the cake was moist and flavorful. The icing however lacked in any flavor whatsoever. It had a bad flavor to it, so much so that we ate around it. I’m torn on this dessert because it has such potential, but when I tried eating the leftovers, I couldn’t get past a few bites. Next time, we’ll definitely be trying the Apple Crumble.
Overall, I’d have to say our experience at the new NBC Sports Brew & Grill was a bit disappointing. It started strong, but ended flat. The service was a bit slow, especially for a night that was not very busy. Compared to Cowfish and Anjojitos, the food was OK, but nothing really to write home about. The worst part is we can’t say blame it on being new and fixing its tweaks because it has been open for a few months. On the plus side, the atmosphere is fun, the beer list is extensive, and the barbecue was delicious. They even have a lot of great merchandise for the restaurant. So even with these mild complaints, we will be returning to give the restaurant another try, and worst case scenario, it turns into a place for us to grab some nice drinks and a few appetizers, even if that’s pretty much was NASCAR Cafe was before.