Review: Dale’s is everything a sports bar should beWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s something about a good sports bar that makes one forget all about those New Year’s resolutions made just more than a month ago.
Maybe it’s the ability to watch athletic competition on any of 18 TV sets. Maybe it’s the selection of at least 14 wing sauces just waiting to be poured over chicken meat. Maybe it’s the allure of a $2 happy hour tall draft. Maybe it’s the casual, come-as-you-are air of unpretentiousness that makes one feel at home — if our home included a TV in every corner, more wing sauces than we could ever consume and someone to bring us a reasonably priced frosted mug of our favorite beverage.
Whatever it is, sports bars hold a special place in our hearts. In Toledo, the term often implies one of the numerous national or regional chain restaurants, which are by most accounts fine and good — even great at times. But there are some spots — like the one situated behind an old screen door on a busy corner in downtown Maumee — that demand equal attention.
Welcome to Dale’s Bar and Grill, a narrow, long, Cheers-ish sports bar pairing well-worn hardwood floors with a barrage of sports memorabilia plastered on the walls. A part of the community for more than 85 years, Dale’s prides itself as being “the place for Ohio State sports.” It also prides itself on being casual enough that peanut shells (free upon request) can be shucked onto the floor.
“How’s it goin’?” our waitress asked before taking our drink orders. After ordering a Yuengling Premium Lager in a 22-ounce glass for $3.25, I was able to take in the essence of Dale’s. The place is an Ohio State bar, no doubt. Our table in the back was directly beneath a wall-length mural of a Buckeye-Wolverine matchup, with the guy in scarlet and grey rather violently pulling on the facemask of the guy in maize and blue. Hopefully this does not deter any Michigan fans from coming to the bar (at least on days the Buckeyes aren’t playing), as the food will appeal to fans of any team. Uniforms and signed pictures of athletes from the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Maumee High School and the Detroit Red Wings also dot the landscape.
Coming on a Monday night, I had every intention of taking advantage of Dale’s 40-cent wing and chunk night (4-10 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday). One nice thing about Dale’s on these nights is you can order any amount of wings in any sauce you want. No six- or eight-wing minimum orders here. The other nice thing is their taste. Offered in 14 sauces, every flavor I tried (from my favorite, Hot Garlic, to milder fare like Teriyaki Barbecue) were spot-on, every bit as good as the chains’ offerings. There is slightly more than average breading on Dale’s wings, which I am generally a fan of — although maybe I shouldn’t be. (Remember those resolutions?) The wings, like most food here, are brought to the table in unassuming metal pie pans.
We were also eager to take advantage of Dale’s evening discount on all appetizers (25 percent off after 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday). We tried the cheese nachos ($5.99), listed as the classic standby. One of the few less than memorable offerings we had at Dale’s, they were merely average, although large in stature. Despite being stacked with a melted Mexican blend of cheeses, sour cream, jalapenos and salsa, the flavor was lacking. Dale’s also offers nachos of the chili and cheese, supreme, fajita and grilled chicken varieties (ranging in price from $7.99 to $10.39).
Much better were the Fajita Skins, potato skins piled with grilled fajita vegetables, melted cheddar and sides of salsa and sour cream. These skins are a unique twist on the cheddar-and-bacon skins offered almost everywhere else. The only negative was the jalapeno peppers, which came on the side and seemed as if they’d just been pulled out of the fridge and were too cold to truly blend in with the other toppings.
We also decided to get some more bang for our already-discounted buck by trying the Mega Combo ($8.99), which offers sample sizes of three appetizers. The chipotle barbecue chicken chunks were perfectly tender, moist pieces of breast meat, drenched in a smoky, tangy sauce. The jalapeno poppers were oh-so-creamy, although again quite mild in a way that even non-pepper people could enjoy. The Big O onion rings were thick cuts of onion encased by just the right amount of fried beer batter.
Now on to the sandwiches. In addition to excellent chicken wings, this is where Dale’s pulls away from the crowd.
First up was the Slap Shot, a burger “iced” with Swiss cheese, grilled green peppers and Dale’s Buffalo Hot Sauce, atop grilled rye bread. Perfect for those who may like to blend their wing and burger desires into one delicious dish, the burger was juicy and oozing with saucy, cheesy goodness. I’ll be ordering more of these on future visits.
Another excellent sandwich at Dale’s is the Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, named after the imprisoned boxer made famous by the mid-1970s Bob Dylan song. Stacked high with corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, it was almost a chore to bite through the “Hurricane.” Also on grilled rye bread, it’s not the biggest Reuben around, but it’s scrumptious nonetheless. Get some extra napkins.
Any sports bar worth its weight in grease should pay tribute in some way to the city’s most famous sports team. The Mud Hen, a grilled, marinated chicken breast covered with molten Swiss cheese, bacon and a tangy barbecue sauce on the side, hits it out of the park. It’s everything you want chicken, cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce to be — interacting harmoniously inside your mouth.
We also tried the Buffalo Bill, a deep-fried chicken breast doused in Buffalo hot sauce and covered in cheese. It was solid, if a bit unremarkable. A side of mayonnaise or ranch dressing would have moistened it up a little.
Proving Dale’s isn’t afraid of expanding to the tubed meat realm, the Rocky Balboa is a spicy Italian sausage topped with sautéed green peppers and onions. While the sausage itself was flavorful and tantalizing, the cold temperature of the toppings proved a little distracting.
Sports bars aren’t known for their vegetarian fare, but one of my cohorts tried the Gardenburger Ivy Leaguer ($5.25), which the menu says is “grilled just right (or should we say left!).” Cute, right? The burger was about what you’d expect, according to my liberal-minded sidekick. It’s good to have the nonmeat option, at least.
The bar’s respectable beverage offerings include 24 bottled varieties of domestic beer and wine coolers, 15 imported bottled beers, eight beers on draft and four wines. A rotating draft lineup on our Saturday night visit included brews from Toledo’s own Maumee Bay Brewing Company as well as Samuel Adams and Great Lakes Brewing Company.
Offering some much-needed old-school character to the abundance of mostly sterile, predictable chain sports bars in the area, Dale’s is an elder statesman in the culinary scene that deserves to get some quality playing time.