Where to watch the game in Vancouver: sports lounges with good food
Even though Langley’s Thea Cheyne works a desk job, she’s no salad-ordering lightweight. The 29-year-old gets her kicks playing left defence for the Vancouver Wildcats, and in a co-ed indoor soccer league through Burnaby 8 Rinks. Most weeks, she sweats through two games plus practices. In other words, she needs a Guy Fieri–worthy meal for her calories in to equal her calories out. So when she goes out to watch the Canucks, or FIFA, or football, she likes to eat.
Currently, Cheyne is digging links.
“My favourite new find is Falconetti’s [East Side Grill (1812 Commercial Drive)], which specializes in gourmet sausages,” she told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. In the following week, she would go twice: once for a ladies night out and again for a fundraiser. “The atmosphere is awesome. I like the smaller, intimate setting and everyone gets super-excited—at least when things are going well.”
Indeed, Falconetti’s is one of a handful of local sports lounges upping their game from arena-style chips and beer to a sporty-foodie destination. They should; this season, Vancouver is a hot spot for games. The Grey Cup comes to B.C. Place November 27; the Canucks are following one hell of a 2010/11 season; and the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tourney, featuring teams from across the Americas, is coming to B.C. Place January 19 to 29, among other events.
Cheyne lists the elusive “atmosphere” as the number-one definer of a great place to watch a game, with food coming in a close second. Her pet peeve: sport spots with plenty of TVs but crummy sound.
Falconetti’s co-owner Ed Dolmat seems blissfully shocked that he’s stumbled on the city’s two obsessions. He didn’t start out with that vision. Instead, back in 2004, he and partner Carmine Falcone, built a Euro-style fast-food sausage shop on the site of the old Falconi Bros. Butcher Shop, owned by Falcone’s father. Neither are chefs. They’re businessmen who grew up around sausage: Falcone at the Italian butcher shop, and Dolmat in his Polish mother’s kitchen, in Montreal. The original idea was a quick-serve eatery.
The aha moment happened in 2006, when they rolled in giant screens for the World Cup.
“It was jam-packed,” Dolmat told the Straight in a phone interview. “We stuffed so many people in there. It really took off. Commercial Drive is all about soccer, and we were the place to be.”
Since then, on the back of four big screens and homemade sausages sautéed with veggies and liberally sauced (Dolmat’s sausages include Yucatan chicken; a Chaurise chorizo, and a soy-based vegetarian), the duo has expanded Falconetti’s to over three times its original size, including an upstairs patio. The real Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, noticed the innovative combo; he spent 13 hours filming there on his recent Vancouver tour. Before the show airs later this fall, Dolmat is planning to open Falconetti’s latest expansion: an on-site store, called Meats and Eats, that sells meat prepared in-house for those watching the game at home (and anyone else).
This kind of thing is a revelation to foodie and Canucks fan Dennis Pang. During the Stanley Cup finals this fall, most establishments were so packed that he sometimes found himself watching from B-list bars, faced with soggy nachos and frozen-patty burgers. As the owner of Popcorn, a social media consultancy for Vancouver’s restaurant industry, he knows bad food is bad business in this high-standards city.
“Vancouver is so unique in that there are literally hundreds of great places to eat, not just a few,” Pang told the Straight in a phone interview. “The question for sports bars and all restaurants is, how do you differentiate yourself? Ultimately, it’s coming down to the quality of your food.”
Pang’s top destination for Canucks and grub is the Five Point Restaurant and Pub (3124 Main Street), where he orders the togarashi-crusted ahi-tuna bites with pea-shoot salad. He also likes their wings, which he says come very fresh and hot. The menu is typical sports-bar fare—burgers, wings, dry ribs—but neatly spun with Asian influences for food-sophisticated patrons. Yes, the Five Point is a client of Pang’s, but he points out that he was “watching hockey games there long before we started working with them”.
For pure revelry, he also enjoys Schanks Sports Grill (350 Gifford Street, New Westminster), which offers on-site mini-golf. Food-wise, this is no Hawksworth Restaurant. It’s an Alberta-based chain featuring 19 burgers, including a Portobello smoked-Gouda vegetarian option with none-too-healthy crispy onion strings, a fun, fatty touch. The made-to-order 14-inch pizzas are done in a conventional oven. But the lack of wood fire doesn’t seem to keep customers away from the boneless-chicken-wing pizza, with red onions and ranch sauce.
Cheyne also recommends Schanks. On another note, she says that game nights at sports bars offer a further draw for women: men don’t hit on you when they’re watching sports.
“It just doesn’t happen,” she said. “If you want to go out and not get bothered, it’s the perfect setting.”
The sausages, in other words, stay where they belong.