Sports bars. Ugh. Typically they exist not for the food but for the game. You get the impression that more thought and effort goes into TV placement and daily game selection then into the food. You could even make the argument that the food exists only to soak up the alcohol so the customers can order another round or pitcher. Not being a huge sports fan, nor being able to remember the last time I ordered a pitcher of beer, I usually avoid sports bars. My last visit to one, Home Team Grill , found weak drinks (albeit cheap) and inconsistent food. Sometimes, however, the situation - or the craving - makes the decision for you.
At the Gaylord Hotel, on Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the National Harbor, there are a number of choices for dining to choose from. We, of course, just really wanted a good burger. Based on that, and the need for speed, we decided that National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill was the choice for the afternoon.
The restaurant itself is big and airy. Very modern and slick with a theatre size screen showing five games with additional TV's over the two bar areas (they even have a golf simulator). Since the entire hotel is smoke free the usual smoky blue haze of sports bars was absent. While the place was busy the entire staff was smiling and pleasant. Amazingly so. From the waitress, the busboys, the bartenders - even all the managers I ended up speaking with during our visit - every person we came in contact over the weekend was a pleasure to interact with.
The menu reflected the upscale nature of the hotel. The usual items like quesedillas and ribs augmented with offerings like blackened rockfish and panini. We, however, were here for the burgers. In this case all their burgers were 1/2 pound Kobe beef - with a promise of cooked perfectly to order. So, with 86 Richmond in mind, I took the plunge for a medium rare burger.
To start we had a plate of shrimp tempura with a spicy thai chili sauce. For a sports bar the price was a bit much at $11, even in an upscale hotel, but the plate came out with 10 jumbo shrimp on it so it turned out to be a pretty good value. The shrimp were good but had a lingering greasy flavour. My guess was the oil temp wasn't quite high enough or they had been put in too quickly after another dish had been fried. Moshi-Moshi serves a better shrimp tempura but these were adequate. The thai chili sauce was surprisingly like one that M makes at home so we had no complaints there.
Soon after we cleaned the plate our burgers came out....
Apologies for the crap quality of the burger picture....
Let's start with the good. Kobe beef is very fatty and makes for a greasy burger - but greasy in a good way. The fat in the meat has an amazing flavour and this burger had flavour. I had ordered the swiss, mushroom and caramelized onion. I kind of wish I hadn't because I could tell this was beef that was good enough to stand on it's own and, joy of joys, the chef had hit medium rare very nearly dead on (M had ordered hers medium and I thought it looked a bit closer to medium well but she thought it fine and that's who really matters).
Now the not so good. The buns were egg rolls. Tasty unto themselves but with Kobe beef your dealing with way to much moisture for the bread to hold together. Add to that the moisture of the cheese, mushrooms and caramelized onions and the whole thing was coming to pieces on me before I got halfway through. It might have worked better had I flipped the burger upon receiving it, so the larger top could soak up the juices, but I didn't. They really need to use a more substantial bun that can stand up to the Kobe.
The fries were forgettable. It's sad when you have a high quality main product and then use low quality sides. Should've been fresh or hand cut.
Now the bad.... As I had the swiss mushroom and M had the bacon BBQ we both removed our tomatoes from inside the burgers. Halfway through my burger I noticed one of our tomato slices had a rotten interior. The very center was a mushy dark brown. At first I thought it might be some of the BBQ sauce but M had requested it on the side and a closer inspection proved it to be rot. Ugh. So, with my hamburger disintegrating further after each bite and a rotten tomato on the table my appetite abandoned me.
The waitress was horrified and the manager was very nice. Offered dessert, we declined.
For a sports bar this was a pretty nice place. They seem to be able to serve a medium rare burger, something that way too many restaurant cannot. If they get a more appropriate bun and fix the fries they have the base for a world class hamburger.
Oh, just in case, if you have a sandwich there be sure to inspect all the ingredients. I can only imagine had we not removed the tomato...