Where: Near the bridge to Universal Studios Florida
Price Range: $$ - $$$
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Reservations: (407) 224-RACE or OpenTable.com
Just by the bridge that leads to Universal Studios, the large building that houses the NASCAR Sports Grille is an ode to speed. It swoops and leans and looks for all the world as if it's doing 120. NASCAR, in case you don't know, stands for National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing, the organization that sets the rules for stock car racing and owns the tracks on which hard-driving, all-American folk heroes are created. Stock car racing is a distinctly American sport, with roots in the rural and blue-collar south. But if you were expecting a restaurant in which a grease-smeared good ole boy might feel at home, think again.
NASCAR Sports Grille is more upscale sports bar than down-home beanery. The decor is chic and sleek, with brown-on-brown booths, banquettes, and marble-topped bars. The design references to racing are mostly muted and discreet, although upstairs two race cars hang from the ceiling and periodically roar to life as their wheels spin furiously.
In true sports bar fashion the place is alive with television screens, small ones in the booths, plasma screens on many columns and a 37-foot "media wall" on the main level. They are just as likely to be tuned to baseball or football as racing, although on race days, the majority are given over to NASCAR. There is seating on two levels. Downstairs, an entire wall can be opened up to the verandah on nice days creating a wonderfully spacious ambience. Upstairs, there is a narrow outdoor balcony that is a great place to dine on a balmy evening. Also upstairs is a small racing-themed arcade where you can let those antsy kids loose while mom and dad eat.
Tip: If you want to eat upstairs, let the hostess at the main entrance know. She will pass you on to the upstairs hostess. The food follows the sports bar model, with an accent on steaks, ribs, and burgers and with seemingly no desire to dazzle. Appetizers ($7 to $17) include coconut shrimp, fried onion rings with a dipping sauce (excellent!) and nachos. There is also chili and a variety of salads. Steaks ($17 to $25) range from a top sirloin to filet mignon. More affordable (and often better) are the chicken and ribs dishes ($12 to $23), including BBQ ribs and grilled pork chops. Seafood and pasta ($12 to $17) includes mahi mahi and "points leader" shrimp alfredo pasta. Burgers and other sandwiches ($10 to $12) are probably the most reasonable choices on the menu. The desserts, alas, are merely serviceable.
A small NASCAR shop with a separate entrance is filled with some nice logo-ed clothing and other NASCAR souvenirs.
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