With the Super Bowl only days away, most armchair fans are mulling over which sports bar will get their game-day business. And it's a safe bet that many will opt for one of those impersonal venues, as big as American Airlines Center, with more televisions than Best Buy, and serving yawn-inducing baskets of wings, burgers and pizza.
So now may be the time to consider the Press Box Grill alternative - specifically its 3-month-old second branch in Grapevine. (The original is in downtown Dallas.)
To be sure, it has everything that any other sports bar has, only on a more intimate, Cheers-like scale. Although there are only 11 flat-screens and one 120-inch projection television, there isn't a bad sightline in the joint. And we're pretty sure no mass-market bar would dispatch a manager to ask a patron if he wanted the channel changed to a preferred sporting event. Press Box did.
And then there is Press Box's endearing, quirky touch, summed up by the life-size statue of Elvis sitting on a stool at the front of the bar, strumming his guitar, a pompadour as high as a Malibu wave. He seems to greet every customer with his famous stage line: "Thank you, thank you very much."
If Elvis' presence signals that Press Box is not your average jock's bar, then its menu drives home the point.
Among the habit-forming fried pickle chips, potato skins, and chicken tenders lay some surprising culinary treats.
Take their egg rolls - yes, egg rolls. This Southwestern variety ($8) sports a crackling skin (feels like phyllo) that is sublimely well fried. Its interior is a bundle of chicken chunks, corn nubbins, spinach and bell pepper that can't wait for an enlivening dip into a chipotle-fired ranch sauce.
Two other starters display the Press Box's ability to score equally with sports-bar comfort food or with a surprise import from the Big Easy. The loaded baked potato ($7) is shaped like a small football but eats like a meal, thanks to its thick cloak of good 'n' gooey cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and bacon and scallion confetti.
And then there is the unexpected chicken and sausage gumbo ($4), whose brothy consistency, while a bit thin, still supports a delicious melee of andouille sausage, chicken, okra, green peppers and rice that could turn any Press Box table into a Mardi Gras mini-celebration.
The "Press Box favorites" include one of the kitchen's standout offerings, a deliciously juicy, jalapeño-ignited pork chop ($15) sporting crosshatch grill marks and an interior that is rosy and fork tender.
But perhaps the star attraction is the grill's palate popping mango salmon ($12). This wedge of fish sports an herbed, Italian bread-crumb-crusted exterior, a meltingly flaky interior and a pico de gallo elevated by healthy chunks of mango. The fish packs such flavor, you easily forgive the underseasoned mashed potatoes that join it.
When it comes to the classic burger, Press Box not only hews to tradition (with its cheese, Texas and chili burger variations) but creatively veers from the drearily familiar. Its vegetarian burger ($9) is assembled with peppers, onions, squash, celery and carrot in a patty that manages to taste like succulent sausage.
And for a few dollars more, sample the lamb burger ($13), whose interior juices inevitably will dribble down your chin.
One of the restaurant's most intensely beefy burgers, the Kobe ($13), delivers a slab that is 85 percent lean and doesn't need any of its Jack cheese accessory to make its insistent, meaty point.
Don't bother with the overly acidic-tasting Key lime pie.
Instead, indulge in the chocoholic's delight: the triple chocolate pie ($6.50). Each slice is a vertigo-inducing 3 inches high: A cookie-crumb ground floor gives way to intermediate levels of chocolate mousse and fudge, before ending at a dark chocolate frosting penthouse.
That meticulously executed dessert is the final reminder that Press Box Grill is determined to get its patrons cheering as much for the food they're eating as for their team on the big screen.