When news broke a couple weeks ago that NASCAR Sports Grille would be closing on November 1, 2014, my first thought was good riddance. With the exception of NBA City, no other restaurant at CityWalk ever screamed out of place like NASCAR Sports Grille. I understand the appeal – serve bar-style food at moderately high prices and provide plenty of cheap beer and sweet frozen drinks and you have the chance at keeping some people there for a couple hours, especially if there is a game on. However, the other chains at CityWalk, like Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and Margaritaville don’t have that same cheap feeling as NASCAR Sports Grill does, which also might be due to the arcade games sitting outside the entrance. Now that phase one of the CityWalk renovation is complete and fantastic restaurants like Antijitos and VIVO have opened the doors to better dining at CityWalk, there is just no room for old duds.
That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss NASCAR Sports Grille without trying it first, so Shaun and I, from the DIS Unplugged and the DIS Unplugged: Universal Edition, decided to check it out and our general consensus was not so great. Let’s start with the service. On an average day, you will walk by NASCAR and the place will be deserted. We went on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm, so the place was swarmed with guests trying to find a way to watch football. The restaurant was at a forty minute wait, so we chose to skip the wait and sit at the bar.
There was only one bartender working the entire bar which had about 12 occupants, including us, but the bartender also had a bar-back who was basically handling the drinks going out to the tables in the restaurant. After receiving menus relatively quickly after sitting down we ordered waters instead of getting beers or mixed drinks. Of course there was a bar full of other people wanting to get drinks so from there the service went severely downhill.
After nearly twenty minutes of sitting waiting to order, the bartender returned to take our order without writing anything down. A lot of servers and bartenders can handle this, but this one didn’t seem up to the task and that ended up being true. I ordered the “Famous” 3 Wide Wings, boneless with Sweet Habanero sauce, as an appetizer and the Sports Grille Steak Salad as an entrée. Shaun ordered the Rueben Egg Rolls as an appetizer and The Hangover (burger) as an entrée. Once again, about twenty minutes went by with little to no acknowledgement from anyone in the restaurant and then all of a sudden a food runner showed up behind us with four plates of food. Either the bartender put in all the food to all come at once or the kitchen staff made the mistake. Regardless, who likes when entrées come out before you finish your appetizer or before you even get your appetizer in this case? On top of it all, the wings that were delivered to the table were also bone-in instead of boneless, but the food runner swapped out the plate very quickly.
The appetizers were okay. The Rueben Egg Rolls, which consisted of 6 half egg rolls, were definitely the winner of the two, but that’s only if you’re a fan of eating an unhealthy sandwich in a deep-fried egg roll version. The odd part about the dish is that it was served with a “zesty Russian” dipping sauce that actually took away all of the flavor from the egg roll and made the food taste mediocre. The “Famous” 3 Wide Wings, and I put famous in quotation for irony, were very disappointing. The Sweet Habanero sauce was actually good, but the wings themselves were straight out of the freezer Tyson boneless wings or possibly an even cheaper, sold by the bulk equivalent. It’s hard to screw up something that requires no real cooking skills at all, so I have to congratulate them on not screwing up the wings, but anything that is considered “famous” should at least be made in house. The portion size was actually surprisingly large as well, but we figured portions would be good after reading about their O-Rings, another appetizer NASCAR is proud to serve, which is just a pound of Onion Rings.
The entrées didn’t really score any higher than the appetizers. The Sports Grille Steak Salad consisted of a pile of wet lettuce, soggy steak, a couple of corn kernels, a baby’s handful of bleu cheese crumbles and some jalapeño ranch dressing, which tasted suspiciously like regular ranch dressing. It is a meal that a starving person would be more than content with, so I can honestly say that I was content, but not happy with it. I didn’t taste Shaun’s burger, but it was a hamburger patty with melted Pepper Jack cheese, bacon marmalade and a fried egg on top. The burger itself didn’t look bad, but burgers are also pretty difficult to screw up. Also, there are two fantastic gourmet burger restaurants within 5 miles of Universal, Teak Neighborhood Grill and Burger 21, that just make these burgers seem overpriced for the size and quality.
After a disappointing meal, it took about ten full minutes to get the bartender to bring us our checks and then another twenty minutes to actually pick up our credit cards and run them. We couldn’t even use our annual pass discount because we asked to split the check, which should’ve been done from the start. Frankly, this restaurant needed to be closed sooner. Its only real purpose is to shovel out decent to bad food at moderately high prices while patrons guzzle down cheap beer and watch a game or two. It is almost embarrassing how bad NASCAR Sports Grille. If you’re looking for this type of food and entertainment, there is a T.G.I. Friday’s right across the street from Universal that will cost you a lot less and be just as good. Rest in Peace NASCAR Sports Grille.