Good sports

Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 am

When Chris and Patti Babij opened their sports bar in Allen Park on the Fourth of July in 2007, they wisely refrained from displaying Detroit Lions paraphernalia, even though that woeful team's home away from Ford Field is located in their town. Instead, they decorated the Broadcast Booth with hockey jerseys and other paraphernalia, including two old Olympia Stadium seats autographed by Gordie Howe. A bit more obscure are the seats plucked from the old Forum in Montreal, the original "Hockeytown." These bear the signature of former Canadien and Red Wing, Mickey Redmond. Management frustrates any patron's attempt to sit on these revered relics.

The hockey theme is not surprising since the Babijs previously ran Redmond's travel agency next door and, more important, Chris is a certified hockey nut from Sudbury, Ontario. Patti used to work for Olympia Entertainment. Their sprawling establishment, which is on Allen Road just off the Southfield Freeway, seats as many as 400 in the bar, a "Friends" sofa-laden parlor, and dining and banquet rooms, and can handle many others in a playroom that features pool, billiards, and, not surprisingly, air hockey.

With its ambitious menu, the Broadcast Booth is more of a restaurant that is also a sports bar rather than a sports bar that delivers burgers and suds. The dining room, and not the busy lounge dominated by a huge U-shaped bar and scores of TVs, is the desired space for those interested in a sedate smoke- and TV-free atmosphere. To be sure, with its bare wooden tables and paper napkins it is not especially elegant, but that informality reflects Chris Lawshea's budget-friendly meals. (Lawshea previously worked at Ruby Tuesday, an informal chain with a comparable bill of fare).

For example, only $8.95 will score a "Hat Trick" appetizer composed of four buffalo wings, five crispy fried-ravioli bites stuffed with cheese and jalapeño, and a lively spinach dip. For many, the "mild" rendition of the juicy chicken will be plenty spicy. The ample portion of deep-fried but mercifully lightly floured little calamari rings with marinara is another decent starter. Among the other traditional bar-food appetizers, which average around $7, are steak bits, nachos, quesadillas, and "Katie Bar the Door" chili over mac 'n' cheese.

For $1.99, you can add a zesty, if slightly drippy, Caesar salad to your dinner order. Or you and your tablemates might want to share a substantial pasta platter as an Italianate second course, with a robust sausage and rigatoni preparation, loaded with meat, onions, red and green peppers and freshly shaved Parmesan the pick here. Lasagna, roasted-pepper penne, and fettuccine Alfredo are other options.

Most mains are less than $17, with the kitchen justifiably proud of its tender, fall-off-the bone baby-back ribs basted with a mild hickory barbecue sauce. The simple char-grilled Lake Superior whitefish with a wine-lemon-butter sauce is more sophisticated than one would expect in a sometimes-raucous sports bar, while the steaks are generous in size and cooked to order. It was also encouraging to note that the accompanying vegetables were crunchy if a little overly saline, which might explain the sprinkling of seemingly incongruous dried cherries. Or is that a not-so-subliminal tribute to hockey hothead Don Cherry?

There are a few surprises among the other entrées that range from jambalaya to scampi with squash, zucchini and tomatoes over angel-hair pasta to a hearty meat loaf with barbecue sauce to boursin-stuffed chicken with spinach, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes accompanied by garlic smashed redskins. Dinners come with a choice of two sides, most of which revolve around starchy or deep-fat-fried artery-cloggers. Indeed, aside from a handful of salads, the Broadcast Booth does little to attract vegetarians, unless they stick to the lengthy pizza menu that offers such toppings as mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, or green peppers. (Of course, few sports bars anywhere cater to vegetarian tastes.)

The Broadcast Booth does cater to penurious wine drinkers. There is nothing especially novel on its short list, but there are several palate-pleasing bottles at prices as low as $21. And, as might be expected, the bar flaunts a wide variety of mass-produced and boutique beers, with 47 in bottles and 10 on tap, including, naturally, the stuff they drink across the river during Hockey Night in Canada.

If you drop in for lunch during the week, pool and billiards are free, although there will be no hockey on television. When the Red Wings are playing, chicken wings and pizza and beer combos are among the specials.

As in most informal restaurants these days, the kitchen does not try too hard on desserts, most of which come from outside vendors.

The Broadcast Booth, which could have been called the Hockeytown Café had the name not been taken, transcends most sports bars with its hearty and wide-ranging menu and mercifully quiet area for those who come primarily for the food and not for the games on television. If the Lions could improve enough for the Babijs to celebrate the fact that they are neighbors of the NFL cellar-dweller, they would be able to enhance their menu with Extra Point desserts or Super Bowls of soup.

Mel Small teaches history at Wayne State University. Send comments to [email protected].