Where does it say that a steak in a sports bar has to chew like a slab of pigskin? Back in the day, real men would eat quiche only in the privacy of their rec rooms. In our enlightened time, by contrast, they are likely to take pride in the lemon piquancy of their guacamole as they pass around the chips for Super Bowl Sunday pals in their basement media rooms.
This helps explain the success and popularity of Fat Belly's Pub in Warwick, down on the edge of East Greenwich. Out with the beef jerky and pickled eggs; in with the pear and Gorgonzola salad, and lobster ravioli. Yet this place is mainly for guys who consider feta and mozzarella to be only technically related. You want cheese fries? Not only will they be topped with Monterey Jack and cheddar, but also bacon, which is as prevalent on items here as the parsley at Chelo’s.
The place is cozily crowded with nine small tables and seating for only a half-dozen at the bar. There’s room for three TV screens, however. While we were there, no one asked that any of the ESPN programming be switched to the History Channel, although I did notice Star Trek: Deep Space Nine up there for a while. The tables have tall stools instead of chairs, so that everybody gets clear views when the place is packed with a milling standing-room-only crowd.
This is a pub, so you’ve got your mozzarella sticks, you’ve got your BBQ chicken nachos, and choice of chicken wings or tenders. There are eight beers on tap and nearly twice as many in bottles. The house wines are Estrella and there are a few other well-chosen selections.
Johnnie had a yen for baked clams casino ($6.95), so she sipped my Magic Hat No. 9 over a half-dozen fresh, shucked-to-order littlenecks under their perfectly browned, garlic-butter drenched breadcrumbs. Her baby spinach salad ($6.95) had a pleasant sweet-sour balance, tossed with crumbled Gorgonzola and candied walnuts with a warmed cider vinegar dressing that wasn’t too tart.
The grilled pesto pizza ($8.95) we chose over the Margerhita and BBQ chicken options had marinara sauce for its sweet Italian sausage component, the pesto there for the grilled chicken. All was on a very thin crust along with caramelized onions and diced tomatoes under mixed cheeses. Among the nine sandwiches are three chicken breast choices and three burgers. Since this was a sports bar, I chose the Big Papi Burger ($8.95), assuming that some of the money would go to a Red Sox pension fund.
The Black Angus beef was a good start, and the BLT plus American cheese was a nicely patriotic continuation. But the marvelous part was how complementing the caramelized onions beneath the burger were delicate fried onion strips on top, which provided a crunchy textural contrast. I didn’t weep, I didn’t swoon, but O, brave new pub that has such burgers! I recovered my composure and wiped my chin.
There are also a half-dozen pasta dishes, including that lobster ravioli and challenging-to-cook angel hair and capellini. We wanted to sample the efforts, so we placed an order of penne with grilled chicken and broccoli ($13.95) to go. Not bad: it wasn’t overcooked, and there wasn’t too much garlic in the cream sauce.
Fat Belly’s Pub is the creation of Scott Parker, who opened the place last May with co-owner Brian Murphy. Parker was the chef/proprietor behind Sophia’s Tuscan Grille, in Warwick, and its to-live-for linguine with red clam sauce. He sold the restaurant so he could raise his family with the reduced stress of a smaller place.
On our visit, he was chatting up the room in his kitchen whites, and when we told him we’d ordered a grilled pizza, he insisted we try his New York style version, for which he apprenticed at a Long Island pizzeria. Parker said that the president of Johnson & Wales, where he teaches, lives nearby and frequently drops in for a pie or two. We had a couple of slices, and my North Jersey boyhood came back to me — tasty crust and a tangy sauce that demands another bite after every bite.
They didn’t have their dessert pizza when we came by — Bosc pears, almonds, crème fraîche. That was just as well, since a third enjoyable variation on pizza might have made me burst into tears. At Fat Belly’s, it’s better form to save that for the Pats not making it into the Super Bowl.
Fat Belly’s Pub | 254 Old Forge Road, Warwick | Mon-Thurs, 4-9:30 pm, FrI-Sat, 11:30 AM-11 pm, Sun 11:30 am-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.884.2112