Sluggers a Nice Addition to Local Dining Scene
Our dining critic gives the newly opened restaurant a thumbs up.
SLUGGERS NEIGHBORHOOD BAR & GRILL
109 W. Bloomingdale Avenue
Locals likely remember the locally owned neighborhood joint Big Belly Burgers that had a solid but basic menu and a friendly vibe.
Unfortunately, the food tended toward greasy, the service was lacking and the layout of the place was difficult to maneuver. Big Belly closed up shop and the site went fallow for about a year. In the interim a couple of other storefronts in the strip at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and John Moore Road changed hands and the parking lot got a makeover.
The former general manager of Big Belly pulled together new partners and has reopened under the name Sluggers Neighborhood Bar & Grill.
I like any family-owned place that keeps its menu streamlined. Sluggers sticks to the Neighborhood Bar and Grill basics and does so quite adequately.
The offerings include the standard starters of fries with various toppings, jalapeño poppers and cheese sticks. The onion rings are nicely portioned with a spicy dressing on the side. Tater Tots have begun to appear on local menus and seem to be the tending "side" of the new year.
A small selection of salads is tucked in among the other offerings as are sports bar-regulation nachos. Wings are offered in a variety of sauces, but I question whether any of them, like the salad dressings, are produced in-house? A limited-but-sufficient kids menu (12 and under) rounds out the offerings.
The majority of the menu is burgers and sandwiches. If you want hand-formed patties and homemade toppings, look elsewhere as the foundation for all of their items seems to be prepackaged and portioned. Not that there is anything wrong with that because whomever is holding the spatula knows what they are doing at the grill. Here is where sticking to the basics pays off with a half-dozen burger options and topping alternatives as well as an equal number of hot sandwiches and wraps.
The burgers I have enjoyed at Sluggers have all been cooked to near perfection and the portions are plenty.
The standard fare of soft drinks (Coca-Cola) in both fountain and bottle is available along with iced tea. The beer selection is lacking any imagination with Shock Top being their one pseudo-elite offering. With a half-dozen taps available, you would think one of them could be dedicated to a local craft beer. I guess it is up to the locals to demand better.
ATMOSPHERE and LOCATION:
The physical space of the restaurant has been renovated from its prior occupants. The dining room columns are gone and booths have been added and the bar, thus making the entire restaurant seem larger and friendlier.
A few television screens dot the walls, just large enough to catch the game but not so big that they dominate family conversation.
Sluggers definitely creates a family vibe but young singles will also find it a comfortable place for a casual date. Families and coaches should consider it as an alternative to Beef’s or McDonald's for post-game sports team gatherings and other celebrations.
The location is easy to access and there is plenty of parking, especially in the evening and weekends when the next-door bank is closed. Personally, I am flummoxed as to why this small plaza at the intersection of John Moore Road and Bloomingdale Avenue isn’t fully rented. With ample parking and a stop light shared with Fire Station #7 across the street, it is one of the nicest and most accessible locations in the immediate area.
The service was pretty good as well. Our waitress was attentive and knowledgeable of the menu. One of the owners/managers swung through the dining room and visited with the customers. His local roots were evident in that he knew half the people dining at the time. Overhearing their conversations simply added to the atmosphere of Sluggers being a neighborhood place.
APPRAISAL and SUGGESTIONS:
Suggestions for improvement include one or more upgraded beers on draft such as offerings from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing or Brandon’s own Three Palm’s Brewing.
I recommend the owners concoct homemade/unique-to-the-restaurant sauces for the wings and burgers. They could make a visit to Hey Mon’s Café’ over by the fairgrounds to get some ideas.
Sluggers could also do to have a selection of dessert items by teaming up with a local bakery or confectioner such as Sweetie’s Delights or The Crumb de la Crumb (both located further down Bloomingdale Avenue).
Overall, Sluggers Neighborhood Bar & Grill is a nice addition to the local dining scene. It provides a solid alternative to several other places in the area with its simpler menu, appropriate pricing, convenient location and friendly service.
Let’s hope Sluggers does.
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