Athletics are not my bag. I don't know why exactly, maybe because I enjoy the same level of fitness as a stack of pancakes or that I refuse to tolerate any level of physical discomfort and to enter the world of athletics is know nothing but. Once, because I'd been told it built character, I went for a run around the neighborhood and after thirty minutes, with every joint howling in protest and my knees threatening suicide, I suddenly recalled an article in Omni about recently discovered links between character, humorlessness and responsibility and went home to spend more quality time with the sofa. I find the watching of sports to be an equally joyless enterprise - hockey, football and basketball all seem to involve minor variations on a theme; chemically-enhanced cavemen, all of them rich as Croesus, running back and forth perpetrating acts of violence against one another while a stadium full of drunken thugs howl encouragement. No wonder then, that I almost never bother going into sports bars, and a small wonder that I bothered with this one. I'm glad I did.
The Podium sits adjacent to Lucky Bar in the spot once belonging to Periklis Greek Restaurant. When I came home from the road in 2009 I was saddened to learn that Periklis was gone, taking with it the best-tasting octopus in the city and went from sadness to pique when I discovered that a sports bar called "The Podium" would be taking its place. My thoughts at the time were that the city needed another sports bar about as much as it needed an invading horde of tarantulas so I never really gave the place much thought. That changed when I read the Burger Blog's review of the "Big Hurt Burger", The Podium's calorie-packed punch to the heart. My inner glutton responds immediately to ideas like a hamburger with a frankfurter and pulled pork on top yet even so it wasn't until this Saturday past, when Nicky & I were looking for a place to have dinner before heading over to Cineplex, that I found my way to The Podium.
Inside, the Podium looked much as I'd expected; spacious, framed this and autographed that commemorating great moments in sports, like the time Heck Kowalski rode Three-Feet Gunderson like a surfboard to a fourth-quarter victory for the Altoona Manhandlers. The space not occupied by memorabilia is taken up by televisions, sixteen-thousand of them by my count, each broadcasting a different station so you have your choice of mindless distractions should your company not keep up your interest. We had to prompt the staff at the entrance to the upper bar area before we were acknowledged and seated but after that the service was prompt and friendly, and in my experience that's a rare thing in downtown bars. The noise level was about what you'd expect from a sports bar, not quiet but not loud. That changed whenever one of the televisions depicted a Canadian Olympic athlete doing something impressive, like finding snow on one of the ski runs, but it never became unbearable. Once we had menus it didn't take long to figure out what it was we were having, so we placed our orders and settled in to watch VANOC further bungle Vancouver's moment in the spotlight.
Our appetizers showed up as quickly, as did our drinks. The lemon & pepper calamari ($11) was hot, fresh and not rubbery in the slightest which places it head and shoulders above all other pub calamari that I've tried in the city. The sliders were great, a hefty amount of juicy pulled pork on a roll topped by a slice of jalapeno havarti cheese and at $2 apiece on Saturdays they're a hell of a deal. When the main attractions arrived, the Big Hurt Burger ($16) for me and the Saturday special rack of ribs with chips & coleslaw ($13) for Nicky, I was glad that we'd stuck to only two sliders. The Big Hurt burger is, quite simply, enormous. When the waitress placed it on the table I knew something of what it was to be David, all alone in the Valley of Elah. I'd ordered a green salad to mitigate the damage about to be done to my insides and while it made sense in my head I'll admit to feeling silly seeing a pallid handful of greens in a tasteful little bowl sitting next to this greasy behemoth. I knew right away that eating the salad was only going to make the Big Hurt angry, and I usually make it a policy never to offend anyone or anything whose name includes the word "hurt".
The burger was, in a word, delicious; the patty reminded me of a fairground hamburger which, in my world is a good thing, and the hot-dog & pulled pork elevated it to the stuff of legend. I should say that the sheer size of the burger and the grease and salt therein make this a "sometimes" treat, any more than that and the only places you'll be shopping for clothes is Tent Outlet and Wal-Marts in the southern U.S. Nicky's meal was another attack on the waistline, a huge plate of ribs, fries & coleslaw. Sadly the ribs were overcooked and fatty, not up to the same level of quality as the Big Hurt. The thick-cut fries and slightly tangy barbecue sauce were a good combination and over all it wasn't a bad meal, just one that emphasized quantity over quality. We left feeling full and satisfied though, and if I were in the neighborhood I wouldn't think twice about going back.
Nothing I've seen in professional sports has convinced me that they're little more than a large-scale program aimed at curbing recidivism in the convict population. Well, maybe that's not entirely fair, saying that sports have no other uses; new stadiums are great for siphoning off money from the civil budget before its frittered away on trifles like infrastructure maintenance or social programs, and the Liberal government was having a difficult time driving our economy into the ground before they hit upon the idea of hosting the Olympics. And even I have to admit to a touch of entertainment value, the entropic glee one feels at seeing Slam Jam LeBron smash the backboard and then someone's skull, making sure that the logo on his Nike shorts faces the camera the entire time. All that being said, if you absolutely must watch sport on television then go ahead - watch it at The Podium some Saturday and enjoy some sliders with your bread and circuses.
See our review on Urban Spoon:
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