Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Players Sports Bar & Grill was the sports bar in Wichita.
Fans crowded in on game day to enjoy the better-than-average bar food served in a dining room plastered with interesting, valuable sports memorabilia.
The man behind it all was Dave Chaffin, who opened the original Players near 21st and West streets in 1984. He moved it to a large and lavish new building at 6200 W. 21st St. in 1999, and it operated until 2010. But a down economy drove Chaffin to change the restaurant’s approach and name. Brooklyn’s Chophouse lasted only about a year, and Chaffin declared bankruptcy.
But he survived. And in a way, so has a little bit of Players.
Chaffin now is an owner of Shoeless Joe’s Old Fashioned Burgers and Phillys, a neighborhood restaurant and bar he opened in November in the space at 2315 W. 21st St. previously occupied by a Jimmy’s Egg and Clear Lakes Cafe before that.
Though smaller, the restaurant looks a lot like Players did, and the menu includes many of its old highlights.
ON THE MENU: Diners can choose from several former Players favorites, and the menu even appears to be printed using the same font.
It includes, as the restaurant’s title suggests, Philly cheese steak sandwiches and burgers, plus quesadillas, soups, salads, sandwiches, a few Tex-Mex dishes and bar appetizers such as hot wings, fried pickles, fried green beans, chili cheese fries and more.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Shoeless Joe’s has two things going for it. One — it sits on the edge of Benjamin Hills, giving it the feel of a neighborhood pub — a place where nearby residents can pop in after work for a burger and a beer.
Even more important, the bar food is decent or better. Though it’s all pretty standard, it’s also all pretty tasty and well-prepared. Things consistently taste good and aren’t dripping with grease.
We particularly liked the Philly ($7.25). The seasoned sirloin was thin-sliced and tender, spiked with sliced green peppers, mushrooms and onions and topped with a river of stick-to-your-teeth melted cheese. The sandwich was huge and somehow tasted even better when reheated later as leftovers.
The Chicago dog also was a treat. Shoeless Joe’s uses Nathan’s hot dogs, which are available as quarter pounders ($3.95) or somewhat visually alarming half pounders ($7.95). The quarter pounder was more than enough for us, and it was served on a poppy-seed bun. Diners can choose two toppings from a list that includes sauerkraut, dill pickles, mushrooms, chili, diced onions, grated cheese, jalapenos, tomatoes or dill pickles (though, sadly, no sport peppers, which are on authentic Chicago dogs). We chose kraut and pickles and were pleased with the results.
We also enjoyed the hot wings, available bone-in or boneless. We chose traditional bone-in fried wings ($7.95), and the serving included seven large wings, crispy-fried, spicy but not saucy. We had ranch dressing on the side for dipping, and the wings were gnaw-to-the-bone delicious.
The deep-fried tacos did the deep fryer proud, somehow emerging without the grease bleed from which many fried tacos suffer. The frying produces a nice flaky shell, which is stuffed with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato with sour cream and picante on the side. Giant tacos are $6.95 for two or $3.95 for one.
AMBIENCE: The dining room is reminiscent of Players, with wood-paneled walls, individual mini-televisions posted at booths and sports artifacts covering the walls. Food is served in various shapes of metal baking pans, lined with black and white checkered paper.
The space has a bit of an odd feel since the bar is in an area isolated from the dining room. And once when we visited, the restaurant had the faint aroma of fried food mixed with musty air.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are $4.95 to $7.95. Sandwiches are $5.95 to $7.95. Salads are $7.95. Burgers are $5.95 to $6.95.
SERVICE: We’ve always had good service at Shoeless Joe’s, and Chaffin is often working the dining room himself, circulating and hamming it up with customers.