Jettys/Walkers enhances arena experience

02/13/2014 2:53 PM

02/13/2014 2:53 PM

Back when arena proponents were trying to sell voters on the idea of building the place, they would frequently reference all the awesome restaurants and bars that would surely pop up around it.

Intrust Bank Arena has been open four years now, and the new Jettys Pizza/Walkers Bar & Venue at 220 and 222 S. Commerce is the first place that’s come along that feels like what I envisioned those awesome restaurants and bars would be like.

Local entrepreneur Mickey Lynch opened the two-businesses-in-one just before Christmas in a giant, 9,000-square-foot space that sits steps away from the northeast corner of the arena.

Jettys is a shark-themed pizza place designed for a lunchtime crowd, and so far, it’s attracting lots of hungry construction workers and downtown office types determined to fill up on the $9.99 all-you-can-eat pizza lunch buffet.

Walkers, accessible through Jettys, is a cavernous sports bar with wood floors, exposed beam ceilings and a variety of table setups designed to accommodate sports fans. It also has become a legitimate live music venue in a short amount of time. The full menu is offered on both sides.

The place has a nice feel, and on a recent Saturday night, we watched it used how Lynch intended. We arrived just before comedian Jeff Dunham took the stage at the arena, and the place was packed. Showtime arrived, and the bar emptied out, only to fill back up as the Shockers’ tipoff time drew near.

There’s only one problem with the place, and it’s going to be tough to solve. The two businesses can hold 500 people but have only about a dozen designated parking spaces. The arena has agreed to let Lynch use nearby parking lots when it’s not having events, but when it is, parking is beyond difficult. There’s no nearby street parking, either.

Lynch is working on solutions, including golf-cart valets when the weather warms up. In the meantime, customers will have to use the same ingenuity they use when scouting out parking spaces for arena events.

•  ON THE MENU Lynch kept the menu relatively simple, which is a good thing. Sports bars with rambling menus tend to send unpredictable plates out of the kitchen. This menu has 10 varieties of pizza (plus a build-your-own option), appetizers such as wings, mozzarella sticks and spinach and artichoke dip, and 10 standard bar sandwiches, from a burger to a Philly cheese steak. It also has a few salads and a kids menu.

•  DON’T MISS DISHES On our evening visit, we sat on the Walkers side and felt it our obligation to sample the menu’s typical bar food offerings: Wings and burgers. Both were pretty good. The wings were how I like them: dripping with Buffalo sauce and a little kicky, with celery and blue cheese and Ranch dressings on the side. An order of six was $6 and was a just-right appetizer size.

The burger ($8) wasn’t especially memorable but was just fine, with a thick 8-oz. patty and a soft, bready bun. It was served with a generous side of thick, delicious fries for $8.

I love fried pickles, and these were particularly good. The restaurant deep fries thick pickle medallions in a not-too-greasy batter and serves them with a side of Ranch dressing. The serving was big, too.

On my evening visit, I wasn’t wild about my combo pizza. The toppings, including green peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni and sausage, were fresh and plentiful, and the thin crust was nice and crispy, but the sauce tasted fresh from the can, and the pizza looked better than it tasted. A 10-inch small was the perfect serving size for one person and cost $11. (Mediums are $16 and larges are $20.)

But when I returned the following week for the lunch buffet, I had a different pizza experience. We sat on the Jettys side, which was big and bright with sunlight on a freezing cold day. The small buffet table is a little difficult to navigate but offered a $9.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet that featured a salad bar full of fresh veggies and a frequently replenished array of pizzas – and they were good.

This time, the sauce tasted fresh, and the pizza was nothing like the cheese-on-cardboard versions many all-you-can-eat pizza buffets serve. I tried a delicious pepperoni and sausage, a surprisingly good shrimp pizza with a buttery white sauce, and an unusual but tasty barbecue chicken pizza, dressed with barbecue sauce, chicken, bacon and red onion. During our hour at the buffet, the staff put out at least eight different varieties.

We also ordered a Philly cheese steak sandwich, which we’d heard good things about. It was delicious if not a bit unorthodox, served on a toasted piece of cheesy bread and stuffed with slivers of steak, fresh mushrooms, onions, green peppers and Provolone. With a side of fries, it was $9.

•  AMBIANCE Both sides of the business look completely different, and both have interior design features that look rather DIY, but both spaces have a good vibe. Occasionally diners will look up and catch a train zipping by just feet from the restaurant’s south-facing windows.

•  PRICE RANGE Pizzas range from $11 to $20. Sandwiches are $8 to $9. Kid meals are $6.

•  SERVICE I’d heard mixed reports about service at the businesses, especially Walkers, during its first weeks in business. But our experiences were all good. Our servers were friendly and never lost track of us.

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