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Between the Buns: Fair Fare

J.J. Rees | Sunday, January 25, 2009

nd of mine was given a gift certificate for Between the Buns, just east of campus on 23. Besides “I can’t believe you’ve never been there,” I hadn’t heard much of the sports bar closest to campus. We watched away games from our futons, our parents took us to Rocco’s and Parisi’s, and three years went by without using the gift certificate. In Spring 2008, my friend left Notre Dame with a diploma and the still-unused gift certificate. But last week, I finally paid Between the Buns an overdue visit, and I found out exactly why a gift certificate is great for a student looking for a straightforward sports bar.My (new) friend and I were quickly seated at the worst seat in the whole place – a badly lit corner booth. Our complaints were immediately quelled with the discovery of our booth’s flat-screen TV, solving the problem of watching Tigers-Royals games once and for all. Really, the only game on TV was a rerun of the last night’s Blues-Blackhawks game. Technically, we could have watched Step by Step reruns, but I was already under fire from our waitress for asking way too many questions for a non-critic, sports bar-goer. Our seating area was not too crowded, besides the walls of pennants, jerseys and memorabilia, with enough pictures to keep any sports die-hards interested and satisfied.Our waitress easily convinced us to take advantage of the night’s drink special: $3 Miller, Coors and Killian’s on Thursday nights. I should mention that the deal is misleading; $3 got us each an enormous 32-ounce mug of beer, volumetrically giving even the ‘Backer a run for its money. In fact, a lot of things at Between the Buns reminded me of the Linebacker: a smattering of townie clientele, excellent daily specials, easygoing, local employees, and even an 80’s rock soundtrack to boot.We started with nachos and the most popular appetizer, chicken strippers with “Original” Barbecue sauce. These starters were nothing special, and I was more impressed by the nachos’ chicken than the strips themselves, although the BBQ sauce brought redemptive flavor to the dish. The nachos with guacamole and salsa were fine but forgettable – only for those in a nachos mood. The kitchen stepped itself up a bit for the entrées: a pulled pork sandwich with Cajun BBQ and the Ryne Sandburger (ha, ha). The sandwich delivered, with big pieces of tender pork and a soft hoagie bun. My biggest pet peeve about Cajun flavoring is when cooks add just pepper (give the culture some credit!), but this was avoided in a runny but otherwise well-done BBQ sauce. The burger, with sautéed onions, mushrooms, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, was big enough and good enough to count as a solid sports bar burger. It won’t win any awards, but it won’t disappoint many customers. The fries weren’t quite hot enough, but still managed to please.I admit that although I have decent experience with cooking and dining, I am definitely a novice critic. I was reminded of this by last week’s blunder – ordering dessert. I figured if I was going to be writing a review, I should sample all courses, and the chocolate cake seemed simple enough. I could tell that our waitress was joking when she said it would go well with beer, but I had no idea how serious her sarcasm was. I knew I would either be pleasantly surprised, or reinforce an already evident rule. There was nothing wrong with the dish, but suffice it to say that I ate dessert at a sports bar so you don’t have to.Despite its few shortcomings, the restaurant’s best feature is that it supplies the regular bar food that it promises. The many daily food and drink specials will please everyone at least some of the time. It would be reasonable for two people to eat a full dinner with drinks for $30, as long as they find an agreeable special. Odds are that anyone going to Between the Buns knows and will get what they want out of the sports bar, and the various specials and entertainment are an added bonus to the consistent fare.