Tailgaters Grille – 521 Main Street; Clinton MA
By Bernie Whitmore
Sports bars have a reputation for big screens, big thirsts and big guys ready to brawl. Good times ~ but not always good food. In fact, most of them seem to be freezer-to-deep-fryer operations tracking well-worn paths to the nearest Sam’s Club. This is what I expected on my way out to Clinton for dinner at Tailgaters ~ little did I know how wrong my expectations were.
Finding Tailgaters was easy enough; it’s a straight-shot from West Boylston on Route 110. But once we got there, I drove past it a couple times searching for what seemed to be non-existent parking. Again, my bad: the narrow lot across the street that appears reserved for other businesses is actually available for customers of Tailgaters.
Having dumped the car, we walked in and tried to size up the place as fast as possible. The critical question, whether to seat ourselves or wait, seemed to be resolved by the please-wait-for-assistance sign. But in a moment, one of the waiters threw us a welcoming nod and urged us to grab any open table.
In true sports bar form, Tailgaters’ lounge area is equipped with several mega-panel TVs tuned this evening to MLB play-offs and the Bruins. Hockey won the war of volume; the goal horn shook the rafters when the Bruins scored. The bar was crowded with townspeople of every age and size ~ so much for my “brawler generalization. And yes, in due time, I’d also be scrapping my low food-quality expectations.
But for now our attention was on the menu and our appetizer selection. The super dome of nachos appealed to me but my friend made a convincing case for Buffalo wings. When Chad, our waiter, heard our choice he inquired, “Boneless?” We scoffed at such a notion and demanded bone-in. Before Chad could send our order we asked him about the personal-sized TV mounted on the wall of our booth. He invited us to turn it on and tune it to whatever we pleased.
And with that a new standard was set. In-booth cable TV! Can it get any better than that? After a friendly skirmish over channel selection we settled on “I Love Lucy” reruns ~ that night featured classic episodes of their cross-country trip to Hollywood.
Soon enough we were dipping spicy Buffalo wings into chunky bleu cheese dressing, dousing their 1-alarm blaze with a glass of Hook & Ladder Backdraft Brown Ale and soaking up American Culture à la Ricky and Lucy. A very nice start, indeed.
Tailgater’s entrées (aka Main Events) include Open Steak served on garlic toast, Pasta with a Hat Trick of three meatballs plus sandwiches and burgers. Additionally, each day they feature compelling specials. Today’s were variations on shore dinners: twin lobsters or fresh steamers or combos of the two. My friend chose lobsters and quickly discovered that this is where Tailgaters’ kitchen soars above the others. They may have been “chick” lobsters but these twins had large claws filled with sweet, tender meat. There was so much juicy white tail meat that he barely touched his bucket of sweet potato fries. I commandeered the bowl of crunchy-sweet coleslaw.
My entrée, the Bacon Blue Burger, was part of a cunning strategy. The plan ~ to order a small meal and finish with a major dessert ~ was brilliant in conception but didn’t account for the size of Tailgaters’ burgers and the mound of crispy sweet potato fries it came with. Ten ounces of lean ground chuck (medium rare ~ just as I ordered) was topped with creamy-rich bleu cheese and strips of bacon I had to keep poking back under the bun.
I hadn’t even finished half my burger when visions of the “Giant Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie” began to fade. When Chad inquired, “Is everything OK thus far?” I had to nod in agreement. But that cookie, served in its own skillet with melting ice cream, was already a lost cause.
Tailgaters Grille is proof again that one shouldn’t judge a restaurant by its genre. Starting with friendly service to put everyone at ease, they brought quality American cuisine to the sports bar format and ran with it.