March Madness is just around the corner, which means sports pubs will be bursting at the seams. Fortunately, a couple of eager rookies have come onto the scene to take up the slack.
Gorman Street Pub (2300 Gorman St.; 854-4440; gorman streetpub.com ) has only been in the game since early this month, but it shows potential for going deep in the bracket.
Owner Robert Guy has given the old Jax Sports Grill a makeover, opening up the interior, installing new TVs and priming the taps with a selection of brews ranging from Stone IPA to Aviator Devil's Stomping Ground Tripel.
Guy also revamped the kitchen for young chef Matt McNeill, who brings to the table a Johnson & Wales culinary degree and work in local restaurants Azure Grille, Jujube and Dos Perros. McNeill, who hails from Brooklyn by way of Philadelphia, says his Philly cheesesteak is guaranteed to make the highlight reel. Other promising players include 8-ounce burgers made with house-ground beef (turkey and veggie burgers are also available), hanger steak, house-breaded fried shrimp with hand-cut fries, and three-cheese mac and cheese topped with tomato, basil and breadcrumbs.
In Garner, Characters Quarters (1506 U.S. 70; 662-5119; charactersquarters.com) has only been playing a few months, but it also has attracted a loyal fan base - some of whose caricature portraits you'll see on the walls. Wait staff costumes range from police officer to geisha girl, all part of the "Character" theme of the place.
The menu includes fried pickle chips, coconut shrimp, signature open-face hot dogs and the Characters Burger, a jaw-stretching tower of two 8-ounce char-grilled patties, sautéed onions, mushrooms, bacon, three cheeses and fries on an oversize bun crowned with a pickle spear.
An entree offering ranging from orange-glazed salmon to baby back ribs is as diverse as the clientele, which includes locals playing corn hole after-hours and business travelers from nearby hotels.