As you approach through Big Als packed parking lot, a tall wood-beamed entrance rises over you. Once inside, it feels like a bowling alley on the edge of a stadium swallowed by a casino.
My wife and I followed the sound of a crowd past a concession stand and to the restaurant. I had been musing about what size of television it must take to get people out of their houses now that everyone has wall-sized flat-screens and home theater ...
And then I saw it: Monday Night Football as big as the movies.
A 14-by-55-foot screen is the focal point of a cavernous, towering arena. Murals of Bronco Stadium and the just-about-life-size Kibbie Dome are on each side of the room, the images stretching believably toward a painted night sky. In the rear, a skybox bar overlooks the space. The whole place roars with energy. Families cheer alongside decked-out fans drinking from towers of beer.
Its an experience unlike anything else in the Treasure Valley.
The huge menu, available everywhere in the facility, aims to satisfy every possible game day whim: the expected burgers, sandwiches, and nachos, plus pizza, milkshakes, and breakfast served all day.
The dizzying atmosphere compels you to order enough food to fill the space around you. We started with a Grand Slam Platter ($16). Just about everything from the appetizer menu comes on one plate potato chips and dip, mozzarella sticks, chicken strips, onion rings, wings tossed in your choice of a half-dozen sauces. This is the kind of thing that only makes sense when it sits between you and a giant TV, the first few bites wildly tasty with beer, but exponentially less appealing as it cools. Its exactly the sum of its parts, none exceptional.
The Tailgater Platter ($22) is a BBQ sampler on a similar scale, with more promise: grilled chicken thighs, eye-watering spicy smoked sausage, and pork ribs crisped maybe a minute too long on the broiler.
I liked the sugary-edged jalapeno cornbread, and we were able to substitute out the fries for a side of baked mac and cheese, which arrived too soupy.
On this night, the staff was simply overwhelmed. The lone bartender making drinks for the whole waitstaff and serving everyone the length of bar top looked out at the room with drowning eyes. Messages from our server to the kitchen never reached the food runner. The table in front of us sat un-bused for half an hour. It was a very busy night, and not the employees fault.
To his credit, our server Tyler took ownership to fix the most egregious error. One piece of chicken had been served severely underdone, and though we made it clear we werent looking for any grand gesture, he had our meal discounted and apologized sincerely.
On another visit, the food was markedly better, with no hitches in execution from the kitchen. A smoked brisket sandwich ($12.50) was solid, with thin-sliced beef, bacon, Swiss, coleslaw, and habanero mayo on a warm hoagie. And we really enjoyed the honey mustard turkey burger ($11) on a chewy pretzel bun. On the side, we had a very respectable cup of clam chowder ($3 for a cup a la carte, $4 for a bowl) and a small salad with pecans, gorgonzola, and shoots of sweet pear ($5 a la carte, $7 as an entrée).
Though prices are unjustifiably high lunch with a pitcher of domestic beer was over $40 with tip it was better than average bar food.
This is food meant to be an accessory to an experience, however. While it was cool to see my team win big on the massive screen on Monday night, the situation on a Sunday afternoon was chaotic. There were a half-dozen games competing for space including on the split-up big screen with no clear map of where and when any game would be.
Many fans, including us, were upset that channels kept flipping in the middle of games. It seems like a silly complaint, outside the range of a food review, but it was why we were all there.
On both visits, the restaurant felt unmanaged, the staff visibly frustrated. On the second visit, we ended up leaving to watch the game somewhere a little less stressful.
Though its size and scale are a novelty that has meant booming business for Big Als in its first few months, improvements in service and communication among staff will make the difference in whether people keep coming back. For now, Ill settle for a smaller screen.
Alex Kiesig: email@example.com