Located literally on Main Street in downtown Concord, the Draft Sports Bar is easy to find and easy to park at, assuming you don’t mind the steep decline of their lot that might be tougher to ascend when frozen. The entrance is less navigable, with no clear-cut point of entry and no hostess stand; you just find a seat and take it. The tables are mostly high tops spread in two areas. Closest to the open garage style doors (yet another reason to call this place "the draft") are roomier tables, a single couch and the largest TV screens. Closer to the bar are more tightly packed high tops and smaller screens. The bar itself is fairly small, with only a few seats. On my Sunday visit a half dozen NFL games played simultaneously, with the Patriots headliner on the largest screen and the volume cranked high enough to ensure never missing a play call. According to some online sources, there’s an upstairs level that once featured couches for more relaxed sports viewing, but that’s now reserved for private functions.
I visited on a Sunday afternoon about 5 minutes after the 1:00 kickoff. Seats were scarce, the action was lively and the room was filled with replica NFL jerseys for teams across the country.
Usually this section discusses the menu offerings rather than the physical menu itself, but getting an actual menu to look through proved to be a chore. Our server took our drink order without giving us menus, delivered the drinks without giving us menus and took off before I had a chance to mention the obvious. She didn’t have a chance to mention the less-obvious: that there was a popcorn machine at the rear. Not yet realizing how much this would be tiding us over, I made my way to the popcorn, filled a bowl and on my way back tracked down our server and asked to see some menus. With much eye rolling and attitude I was told that I’d have to wait. Nearly 20 minutes into the visit, a single menu arrived for two of us. A little later in the visit, I noticed some take-out menus in a wall dispenser that might have sufficed had we been alerted to them.
The word “Smokehouse” appears prominently on the restaurant menu but not the take-out menu. The smokehouse fare includes babyback ribs and pulled pork, each described as smoked. There are myriad (unsmoked) wing flavors, a few burger variations and your typical pub lineup. The ribs can be had as half or full racks with sides, or as an appetizer without sides. Pulled pork is available on a sandwich or platter. There are no combos.
Lime ginger wings, deep-fried without batter, were as crisp as you could get without being overcooked. Inside, the meat was very tender. The sauce had more ginger than lime but was well executed, delivering some sweetness balanced by an unusual savory aspect. In the photo it appears to be applied a little conservatively, but there was enough to get the job done.
A pulled pork sandwich was served dry to allow sauce sampling, and that seems to be the standard operating procedure here. The thick pile of meat between an egg washed bun was impressive at first glance, then appeared to be monotone gray in color with very little bark. It had no evidence of smoke in the color, aroma or bland flavor, though what little bark was there was enough to convince me that smoking took place. Texture was tender and a little steamy, with a consistency very similar to solid white tuna.
A half rack of babyback ribs presented petite bones (you’ll need a full rack to get anywhere close to full) with a nice surface crust featuring a generous portion of rub. The reheating wasn’t lengthy enough to get that rub fully crisped, but it wasn’t the ashen horror show I’ve endured at other joints. The outer surface had a Shake and Bake flavor. The inner meat had no signs of pink and no smokiness, but the flavor was still moderately satisfying. These ribs were overcooked to the point that the bones pulled out of the meat a little too easily; texture leaned more toward rubbery than mushy.
A six-pack carton with seven sauces squeezed in hits the table along with the barbecue plates. For the most part, these were good to very good, though they all suffered a bit during the early stages from being served right out of an ice cold refrigerator. Andy’s and Southern were tomato-based numbers that had the same Sriracha-like mouthfeel, with slight variations on the ketchup-meets-vinegar theme (without tasting like ketchup). Chipotle was my co-favorite, packing a little less ketchup, a little more heat and more savory than sweet. Co-favorite Carolina was a golden sweet and tangy mustard-based sauce very similar to the Cattlemen’s sauce of that type. Hot was slightly mustardy, with more chile pepper flavor and a lot of spices in addition to the peppers. Jack Daniel’s had a thinner, more spreadable consistency and literally tasted like Jack Daniel’s whiskey. For those who just like a straightforward old school barbecue sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s rounds out the arsenal as the only store bought sauce.
I upgraded the sandwich’s chips to fries for an extra $2.50, and it was worth it. These were hand cut with skin on and good flavor. Had they not sat around so long before being served, they might have been excellent instead of merely good (I blame the low staffing level in general more than our server or the kitchen for this one). I don’t expect much out of broccoli other than steaming it to a consistency that hits the sweet spot between al dente and mushy, and they nailed it. I do expect a little more flavor out of my cole slaw, but it was bland and lifeless.
I had to fetch silverware and napkins on my own after the entrees arrived.
The bottom line:
The Draft is a good place to catch a game, though I'm not so sure how good a place it is to eat. If you can catch your server's attention, order the wings and tread lightly with the barbecue.
Yelp reviews of The Draft Sports Bar
Urban Spoon reviews of The Draft Sports Bar