Sports bar's only gimmick is good food
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., April 12, 2013
Happy Hour: Mon.-Tue., 4pm-close, Wed.-Sat., 4-7pm
Cover 32700 W. Anderson #202, 374-1121
Mon.-Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-12mid; Sun., 11am-10pm; happy hour: Mon.-Tue., 4pm-close; Wed.-Sat., 4-7pm
When I was trying to come up with the best way to describe successful sports bars, the recurring idea was the admonition in an old number from the Fifties musical Gypsy. In the song, seasoned strippers map out the road to success for the young Gypsy Rose Lee, singing, "You gotta get a gimmick, if you wanna get ahead!" Sports bars are known by their gimmicks, using suggestive names (Hooters, Bikinis); scantily clad female servers (ditto); sports-related names (Champions, Third Base, Legends); cutting-edge, big-screen TV technology (Cool River Cafe, Dave & Buster's); craft beer and custom cocktails (this attraction is growing); plus salty and spicy, guy-oriented snack food that encourages drinking (all of these places).
So what's the gimmick at Cover 3? That would be good food. I honestly hadn't even thought of Cover 3 as much of a restaurant, but then colleagues began raving in print about their burgers, and I started getting press releases about wine or cocktail dinners paired with very inviting menus. So recently, I invited some friends to join me for dinner there, and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of most of the food. For those who are new to Austin, the space now occupied by Cover 3 has housed any number of restaurants over the past 30 years, everything from Lock, Stock, & Barrel to a Flores Mexican Restaurant. The interior is now dark and clubby, with comfortable booths, tables, and banquettes, plus strategically placed big-screen TVs – the only element of Cover 3 that reads "sports bar" to me. The midweek crowd was a mix of families and business types, and the game of choice was college hoops. The friendly servers are knowledgeable about the food, although our server did err on the side of cheerleaderlike enthusiasm ("Is everything still tasting wonderful?") a few too many times for my taste.
The appetizer menu features a list of mouthwatering snacks that come in portions plenty large enough to share. We started with Greek Island Calamari ($11.95), Batter Fried Gulf Shrimp & Oysters ($12) with Parmesan fries, and a plate of three Brick Chicken Sliders ($12), also served with Parmesan fries. While my guests were busy eating calamari and the tangle of salad greens on the platter, I was delighted to discover several deep-fried artichoke hearts in among the pile. I contented myself with dipping those tangy treasures in the remoulade and cocktail sauces partnered with the oysters and shrimp. In that oversized bowl, the Gulf oysters were plump and briny, and the good-sized shrimps sweet and toothsome in their peppery batter, nestled atop a tangle of the thin and crispy fries. The chicken sliders were the only air ball in this quarter; not that they weren't okay, just unremarkable in comparison to the slam dunks of the seafood, artichoke hearts, and fries.
The seafood dishes in the opening round were so successful that two of my guests chose seafood entrées, while another friend opted for one of the well-reviewed burgers, and I chose to check out the house chicken-fried steak. In this course, the seafood faltered while the beef shot three-pointers from Downtown. The lemon-caper butter on the Sautéed Gulf Snapper With Fresh Blue Crab ($19.95) was fairly bland, and the delicate Jumbo North Atlantic Scallops ($21.95) were overwhelmed by bacon. The sandy scallops could have also used a better wash and a better sear to create a crunchier exterior. Turned out that the Mac-n-Cheese ($6) side dish was the hit of the entrée course on that side of the table – homemade and creamy with just a sprinkling of crispy bread crumbs. The Chicken-Fried Beef Tenderloin ($14.95) was truly luxurious, perfectly cooked meat in a crunchy, peppery crust reclining on an enormous serving of garlic mashed potatoes, under a mantle of mild green chile gravy. It was clearly enough food for two people, but the leftovers made a satisfying lunch the next day. Our friend's Hickory Burger ($10.95) was every bit as good (and messy to eat) as all the rave reviews we'd read. Cooked medium rare to order, it had a bold hickory barbecue sauce flavor. Rather than have more fries, he opted for the house slaw as a side, and it was another winner: fresh, cool, and crisp in an astringent citrus marinade, a healthy pairing with the hearty burger.
Powering on through dessert, we were delighted by the puckery tingle of the Key Lime Pie ($7) and gobsmacked by the warm cylinder of Toffee Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding ($7) sitting in a pool of elegant crème anglaise, under a melting orb of vanilla bean ice cream. A word to the wise: The dessert portions are enormous, so ask for extra spoons and plan to share. In fact, plan to share Cover 3 with friends sometime soon. The good food will be there, and watching games is optional.