Kicking up sports bar food
It’s the place you go to when you want to catch up on all the happenings in the world of sports. The place where you and your friends can get as rowdy as you want arguing between yourselves and then at the athletes on the television screen as to what they should or should not have done(as if they can hear you). It’s also the place for some of the best sports bar grub around the country.
And it’s just not your ordinary sports bar food that’s on the menu. It’s sports bar food kicked up a notch or two with Bahamian influences which makes for some interesting menu items at the Prop Club Sports Bar& Grill at the Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
Familiar with the quesadilla, at Prop Club it’s a Jerk Conch Quesadilla served witha tomato okra salsa. And who doesn’t love spinach dip with mounds of tortilla chips waiting to be dunked into the cheesy goodness. At Prop Club Sports Bar&Grill, grouper is added to the sports bar staple. And a burger can be had as just a regular burger, or you can make it island exotic, topping it with a guava barbecue sauce. We’ve all heard of a Chicken BLT, well at Prop Club this ordinary sandwich is extraordinary as a Curry Chicken BLT and the salmon is glazed with tamarind. And we’ve all had pizzas with all the meat or vegetarian, or just plain cheese, but at Prop Club it’s definitely Bahamianized with jerk conch or curry crab meat for a different twist. And that’s just scratching the surface of the items on offer at the Prop Club Sports Bar& Grill. It’s a menu that is exciting and one restaurant head chef Kirkland Russell is proud of.
“I tried not to lose the theme of the restaurant being a sports bar, recognizing that most of our customers have experienced a sports bar somewhere,”said Chef Russell. What I tried to do was look at the concept used in places like TGI Friday’s and then I made our menu competitive and appealing to the international customers as well as the locals by adding local infusion into the dishes.”
The 43-year-old chef who has worked at Our Lucaya for 10 years says the menu they produce is outstanding.
“You would find a spinach dip almost anywhere you go in an average sports bar, but our addition of grouper makes it something special and you get a nice hearty dip with tortillas and fried some naan bread to go along with the tortilla, which is served bubbling hot in a cast iron pan. It’s not only one of the top sellers, but we have people who come into Prop Club, come back for the Reef Grouper and Spinach Dip again and again. And the locals love it.”
It’s a dish Chef Russell always recommends, and which he has yet to hear a negative comment about. It’s also an easy dish that you can recreate at home. He says if you can make an alfredo sauce to serve with your pasta, you can make their Reef Grouper and Spinach Dip as it’s the same concept.
“You saute shallots or onions or whatever you’re using as your base, add fresh herbs, garlic and basil and if you want, you can put a little thyme in it, that’s fine. If you don’t have grouper, you can substitute tilapia, snapper, bass–whatever fish you want even conch or chicken. It’s a very versatile dish and it’s simple, saute onions, deglaze it with a little wine if you
want, add your fish saute it, add heavy cream and milk and bring it to a boil, add cheeses[he likes a Parmesan and cheddar combination]which actually what thickens the dish.”Chef Russell adds the spinach at the last minute, for a bubbling hot, delicious appetizer.
And you can’t catch your game of choice without chowing down on their West End Ribs(dry-rubbed baby back ribs served with guava barbecue sauce, regular or sweet potato fries, pineapple coleslaw and mango-guava chutney). Unlike most home kitchens, the ribs at Prop Club are served dry-rubbed with the wet sauce on the side, allowing you to dip to your heart’s content. The reason for this, Chef Russell wanted to bring”real authentic ribs” to the restaurant.
“When I lived in Living in Miami, I used to get some ribs from these guys who had this big outdoor smoker, and they would cook ribs all day–24 hours a day–and I always felt that those dry-rubbed ribs tasted better.” Since being introduced to those dry-rubbed smoker-cooked ribs, he says he’s never eaten it with sauce.
“Using a dry rub, you actually get the real flavor of the meat. When you put the sauce on it to cook it, you don’t taste the meat you taste the sauce, so if you dry rub the meat, cook it and allow customers to dip it in the sauce, you actually still taste the meat and you get a better appreciation for the meat.”
He says when he decided to put ribs on the menu at Prop Club he knew he wanted them to be authentic. They created their own dry rub and the BBQ sauce that is flavored with guava is served as a dipping sauce on the side for their meaty three-down ribs.
And you don’t have to have a grill to recreate Chef Russell’s delicious ribs. He says they can be made right in the oven. Whatever your rib of choice–whether from the pig or cow.”Baby back ribs will cook quicker. The average cooking time for an hour of baby back ribs is a minimum of an hour–the average minimum time for three down ribs is an hour and a half, and the beef ribs is two hours.
Chef Russell’s ribs are served with pineapple coleslaw as he keeps the meal a little tropical. The pineapple coleslaw is also served as a topping for the Prop Club’s Reef Grouper Sandwich. Grouper filets are seasoned, dusted in flour and fried crisp, served on a kaiser bun with sour orange aioli and the pineapple coleslaw. And you taste the pineapple in the slaw because they put a lot in it.
“When I first tried it everyone was like boy you think this will work, they tried it and liked it. To me it tastes better than putting raisins in the slaw,”says the chef.
Their delicious Curry Chicken BLT came about as a result of a mere thought. The chef had an idea for a curry pasta dish, where he marinated the chicken in milk or heavy cream and added curry powder to the milk. He fried it, tried it, thought it tasted good, threw some bacon, lettuce and tomatoes on it and came up with his tasty sandwich that made it onto the menu.
“Most dishes mind you are trial and error and experimenting. And if you understand flavors, you know this would go good with this or that and boom you have a dish,” he says.
The chef who has 10 years under his belt at the resort and has worked at all of the resort’s outlets, says heading up the Prop Club Sports Bar& Grill gives him the opportunity to do some things that he enjoys.
And he’s always been around cooks. The last child in a family of nine, he grew up in a family of cooks–his father was a cook, and his brother owns a restaurant, says he fell into the culinary arts by accident at the age of 16.
“Mary Nabb was given a mandate to organize a culinary program on Grand Bahama to mirror the one in Nassau, they advertised for a few months, but did not get enough applicants–she got only four, she was told they could not invest the kind of money they wanted on just four persons. One day she said to me:’Kirkland your family has a restaurant how would you like to do a program to learn how to cook and we’ll pay you$60 per week?’The promise of the money was the draw for him. Chef Russell ended up being the valedictorian of the two-year program which is now known as the apprentice chef program.
The chef says McNabb, realizing his potential visited his home told his parents she was sending him to culinary school in Miami(the parents had to pay for it of course)and one week later he said she took him to Florida to see the school. After graduating, he says McNabb gave him two weeks freedom, then flew him off to school. Russell has been in the kitchen ever since
It’s no wonder the Bahamian influenced menu at Prop Club Sports Bar& Grill is”right up his alley”as he’s the kind of chef who says corned beef and white rice is his favorite dish and that he likes big fish, no matter what kind. As long as it’s big, he’ll eat it. And every other month he says he has to cook a pot of peas soup and dumplings to satisfy his craving for this local specialty. He’s even made this classic Bahamian dish with chicken which he said was”off the chain.”He boasts that no one in The Bahamas can make a pot of peas soup and dumplings better than he can. And he says he’s tested this for himself having traveled the country extensively.