ESPN Club is the restaurant and bar on the BoardWalk that you probably know is busy on Saturdays and Sundays during football season. And that may be the extent of your knowledge.
And you’re not wrong. It is exactly that. Typically, when somebody asks me where on property they should watch “the game,” I recommend Splitsville at Disney Springs. They’ll be showing whatever you want to see and the space is so mammoth that you won’t find a long line outside waiting to squeeze into a seat at the bar. Disney Springs is also typically easier to get to for those staying outside of the Crescent Lake area given the dedicated buses from every resort on property.
But you might be surprised to find how pleasant ESPN Club is on your typical weekday afternoon.
There’s nearly 100 monitors around the restaurant and each is hooked up to a satellite feed.
If the game you want isn’t on nearby, try the bathroom, where there’s monitors at every stall. And they will change the channel for you in the restaurant should you put in a request.
Otherwise, ESPN Club is similar to a lot of sports bars, though the number of signed jerseys and other pieces of authentic memorabilia hung around the restaurant should impress.
The beer list is somewhat extensive with more than 20 bottle choices and eight available on draft, in addition to moderately-priced cocktails. I typically recommend ESPN Club over Big River Grille, which is the brewpub on the BoardWalk. You can easily pick a half dozen beers off this list that will taste better than anything Big River is trying to do.
Cigar City’s Jai Alai is the way to go if you like IPAs. At 60 ounces each, you should come away with almost four pints per pitcher, which is less than you’d pay for the same draft at the new Ale & Compass Restaurant/Lounge, where 16 ounces will run you $8.50.
ESPN Club has otherwise consolidated its entire food menu onto just one large sheet.
The offerings are probably closer to what you’d expect from your local neighborhood dive (Applebee’s) than past menus. I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed the Lobster Bites with Pico de Gallo, Cucumber Mango Salsa, and Mini Pitas from a couple of years ago. A Shrimp and Avocado Salsa with House-fried Corn Chips is still available for $13. Chicken Nachos at $21 seems kind of nutty.
The $11 “Dingers – Boneless Chicken tossed in your choice of Sauce – Medium, Hot, Flame, Southern-style Barbecue, or Buffalo Blue Cheese” are a popular, safe choice. They’re “just” chicken nuggets, but the breading is light with a lot of juicy chicken inside.
On my most recent visit, we started with the $12 “Loaded Tots – Tater Tots, Smoked Brisket, Beer Cheese Sauce, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Pico de Gallo, Green Onion.”
They were fine as far as bar food goes – the tots were hot and crispy and the “smoked brisket” at least didn’t “feel” particularly microwaved. The beer cheese sauce was appropriately creamy and was backed up by the “real” flavor of some cheap cheddar cheese shreds. The onions and pico freshened things up a bit. As a $12 shareable, it was a good amount of food for the money. And while I wouldn’t specifically seek another basket out, they were fine.
I don’t ordinarily refer to hamburgers as “handsome,” but I thought the $19 “Smokehouse Burger – Beef Burger, Smoked Tillamook Cheddar, Jalapeño, Bacon, Onion Straw, Chipotle Aïoli” was exactly that.
There’s an elegance here that you don’t often see with each ingredient layered on top of one another, even after taking off the top and exposing the superstructure.
And it was cooked to a perfect medium with a bold beefy flavor. All of the other ingredients were incredibly fresh – a great tang from the aioli and spice from the peppers. Even the crispy onion straws were coated in a nice mixture of salt, pepper, and spices along with the crispy, meaty bacon. We’re not in BOATHOUSE territory here, but I was expecting ESPN to phone it in and they very much did not.
The thick cut steak fries were good too – crispy and packed with potato flavor.
We decided to press our luck a bit with the most-expensive entree on the menu in the $25 “St. Louis-style Pork Spareribs – Slow-cooked Pork Spare Ribs and Seasonal Barbecue Sauce served with Corn on the Cob and your choice of Side.”
This turned out to be just as big of a mistake as you would expect. The ribs weren’t “bad,” but we’re distinctly in food services territory here. On the plus side, it’s a sizable stack of meat and they were just fine as far as $16 fast food racks of ribs go. Unfortunately, they’re $25.
It does come with the football toothpick though. Which is priceless.
Corn on the cob is not your wisest decision either. It’s not going to be fresh.
Ditto on the forgettable, mushy coleslaw.
Two visits ago, I ordered the defunct “Old World Bavarian Burger – Grilled Sausage, Potato Latke, Smoked Bacon Kielbasa, and Lager-infused Mustard Emulsion on a Toasted Butter Bun.” It actually worked better than you might expect with the sauerkraut contrasting nicely with the tangy mustard sauce, salty sausage, and meaty hamburger. Even the latke works well, adding a crispy, buttery potato flavor with a little bit of onion. It’s not currently available, but it’s another example of a crazy-sounding burger that somehow comes together.
At $6-$8, dessert may impress as well, here with what was the $6 “Vanilla-Sour Cream Cheesecake and Graham Cracker Crust with a Salted Caramel Sauce” last year.
Overall, what might initially have you considering ESPN Club is probably the reason why you don’t want to go. On a Saturday or a Sunday during football season or during another major sporting event, the restaurant will be slammed and service and food quality will suffer because of it. You’ll either need to arrive an hour or more before the start or be prepared to wait 60+ minutes after your game starts.
If there’s another sporting event that you’re interested in during the day – the Olympics, World Cup, NASCAR, Golf, Champions League, Bloggers Fighting to the Death, or what have you, then ESPN Club is a fun way to enjoy those games that you may not be able to find on your resort room’s television. ESPN Club only takes reservations during weekdays for lunch. For a while, they had done guaranteed seating for a stated minimum buy. So if you committed to spending $50 during your visit, then they would reserve you a seat. I haven’t seen those signs for a while, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s no longer ever offered.
But ESPN Club probably is the most casual restaurant in the Crescent Lake area, which may be what you’re looking for in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. It’s basic bar food for the most part, but the burgers should impress. And they’ll have the Roma versus Qarabag FK game on if that’s what you want to watch.