Today marks the official opening of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, opening with lunch service today at 11am. The restaurant's opening comes with might be an all-time record for downtown Durham space upfit -- only about 90 days from start to finish, though having the brand spankin' new Diamond View II doesn't hurt.
It also marks the second location for the restaurant, currently based in Glenwood South and family-operated. The opening comes after a week-long soft-opening culminating in a pre-launch dinner last night.
The comments section here when the arrival was announced was energetic to say the least, with the restaurant's arrival starting to get chopped up into lots of different lenses about what Durham "is" or "isn't," and with the presence of the word "Sports" in the restaurant's name eliciting a number of different reactions.
I had a chance to have dinner there last night and walked away pretty surprised -- in a good way.
(Full disclosure: the meal was complimentary, though the owners have been very direct in asking for positive and negative feedback, and I'm not spinning the review in any way based on the meal -- but it is only fair to disclose.)
Of course there's a sports theming to the place, though it's largely found in the television sets, which are... comprehensive, covering last night every ESPN (including, I suspect, "The Ocho") as well as MLB, NFL and NHL specialty channels.
But it's not a typical sports bar atmosphere, either. For one thing, there was no audio coming from the sets, so you can look but you're not inundated with the sound. (I'd imagine that'll change for major events like the Super Bowl.)
For another, sports related decoration is rather sparse.
Wood tones and floor-to-ceiling glass separating some parts of the dining room draw much more attention -- as does the well-lit corner space at the DBAP. Sports memorabilia is to a minimum, and frankly, if you're seated in the right seats facing away from the television sets, you'd never know you were in a "Sports Cafe."
In other words, it's not a Carolina Ale House or Champps; not that there's anything wrong with those, but it's a very different vibe.
The closest analogy I can make is to BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, a chain of upscale casual dining restaurants, though Tobacco Road lacks the on-site microbrewery.
And one other thing: the food is actually quite fresh, and quite good.
There's an emphasis on local ingredients wherever possible, and everything on the menu is made fresh daily; you can actually order a burger medium or medium rare, for what that's worth.
My litmus test last night was Mrs. BCR, who despises sports but likes casual American dining as an occasional option. She was not enthused when I suggested we try the pre-opening meal, but she was up for a new adventure.
She ended up quite impressed with the place, and we both figured we'd be adding it to our restaurant rotation.
It helps that it'll be one of the few places in Durham with really expanded hours: 11am until 2am, seven days a week.
The outdoor space overlooks the ballpark -- as one friend I ran into there last night said, it's perfect for watching Bulls games -- with an outdoor bar still under construction. Once the new Diamond View III opens up, abutting the patio area shared by Tobacco Road and the DBAP, it'll be located right in the heart of American Tobacco's eastern side.
The outdoor space will also host live music once the restaurant gets going, something I expect will bring out substantial crowds to the restaurant.
Incidentally, the restaurant is still holding a contest for the five non-profit finalists in its grand opening contest -- Clean Energy Durham, the Emily K Center, the Exchange Clubs' Child Abuse Prevention Center, Genesis Home and Threshold. Visit their blog to vote for your favorite; the winner will get $50 for every home run the Bulls hit this season, something pegged on the order of $7,000 or so to the winning non-profit.