For football fans in New Orleans, bowling for better bar food

Football fans in New Orleans gear up for game day

The holiday season is officially behind us and Carnival season has yet to begin. For some, this is the time to sweep up the confetti, get back to the gym and maybe take it easy for a bit. But then there’s football.

Always a big football town, New Orleans will be in football frenzy mode this week. Fans are pouring in for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, turning downtown into an urban tailgating zone. NFL playoffs kick off this weekend and the airwaves are filled with a scrum of college bowl games.

The sports bars will be packed. But there are alternatives for those after something more interesting, and possibly lighter, than typical bar food when they head out to soak up the action. The three spots below are hybrids blending sports bar and full-service restaurant. They have TV screens at nearly every sightline, but their menus are as likely to work in Brussels sprouts as burgers.

Would any of these be a foodie’s first choice for a fine meal out on the town? No. But for fans with one eye on the fork and another on the first down marker, they can be clutch options.

Vitascope Hall

601 Loyola Ave., (504) 561-1234; neworleans.hyatt.com

Vitascope Hall is named for an 1890s-era movie hall on Canal Street, though for some, the more evocative reference from the past here will be Hyttops. Located inside the Hyatt Regency at practically the doorway to the Dome, it was the epitome of the 1990s sports bar.

During the hotel’s lavish post-Katrina revamp, however, the old Hyttops space was thoroughly transformed into a sleek, modern room you’d expect to find on the other side of a velvet rope. Big TVs abound — over the bar, at sofa-lined booths and in private nooks — and some can be tuned to specific games on request if your team isn’t on the giant main screen.

The menu is surprisingly diverse. It runs from spiffed-up bar food, like crawfish chorizo made into pigs in a blanket ($11.95) with a cheese and beer dunking sauce, through pizzas and burgers (including a bean and kale vegan burger) and all the way to chilled seafood platters ($18). There’s also a dedicated, and serious, sushi bar. If you’re not into raw fish, the Superdome roll ($15.95) is an edible tribute to the stadium next door mounded with fried shrimp and crumbled tempura.

Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar

1009 Poydras St., (504) 309-6530; walk-ons.com

This prominent CBD address sat vacant for six years after Hurricane Katrina, but since opening here in 2011, Walk-On’s has transformed the corner as a hub of fanfare, draft beer and waffle-cut fries. TV screens beam games across the dining rooms, from each corner of the bar and around booths equipped with self-serve beer taps (insert your credit card and a computer keeps your tab). Half-pound burgers ($8.99-$10.99) are the menu mainstays, though the turkey burger with avocado, jalapenos and cilantro at least gives the impression of restraint. The ahi tuna salad ($12.99) is more legitimately virtuous, with planks of nearly raw fish over cabbage and greens with edamame, mango and sesame dressing. On the other hand, the “onion mountain” ($6.99) brings enough onion rings to last a table of four through halftime.

Manning’s Eat Drink Cheer

519 Fulton St., (504) 593-8118

When big games are on, and especially when they’re in town, Manning’s can feel like mission control. There are all the TVs, including a junior Jumbotron made from 16 co-joined screens and fronted by plush recliners. And the venue can exude a festival-like atmosphere, with grills smoking in the courtyard and, on some game days, a DJ spinning tunes. Archie Manning developed his namesake restaurant with Harrah’s Casino, and the room doubles as a museum of memorabilia from him and his two NFL superstar sons.

While the menu can read like bar food with a Southern accent — Natchitoches meat pies ($8.50), cochon de lait cheese fries ($10.75) — the kitchen has a surprising strong point in lighter fare. Bibb lettuce and roasted peppers make the wedge salad ($6.50) more than just a delivery system for blue cheese dressing, and the tuna Niçoise ($17.75) was well-rounded and satisfying. Service has improved here markedly from Manning’s early days, and there’s finally draft beer at the bar. Order the redfish courtbouillon ($25) and you’ll have a brothy, shellfish-laden bowl at your table while you keep track of all the bowls on TV.