First Bite

Surprises Await You at the Flashy Sporting Club

Chef EJ Miller puts time and effort into a menu that'll make other Washington Avenue spots blush.

By Timothy Malcolm November 27, 2020

The Houston Pie at the Sporting Club.

Image: Corine Michel

If you're going to a Washington Avenue hangout, you're probably not there to be impressed with the food coming from the kitchen. Let's be real: It's the place for adults to throw down a few drinks and socialize until about 9:30 or so when the floor opens and a DJ gets the party started. Studying the cheese atop the locally sourced pulled pork pizza (it's fontina) isn't a high priority activity.

The folks at So Clutch Group, who already run several louder concepts on the Washington strip, seem to understand that. They brought in EJ Miller, formerly of International Smoke and Riel, to run the kitchen at its half restaurant, half sports bar, and there's enough here to make you rethink your priorities.

Consider a refreshing starter of ceviche—red snapper, wispy julienned mango, chunks of grilled pineapple, and habanero flecks. Any old place can throw together a few elements, but here there's as much attention paid to the texture and aesthetics as the flavors of lime and coconut bursting through a wall of tropical fruit. Or dig into the bouncy ricotta, baked so it's lightly charred. It sits atop a sweet-pepper caponata and is served with toasted bread, an appetizer that's nearly impossible to put down.

Miller has always done well with meat, so look for the pizzas and entrées that get a porcine or bovine boost. For instance, he uses Feges BBQ pulled pork successfully on a pizza with rapini, tomatoes, fontina, and ricotta salata. There's also a good two-patty burger with American cheese and club sauce. 

Desserts include short cake donuts, whose sweetness is dialed back just a bit from Campari, and a chocolate crème brûlée with Golden Grahams crumble.

I recommend eating outdoors at the Sporting Club (or anywhere else you go right now, for that matter), but if you are inside, you may notice that just as dinner service picks up, the roof slides open in less than 30 seconds. This Washington Avenue spot seems to use its retractable roof more than the Astros.

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