With apologies to Charles Dickens, dining at Sportivo Primo at The Antlers hotel was neither the best of meals nor the worst of meals.
Restaurant manager Kevin DeSousa did his best to ensure it was not the latter by literally running after us as we left on my first visit. Service had been slow, some food was subpar, and attention to detail was lacking.
DeSousa, not knowing I was there to review, pleaded with us to give Sportivo Primo another chance, assuring that everything would be better the next time. His sincerity and the knowledge that everyone and every place has an off day prompted me to give the eatery that second chance.
The next visit for lunch was, indeed, better in terms of food prep and focus, but the kitchen staff remained remarkably unhurried. The open grill area provides the opportunity to see the cooks in action. On both occasions, however, they appeared to be moving in slo-mo.
The dining room is long and bright; the open kitchen and a dark wood bar are along one wall. On both visits, Sportivo initially was almost empty, although more people did wander in as we ate.
I like Sportivo Primo's menu because everything is on one page, and the offerings are eclectic - from pulled pork sliders to soft-shell tacos, from a Buffalo chicken sandwich to pan-seared Colorado trout. The options are across the board. (Duca's Neapolitan Pizza shares space with Sportivo but has its own menu and prep area.)
We started with a cup of the soup of the day: potato cheddar and ale ($3.99.) The thin film coating the soup was off-putting. Once past that, this thick-enough-to-eat-with-a-fork puree of cheesy potatoes with the slightest suggestion of beer was almost a meal in itself because it was so filling.
The Reuben sandwich ($9.99) was a good rendition of the classic. The ratios of corned beef, melted cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing were evenly balanced on the dark, marbled rye.
Less impressive was Simple Grilled Salmon ($16.99). Grill marks were indistinguishable; the fish was entirely blackened. Roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes and cubes of perfectly ripe avocado provided much-needed juiciness. Ironically, the accompanying roasted fingerling potatoes were undercooked. DeSousa suggested an order of roasted Brussels sprouts, which sounded like a good idea, but some were al dente, some hard to chew.
Our server, although pleasant, was rarely seen. She apparently was busy with an event outside the dining room.
At lunch, the complimentary chips with tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip, were placed on the table almost before we had a chance to read the menu. These were missing from the first visit, although they were served to others.
Everything about the Brussels sprout Caesar salad ($10.99) was delightful, especially because it was a surprise in its execution and taste. I expected the mini-cabbage-like veggie to be mixed among Romaine lettuce. Instead, the salad was composed entirely of sliced Brussels sprouts coated with a traditional garlicky Caesar dressing, topped with croutons and shredded Parmesan cheese. For an extra $4, grilled chicken breast was added. The overall creative spin was impressive.
Equally enjoyable was the fried green tomato BLT ($9.99). The heavy-breaded tomatoes were a little on the oily side, but the lemon aioli and bacon jam were a treat on toasted rosemary sourdough.
The only issue with the second visit was the time it took from placing our order to receiving our meals. Even with this singular misstep, our Sportivo Primo meal was an improvement.