We knew going in that Ducky's Sports Lounge is co-owned by Tampa Bay Ray's All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria, which certainly piqued our interest.
But there's no correlation between being a great athlete and opening a good restaurant, so we left our team loyalty at the door and strolled in on a weekday afternoon for lunch.
The atmosphere at Ducky's is upbeat and social.
It's high, open ceilings, beckoning bar, overload of big screen televisions (there's not a bad seat in the house) and frequently packed dining room (the crowd regularly spills onto the front patio in the evenings) make it an ideal spot to catch a game, grab a bite to eat, drink, and just hang out.
The four lanes of duckpin bowling — hence the restaurant's name — with smaller balls and shorter pins turns up the fun factor.
The menu at Ducky's embraces everything you'd expect at a sports bar, including pizza, chicken wings, salads, sliders, sandwiches, burgers, and a few entrees. They also serve more than 28 draft beers, including their own house pilsner.
We were greeted warmly when we arrived and led to our seats, where we immediately were sucked into Ducky's energetic vibe. We were told Longoria occasionally drops by the restaurant. But if you're not lucky enough to catch a sighting, you still can indulge in his favorite treats, which are highlighted by the number 3 on the menu.
Service here is friendly and prompt, though our server wasn't familiar enough with the menu to make suggestions.
Even though we weren't sitting at the bar — and had to go back to work (bummer) — we did try a few items from the “bar treats” menu.
Our group was intrigued by the prospect of the asparagus fritters, and they didn't disappoint. The Parmesan and sun-dried tomatoes were a kicky counterpoint to the fresh spring taste of the asparagus.
The guys at the table, who we've rarely seen eat anything remotely green, snapped 'em up.
Another standout was the candied bacon, thick duck bacon with brown sugar and a dash of cayenne pepper made for a sweet and salty treat with just a hint of heat.
An order of Mini Pretzel dogs were piping hot and crave-worthy. The American mustard aioli that accompanied them was full of flavor.
But we could have skipped the miniature deviled crabs and deviled eggs. The crabs held lump crab meat but little flavor. The eggs also were bland. Even the tiny sliver of duck bacon on top couldn't save them from oblivion.
For lunch, a Mojo Grilled Chicken sandwich with provolone cheese, banana peppers and mustard sauce on pressed Cuban bread lacked a mojo punch. Maybe it was an off day for the marinade. The sandwich came with an abundance of thin, crispy fries — more than enough to share.
The cheeseburger was large, really large, and tasty — better than most.
The flat iron steak (one of Longo's picks) was prepared dry-rubbed and grilled and dressed with a snappy vinegar, garlic and parsley Argentinean chimichurri sauce. The steak was cooked to order but could have used more of the delicious chimichurri to punch up the flavor. The sides of mashed potatoes and steamed veggies were adequate, but nothing special.
Ducky's chili is probably two-alarm (on a scale of 5) — spicy enough to get your attention, but it doesn't leave you in need of a fire extinguisher. It's a filling mix of ground duck, red beans, scallions with a little cheddar cheese on top. It also was garnished with a cracker in the shape of a duck — nice touch!
We also give two thumbs up to the duck breast quesadillas (another Longo favorite), with shredded, smoked duck layered with spicy jalapeno Colby jack cheese.
Longoria must be a big fan of kale, as a lot of the menu items with this super food had the “3” next to them.
We were initially a little worried we'd be turned off by kale overload by ordering the California salad, but instead were pleasantly surprised. You'll never think of kale in the same way after eating this salad. The kale was topped with cranberries, carrots, napa cabbage, sunflower seeds, feta cheese, duck bacon and a house vinaigrette, that was rich, creamy and paired perfectly with the leafy greens.
We wrapped up our feast with a shared slice of flan cake. The dense custard sat atop a base of chewy dark chocolate cake for a pleasant contrast of textures. The signature “flan” flavor was not really evident, however.
We paid a second visit to Ducky's on a weekend night, and the crowd was really jumping with Top 40 tunes filling the room and folks milling around the bar and patio areas. And there was a celebrity sighting — Tampa baseball legend Gary Sheffield. We still don't know what a “boutique sports lounge” is, but Ducky's is a dream for sports fans and a fun spot to chill.