Champions Bar and Grill, Green Bay, Wis.
When you’re a town with either a major sports franchise or a college team, it’s expected that you’re going to have a restaurant or two that’s a popular hang-out spot for people who either can’t get tickets or just want a place to hang out before the game. When your professional team is pretty much the whole reason for your town (OK, let’s be fair, Green Bay does have one heck of an awesome cooking store), it’s more likely that you’re going to have an abundance of these restaurants.
When that’s the case, you need to have something that makes you stand out, whether it’s tradition, a gimmick, an athlete’s name attached to it or an all-out dedication to your local team. Champions Bar and Grill, located in the shadow of Lambeau Field, goes with the last one. The large restaurant is covered with Packer jerseys and replica trophies, and it has made itself one of the premier places for fans who aren’t into tailgating, just want to be part of the atmosphere on a Packers gameday or want to head someplace nearby after watching the green and gold.
From the time you walk into the parking lot, you know you’re at a restaurant that focuses on football. The sign at Champions is set up to appear like it’s on a goal post, which is probably a necessary touch, given that it’s located almost next door to Brett Favre’s restaurant and it’s on Tony Canadeo Run. For those who have never been to Green Bay, almost every street within a mile of Lambeau Field is named after a former Packer, and the greatest honor a Packer can receive is to have a street named for him.
Near Tony Canadeo Run, which is named for a legendary Packers back from the 1940′s, you have Reggie White Way, Holmgren Way, Brett Favre Pass and of course,Vince Lombardi Avenue. No word on when Aaron Rodgers Drive gets put in, but that’s probably coming within the next 15 years.
Strangely, however, that no longer continues on the menu. At the time of my visit a few months ago, Champions named its burgers and other entrees after Packers greats, referencing their numbers with the meals. It was common to find entrees named after players like Bart Starr and Herb Adderley in the past, and Champions’ signature Packer Burger had Ray Nitschke’s 66 attached to it, saying “Ray would have destroyed this one!”
The only one left now is Gilbert Brown’s Gravedigger Burger, which pretty much has to stay on after the fame it gained from Man vs. Food attempting to take down the 93-ounce behemoth, named for the massive lineman’s jersey number. Translated into an easier measurement, that would be slightly more than 5 3/4 pounds of burger. Basically, if you can take it down in one sitting, you’re either Takeru Kobayashi, or you’re insane. Actually, I’m not sure what the difference is.
Mammoth challenge aside, the food is a very high-quality. On my visit, I had to go with the Packer Burger, which consists of a burger with the standard toppings, plus American, Swiss and ham. If you haven’t had ham on a burger, it’s definitely worth trying out. Two different kinds of meat wouldn’t seem to work that well together on the sandwich, but it really does. The ham adds another layer of flavor and provides more juice than its cousin of bacon.
Juice isn’t a problem at Champions, however, because the burger is very juicy on its own. When you have a burger, juiciness is an important quality, because if it’s too dry, it’s going to rob it of its flavor and you’ll be reaching for your drink after every bite, which ruins the taste. Not so at Champions. The tastes work well together, resulting in a burger worthy of the Packer name. Even a Bears fan could enjoy this one.
Besides the burgers, Champions features mostly standard sports bar fare, offering pizzas, sandwiches, soups, salads, appetizers and plenty of beers (this is Wisconsin, after all). They’re broken into categories with football terms, such as first downs (appetizers) and tackles (entrees), but again, all of them have standard names.
It’s kind of a shame that Champions seems to be having an identity crisis since owner Ron Enke gave way to new management, because it’s totally unnecessary. It’s a good restaurant loaded with Packers memorabilia that can own its status as a Packer bar, but it appears to be trying to split the difference between Packer haven and quality restaurant. Just let the food stand for itself and allow the creativity with the names, guys. You’ve got a good product here.
Time to go: Lunch or dinner, and depending on the atmosphere you want and the wait you want, you either want to be here on a Packers Sunday, or avoid it like the plague on Sundays. On Sundays, it’s likely to be out-the-door crowds.
Wait during my visit: None. This is what happens when you come when the Packers aren’t playing in a town of 100,000.
Location: Champions is at 1007 Tony Canadeo Run, Green Bay, Wis. It’s probably less than a mile from Lambeau.
Parking: There’s plenty. Green Bay doesn’t need spaces unless it’s a home game day.
Cost: Most meals are around $10 here. You’ll be fine on cost.
Seating arrangement: It’s mostly stools and bar seating here.
Website: Champions Bar and Grill
Specialty items: Burgers and memorabilia