There’s a strange thing about the menu at The Last Round in downtown New Bedford.
The number “1” is only used thrice.
As in, there are only three dishes that cost more than $9 (and one of those is only available on Fridays and Saturdays) at the recently opened sports bar at the intersection of Purchase and Middle Streets, where the 908 Bar used to be in the Times Building.
Of course, value isn’t the only consideration when you’re headed out to eat. The truly best spots sit at the intersection of fabulous flavor and wallet-pleasing price points. On that, The Last Round delivers, serving up quality food that the prices belie.
The business model seems simple, and beneficial to the diner: The food acts almost like a loss leader, a draw to get you to come in and order some drinks. Except the deals on adult beverages are almost as good, so you have to figure they’re banking on quantity, yet providing surprising quality.
On a recent Monday evening, about two months after their January opening, my wife and I were joined by two friends to try out the menu. I’d been a couple of times before, mostly to play ping pong (free!) and enjoy a couple beers. I’d ordered the bone-in chinese barbecue wings once and was impressed by their plumpness, crispness and the tangy, sticky sauce. (Expert tip: On Monday’s, they serve 50 cent wings from 4-10 p.m.)
The Last Round looks like a quintessential sports bar when you walk in from the Times Building lobby. Ten TVs hover over the rectangular bar -- there are 16 TVs in total -- which they moved from along the windows to the middle of the room. Where the bar used to be, along the windows overlooking the Bank of America parking lot, are now a row of high-tops, while the front of the bar houses the ping pong table on the old stage and a pool table.
The look is clean and comfortable if a little generic. The walls and massive columns inside the dining area are gray and white, matching the gray tile floor and the artwork on the walls varies from Jimmy Hendrix posters to American flag paintings, although a few touches from the historic building are nice, like the small glass windows just below the beautiful wooden ceiling.
On this quiet Monday night we were seated along the windows, while a table of 10 occupied much of the main dining space. Our busy but attentive waitress was over right away to take our drink orders, which consisted of four Miller Lites for $2.50 each (they also have Budweiser and Bud Light drafts for that price, although on this night they were out of Bud Light, as well as Angry Orchard and Stella Artois). In all, they offer 11 beers on tap, from your ordinary domestic brews to Two Roads’ Lil Heaven and Ballast Point’s Sculpin (both $6).
Our waitress warned us to get our appetizer order in quickly before the 10-top overwhelmed the kitchen, but we just weren’t ready and told her we’d wait, a decision we later regretted. We opted for the buffalo chicken dip ($7) and one of the specials, fried pickles ($7), after considering the loaded french fries (melted cheese and bacon for $6, add chili for $1.50) and the Dublin nachos (housemade potato chips topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato, scallions and served with horseradish sour cream for $9), which co-owner Mark Rossi later told me is one of their best sellers.
We did have to wait awhile for our food, but we can’t say we weren’t warned, and it appeared there was only one bartender/waitress and one cook working that night. When they arrived, the fried pickles were some of the best I’ve ever had. They were spears, not chips, so you got more garlicky vinegar tang from the pickle itself. The breading was crisp as could be, with distinctive spice and the cajun mayo that came with it added another kick. The best I’d previously had in this area were at The Pickle Jar in Falmouth, but those are also pickle chips, giving The Last Round the top spot on my fried pickle scorecard. (Random tip: It sounds atrocious, but try your fried pickle spears with peanut butter, you won’t be disappointed.)
The Buffalo chicken dip arrived bubbling in a large ramekin with a massive side of tortilla chips. Because I was devouring the fried pickles so quickly and the timing on our meal was off -- the entrees came right on the heels of the apps -- I didn’t eat too much of the dip, which consisted of buffalo chicken, cream cheese and sour cream. It was creamy and fairly mild, much less spicy than the fried pickles. Our friends had ordered it before and it had been a little watery, but on this day, the consistency was perfect for scooping with the chips.
Browsing through the rest of the menu, which has been refined since the opening, there’s a couple of salads for $6 (Caeser and mixed greens) that you can add chicken, steak or turkey to for $3-6. There’s a half-dozen sandwiches, from the Gobbler (oven-roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and mayo on an asiago baguette with fries for $8) and the No. 908 Steak Bomb (shaved steak with onions, peppers, mushrooms and American cheese, with fries for $8).
Our friend Carol ordered off the pizza section, selecting the Philly steak and cheese ($8 for what would be a medium at most pizza joints). The thin, crispy crust, which was a touch overcooked, was topped with a generous portion of shredded steak, onions, mushrooms and peppers, but not much of the house-made sauce, which left it a little dry. It was probably the least-enjoyed item we ordered, although Carol noted she’d had the Hawaiian pizza, which was better.
My wife went for the mac and cheese ($8) and added chicken ($3). She asked if they could use chicken fingers instead of the buffalo chicken on the menu, and they made the swap without hesitation and with a smile. While the menu said penne pasta, the large portion that arrived was actually cavatappi, with a smooth house cheese blend and a crispy panko breading on the top. It was exactly the gooey, filling comfort food she was looking for, and it was quickly devoured. The only complaint was it was served in an oval ramekin -- much like you’d expect a Shephard’s Pie -- that was sitting on another plate, but it didn’t sit flat due to the shape of the plate, leaving the ramekin rattling around.
Our other friend, Sam, went for the highest-priced item on the menu, the $14 bourbon steak tips, served with two sides for $14. His came cooked just as he asked, medium, with a large helping of smashed potatoes and thinly shredded coleslaw with a light mayo dressing. The steak tips were well-seasoned (if not particularly bourbon-ey) with a crunchy char on the outside that gave way to a tender, melt-in-your-mouth bite. Besides the fried pickles, it was the best thing I tried. The potatoes were substantial and well textured, if a little light on seasoning.
I went with one of their half-pound Angus burgers, the bacon bbq, served with fries for $9. If you’re looking for one of the best deals in town, for $7 you can get their American classic cheeseburger with fries (and a pickle!). The burger came cooked medium, as I’d asked, with large slabs of bacon and plenty of raw red onion under a brioche bun. The onion, placed below the patty, provided a nice crunch, the bacon was crispy and salty and the bun fluffy but absorbent. The burger itself was a tad on the dry side, and the barbecue sauce was a little bland, but the fries were crispy, hot and plentiful.
While we were all pretty stuffed -- most of the buffalo mac and cheese dip was already in a to-go container -- we went for the one dessert offering: Fried twinkies. Two deep-fried Twinkies, served with a pile of chopped strawberries and whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce, it tasted like a crispy plain donut, surprisingly not too sweet, but perfect when combined with the bright strawberry flavor and the airy whipped cream.
When it was all said and done, we couldn’t believe our bill. For two appetizers, four entrees, one dessert and 10 beers, it was just $91, including tax. Take out the $25 worth of Miller Lite and my one diet cola, and the food bill came to barely over $60.
Yogi Bear says he’s smarter than the average bear, well The Last Round serves up food that’s better than the average sports bar, at rock-bottom prices most restaurants can’t match.