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Monday, May 27, 2024

Bayou flair: New sports bar from former NFL QB Drew Brees opens near Independence Mall

Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux boasts Cajun food and all the games one could possibly imagine in its 7,500 square feet. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON – The sports-bar game in Wilmington has gone into overtime at the newly launched Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux. The Louisiana-based chain had its grand opening in front of Independence Mall Monday, with 7,500 square feet of game-watching prowess. Every seat in the house has a view of one of almost 100 TVs perched around the eatery.

Wilmington and North Carolina fanfare appears in its decor; UNCW Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Hurricanes and Hornets all represent. Even local legend Meadowloark Lemon of Harlem Globetrotters fame makes an appearance.

Walk-On’s will showcase local matches during game days, in addition to becoming home base for Louisiana sports fans. That’s where the brand planted its roots: Louisiana State University.

The brainchild of Brandon Landry and Jack Warner, walk-ons for the LSU basketball team, while on the road in college, traveling to and from games, the two sketched out on a napkin the concept for Walk-On’s. In September 2003, Landry and Warner opened their first sports bar near Tiger Stadium. Today, napkins handed out with every drink showcase those early design ideas.

For more than a decade now, the Walk-On’s brand has grown and was even crowned by ESPN as the best sports bar in America. In 2015, the restaurant gained a new co-owner in former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, which led to its franchising nationwide. Now, 55 restaurants exist (two are co-owned in Texas by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, according to CNBC). Wilmington is the second North Carolina location; Fayetteville opened last yaer.

“Before the end of the year, the team has plans to open more than 20 total,” Brooke Sundermier, a spokesperson for the sports bar, told Port City Daily last month. “Wilmington has been on Walk-On’s radar for quite some time. It’s a great example of a city that’s perfect for visiting or settling down for the long haul.”

Wilmington franchisee Jason Sadowski opened the local spot after operating the Myrtle Beach location, and is looking to launch another location in Charlotte later this year. “There’s nothing like our authentic Cajun cuisine in the area, so I’m confident that Walk-On’s will be a hit,” he said.

For local diners the Engolias, the Deep South flavors live up to the standard Louisianan palate. “It all starts with a good roux,” Jason Engolia said during the soft opening of Walk-On’s last week. Engolia’s family are originally from the bayou, so they know a thing or two about making gumbo, jamabalya and etoufée.

Engolia’s daughter, Kaylee, ordered the bayou pasta, served with linguine, crawfish cream sauce, and fried shrimp.

“My dad makes this at home,” she said. “This is completely different than what we make, but it’s good in its own right.”

“It does it right,” Engolia added. “They got a good recipe. Their roux has a nice, dark flavor.”

Engolia ordered a shrimp po’boy, while friend Tiffany Sunderland ordered crawfish. “You can’t find a lot of Southern stuff around here — well, especially Louisiana food,” she said.

An LSU fan, Engolia said he’d return to tune in during game day. His daughter may join him, especially for a rematch on the hoops.

Walk-On’s has indoor basketball hoops and a corn hole setup outside, near the patio — also outfitted with, of course, more TVs. Full ABC permits ensure specialty cocktails, including a jalapeño margarita, rimmed with Old Bay. Also served is locally crafted beer, like Tropical Lightning from Wilmington Brewing Company.

As part of its soft opening over the last few days, Walk-On’s donated all alcohol sales to Ocean Cure — a nonprofit located in Carolina Beach that helps people with disabilities surf. According to the nonprofit, the sports bar donated over $7,000 to the cause.

As part of the Wilmington launch, the sports bar will be giving away free food for a year. Guests can enter the drawing through the restaurant’s Facebook page throughout its first full month of business; a winner will be drawn Aug. 2.

Walk-On’s will operate 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days and through midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Scroll the photo gallery below or click the first picture to open it.

Jason Engolia plays hoops at Walk-On’s soft opening last week. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Jason and Kaylee Engolia plays hoops at Walk-On’s soft opening last week. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Pete Hancock, owner of A Sign From Above, bellies up to the bar at Walk-On’s soft opening at Independence Mall. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Walk-On’s spicy margarita with a jalapeño and Old Bay rim; margaritas also come standard and skinny, served with Casamigos tequila. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Walk-On’s Boom Boom Shrimp is one of the most popular appetizers, according to spokesperson Brooke Sundermier (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Mango salsa-topped mahi makes for lighter fare, served with rice and succotash of corn, lima beans and peppers. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The fried shrimp platter is served with jumbo Gulf shrimp, waffle fries and hushpuppies, complete with tartar and cocktail sauces. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Blackened redfish appears on the menu, topped with tomato-basil relish and served on a bed of succotash. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Walk-On’s signature dessert is Krispy Kreme bread pudding. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
On the back wall of one of Walk-On’s dining rooms are pictures of UNCW players and other local sports icons, like Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters (far left). (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Walk-On’s features almost 100 TVs, so no seat in the house is without a view of the game. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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