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Home team delivers at new sports lounge

Robert and Tracie Wood didn't need to do much research to figure out what kind of business venture best suited their lifestyle.

"We just love having a lot of people over to our house," said Tracie Wood, 39. "We look at sports there and hang out. We were looking to invest in something we could enjoy. We figured, why not? We can have fun and enjoy friends and family at the same time. We'll just bring them here."

A sports bar seemed to be a natural fit. Located at 1147 Broad St., the End Zone Sports Bar and Grill opened in May in what used to be a Chinese restaurant. The professionally signed, brightly interiored emporium is tucked between Ye Olde Fireside Inn and KFC.

The Woods work the floor during evenings and weekends, while their daughters, Jennifer, 22, and Erica, 19, take orders, serve, clear tables, write up tabs and smile for the daytime crowd. With six other employees on the payroll, all family friends, the business is a veritable home team effort.

Banners touting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Devil Rays, NASCAR and several brew brands hang cheek by jowl from overhead open rafters, stirred by ceiling fans.

Two 52-inch big-screen televisions flash sports action from opposite corners of the room, while two 27-inch screens aim elsewhere, so no dining fan in the 70-seat restaurant is denied their daily sports fix.

But the End Zone doesn't just cater to spectator sports. Coin operated pinball and video game machines invite players to golf, shoot bear and moose or cruise down the road in trailblazing vehicles.

"I haven't seen these kind of games in sports bars," said Tracie Wood.

But what brings an instant grin to the face of a first-time customer are the checker and chess boards, pieces all aligned for play, on many of the tables. And tucked against the salt and pepper shakers is a deck of Uno cards. Jennifer Wood credits a customer with the idea.

"One night a guy came in here and said why don't you have some games while people wait, so my mom went out and got them," she said.

Robert, 38, works for an oil company, while Tracie is employed by a furniture-appliance rental firm. Both put in their hours at their full-time jobs before heading to the End Zone in the evenings.

The Woods' sports creativity extends to the menu. "On the Green" are the salads. "Dugout Dogs," "End Zone Treats" and a "PeeWee Menu" reinforce the sports theme.

Luncheon diner Jeanne Craig, eyes blinking at a mound of wings, held up a sticky staple of sports bar cuisine.

"This is (the size of) a leg," she said, attacking it with knife and fork. "The sauce is really excellent," she said, critiquing the "medium-hot" she ordered.

"I think they're really good," said Craig.

That's praise for chef Paul McGrantham, former chef at Tampa restaurants and the now-closed Catcher's Mitt sports bar, who presides over the kitchen.

Portions, served in parchment-paper-lined plastic baskets, are generous. Craig and her fellow diner carried out Styrofoam boxes containing half an order of crisply fried appetizer mushrooms that arrived sizzling hot, half of the wings and half of a tasty fried grouper sandwich swimming in tartar sauce, lettuce and tomatoes.

Erica Woods didn't blink when Craig asked for both blue cheese and ranch dressing for the mushrooms. No extra charge.

"I got the refill without asking," said Craig, gesturing to her tall glass of sweetened iced tea.

A restaurant with those kinds of satisfied customers is a boon to any community, said Jacqueline Morris, executive director of the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

"We like any kind of business growth in Hernando County," she said, "and new residents need to explore new restaurants and our entertainment."

With the positive response from patrons, Tracie Wood said she and her husband are planning additions to make the End Zone experience more entertaining.

"We're hopefully looking to add pool tables and an outside patio area for those who want to smoke," she said. "We've had a few people who turn away because of no-smoking, but we have children and people with asthma, and we have to respect them. The patio will be cut off from the building. That way we will take care of everybody."

The End Zone's hours include "kick-off," at the bar, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; "half-time" for the kitchen, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday hours are noon to 8 p.m.

"Hours may go overtime," said Tracie Wood, "due to sporting events."

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