Local Favorite - Big 10 Tavern is no ordinary sports bar
May 22, 2017 10:12AM ● Published by Kevin
Photo by Gina Birch.
“I want people to wake up and crave our food,” says Jason Bhimji, the personable owner of Big 10 Tavern in Cape Coral.
Growing up in the Cape, he got his hands wet, literally, in the restaurant business, washing dishes as a teenager, nearly failing high school as a result of so many late nights in restaurant kitchens.
Eventually working his way up to server, then bartender, he became so proficient that several restaurants hired him to revamp bar operations and bring in the crowds, including the purveyors in the space he eventually came to own.
Bhimji designed the bar at the former Ocean Breezz and worked behind it, before leaving to work in other venues. When the opportunity to buy the space came up last summer, he jumped at the chance, remembering, “After I signed the papers, I put a video on Facebook. I had 12,000 views in one day, and it’s been packed since.”
He put on a fresh coat of paint and renamed the place Big 10 Tavern, an homage to the many snowbirds in the area that hail from the “Big 10” college football states in the Midwest.
The tavern may have 16 big-screen TVs, 13 taps, an open floor plan and cornhole games, but it’s no ordinary sports bar. The owner says, “You can get pizza, burgers and wings, but we put some crazy food together, and serve until 2 am. There’s no place in the area that does that.”
It was important for the former bartender to take care of his colleagues in this industry—those who serve people all night and when their late shift is done, have nowhere to go for both food and fun.
Some of the “crazy food” he has created includes Chicken and Waffles: fluffy Belgium waffles instead of bread envelop pieces of delicious deep-fried chicken, drizzled with maple honey mustard in these delectable sliders.
Then there are the Tots: delicious nuggets of shredded, deep-fried potatoes, with a dusting of ranch seasoning, covered in your choice of toppings such as chicken bacon ranch or Greek (lettuce, tomato, feta, lamb and tzatziki sauce). The fun-loving Tots are the perfect “drunk munchie food,” according to Bhimji.
Tots aren’t the only menu item with a Greek spin. You can order a Greek salad, Greek pizza or a gyro with savory, thinly sliced lamb that the restaurateur salivates over.
Big 10’s wings are meaty and come naked or lightly breaded in creative sauces such as hot teriyaki garlic, red chile or garlic Parmesan, served with house-made ranch dressing and crisp veggie sticks.
The chips for the Greek nachos and spicy cheese dip are hand cut and made daily from flour tortillas.
Bhimji calls the brick-oven pizza “insane,” highlighted by his signature “Bhim” crust made with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese. The crust is crisp, the dough light and the toppings flavorful, making each bite a treat. Crust aside, the secret ingredient to Big 10’s popular pizza is, “We make it with love,” says Bhimji.
Cape Coral resident Lisa Collins agrees. “When we came down here, we were looking for a good [pizza], and I have to say they are in the top. My husband used to own a pizza shop in Connecticut, so he is hard to impress.”
Other dishes coming out of that hardworking brick oven include calzones as big as footballs. You’ll never leave this sports bar hungry.
The burgers are the bomb; build your own or order one of Bhimji’s creations. The meat is cooked on a flattop, searing in the juices. Your burger can have anywhere from one to four patties, loaded with a laundry list of accoutrements and impaled by a large knife to keep it all together.
A few healthful options pepper the selections here, like a turkey burger. The grilled chicken salad is Joanie Pagan’s favorite. “I’ve had like 20 since they’ve opened,” she says. “Everything tastes like you literally just picked it out of garden. I have never had another [grilled chicken salad] since I’ve had it here.”
Bhimji explains, “We cut everything fresh to order.” In addition, he says, “We order food three to five times a week to get it fresh. No freezing.”
Big 10 Tavern’s welcoming atmosphere, personable staff, affordable prices and great food is winning combination enough, but then there is the popular owner. An entrepreneur, Bhimji has five other businesses, a toddler and an admirable work ethic. You won’t find him sitting at the bar drinking every night but rather grinding it out with his staff in both the back and front of the house.
While all of this contributes to the recipe for success at Big 10 Tavern, Bhimji smiles and says confidently, “I’m local, and I really feel people want to see a local person win.”
Written by Gina Birch, a regular contributor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.
Big 10 Tavern Sports Bar and Grill
4703 SW 16th Place, Cape Coral