Bowling alleys are not usually the place to go for chef-prepared meals. But that changed in Baltimore with the opening of Mustang Alley's in 2007.
As it approaches its 10th anniversary in August, the bowling-bistro venue in Little Italy is still going strong. You can eat while you're bowling at one of the 12 lanes (four are duckpin), or grab a table or a seat at the bar in the area behind the bowlers.
The food isn't complicated, with offerings like pizzas and sandwiches. But executive chef Lauren Yeagle is in the kitchen overseeing the cooking and preparation.
We bowled before we took a seat in the restaurant, renting a lane for $45 an hour. Reservations are recommended. After 7 p.m., Mustang Alley's bowling lanes turn into a 21-and-older facility, though younger bowlers are welcome in the dining room until 8:30 p.m.
Even if you haven't put on bowling shoes in a while, there are good times and good food to be had at Mustang Alley's.
Scene & Decor The bowling alley-restaurant has a dozen lanes and a bar with tables within steps of the bowling action. You can hear rolling bowls and tumbling pins when you're eating in the dining area, which has lots of wood and brick. It's all part of the fun vibe.
Appetizers We started our meal while bowling a game of duckpins. Servers are on hand to bring you food and drinks to small tables by the lanes. Our nachos ($10) were a great snack to munch on as we tried to avoid gutter balls. The pile of tortilla chips was covered with a gooey four-cheese blend, pico de gallo, jalapenos and scallions, with salsa and sour cream served on the side. By the time we reached our table near the bar after the game, we had worked up an appetite for another starter. The firecracker shrimp ($12) is a pleaser; the lightly fried crustaceans are coated with a sweet and spicy sauce and served with a ball of sesame sticky rice.
Entrees This isn't the place to look for a big entree, and accordingly, Mustang Alley's has kept its menu casual with tacos, sliders, burgers, pizzas and sandwiches. The Charm City burger ($14) was a great beef patty, stacked with creamy crab dip, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato on brioche roll. The fries were average. The pit beef sandwich ($12) missed the mark with well-done, chewy meat and not enough horseradish. We liked the fried onion straws scattered on top of the meat, but an a la carte side of coleslaw ($3.50) was mediocre.
Drinks Wine, house-made sangria, specialty cocktails and several beers (draft and in bottles and cans) are available.
Service Our servers, at the lanes and at the dining-room table, were genial and accommodating.
Dessert No matter what your bowling score, you deserve a baked-to-order chocolate chip cookie ($7) in a cast-iron pan. The soft, hot cookie was delicious, served with two big scoops of vanilla ice cream, swirls of whipped cream and drizzles of caramel and chocolate sauces.
Backstory: Tim and Mary Koch and their son, Kyle, all graduates of Loyola University Maryland, opened Mustang Alley's in August 2007, offering bistro food with bowling.
Signature dish: The Charm City burger
Where: 1300 Bank St., second floor, Little Italy
Contact: 410-522-2695, mustangalleys.com
Open: 4:30 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, noon to midnight Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations
Bottom line: The venue is a kitschy place to bowl and eat food that is a step above what is offered at most bowling facilities