Thursday, February 28, 2013
Restaurant review: German inspired Bowl & Barrel unifies bar and bowling alley
Beer drinking, baloney-eating alley-cats welcome.
DALLAS To say that it strays from the standard bowling alley model would be an understatement – even to the point of being entirely incorrect. Yes, depending on the door you enter, Bowl and Barrel may seem like a bowling alley with a restaurant attached, but such a perspective fails to capture the depth of the dining experience. In fact, when all things are considered, it would be more accurate to conclude that owners Kyle Noonan and Josh Sepkowitz added to their German biergarten-style concept by including a bowling alley.
“We wanted Bowl & Barrel to first and foremost be about the food, the service, and the drinks. And then, ‘Oh, by the way, we have this cool activity you can do,’” says Noonan of the three-month-old restaurant. “We wanted to incorporate an active form of entertainment that goes beyond just sitting at a bar stool and drinking or sitting at a dining room table and eating.”
So what Noonan and Sepkowitz did was ask Sharon Hage, Chef and owner of the late York Street and current culinary consultant extraordinaire, to get on board. They rented a massive space on the first floor of The Shops at Park Lane. They built 15 bowling lanes, a beergarten-style dining room, and exhaustively researched which beers to serve – knowing they would only have four on draft at one time. They, along with Hage’s kitchen magic, created a restaurant unlike any other in Dallas.
“We really fell in love with this idea of a German beer hall. We spent some time in Germany, looked at these old beer halls, how they were laid out, and during that, what we saw the common theme was that they had a communal setting and that they just had a few beers, but really good beers – they covered the styles that you would want,” Noonan says. “They were places where you just sit down with a group of people, order a big beer, have a pretzel, have a sausage and just have a good time. And nobody really does it better than the Germans when you’re talking beer. You can see from the way we sell our beer; you either order a light beer, a medium beer, or dark beer and then we have a seasonal beer, a rotating tap. And in Germany that’s how you order your beer. If you’re a light beer drinker, you ask for the light beer that they have on tap, and you can be pretty certain that if you’re at a reputable place that the light beer’s going to be a good beer.”
Noonan mentions the pretzel and the sausage offhandedly, but the two offerings at Bowl and Barrel merit attention. The pretzels are soft, warm, German-style (of course) offerings that can consume an entire dinner plate, while the Rudolph’s-made hot dogs come in an array of options; The Sloppy Dog (“our zesty beef sloppy joe with sliced fresh jalapeno”) is for those looking to use a fork and knife, while the Sprout Kraut features the unorthodox topping of brussels sprouts-kraut along with horseradish apple sauce. Then there are the Ghost Pepper Peanuts, the Dublin Rarebit and myriad other options that Hage adds in to give the menu an even more eclectic character. Even the bologna sandwich elevates what is often considered a mundane offering: a stack of Rudolph’s bologna with melted muenster, piquant house-made mustard and rye bread comprise a sandwich that would have Dagwood eschewing his own fridge.
“Early on in the process, Sharon and I came up with this idea that we want to make baloney cool. We wanted to bring baloney back. So we went out, we sourced from Rudolph’s. Not some typical, gooey nitrate-packed gross baloney, but this wonderful, tasty house-made baloney shaved really thin,” Noonan says. “And it’s just awesome. It’s funny, because again, there’s this perception of baloney just like there’s this perception of a bowling alley that the consumer has. Then they come in and try that baloney melt and they’re like, ‘Oh, okay. This is good.’”
In a communal environment intended to be involved and interactive, then, it’s no surprise (though it’s certainly novel) that Noonan and Sepkowitz chose to go with a bowling alley. Like Noonan hints at, it’s all about changing perceptions. The fifteen lanes in the immaculately clean, well lighted and open-feeling room present a far different experience than a standard bowling alley.
“As far as the bowling alley is concerned, I wanted to create a bowling alley that I would want to hang out at. I’m not your typical bowler – I don’t own my own shoes and have my own ball, and I rarely break a hundred when I bowl. But I have fun doing it because it’s an entertaining active thing that everybody can do,” Noonan says. “A lot of times the consumer doesn’t know what to expect when they walk in here because really their only point of reference is the bowling alleys with stale beer out of a plastic cup and fluorescent tube lights that flicker. And so they don’t know what to expect when they walk in, but when they do they say, ‘This is cool’."
Bowling, though, is ultimately an aspect of the restaurant, and not the other way around.
“One of the most important things to me personally is that people understand that at our core, we’re a restaurant/bar that has bowling. And we’re getting people that are coming in to eat, they’re coming in to drink, they’re coming in for happy hour. They’re coming in for lunch to get a shrimp and avocado salad, and they’re coming in for dinner to get our roasted pork shoulder. We’re a restaurant-bar with a unique form of active entertainment, ” Noonan says.
But perhaps the best example of what Bowl and Barrel is meant to be can be told with a quick anecdote.
“One of the coolest things I’ve experienced yet was when we had a girl come in from San Diego who had just moved to Dallas two months ago. She came in here, ate in the dining room at the communal table and then went over and bowled. She grabbed me on the way out and she said, ‘I just want you to know that I’ve met more people tonight, made more friends tonight, at Bowl and Barrel than I have in the eight weeks I’ve been in Dallas,’” Noonan recalls. “And at the end of the day, that was one of coolest, most rewarding things to hear. Because we did like this sense of community, this sense that you might come in with a group of people but leave with a lot more friends than you started with.”
Good food and good beer have a way of doing that. And the bowling probably doesn’t hurt, either.
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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