Chef Michael Patterson brings refined dishes such as scallops and beef tips to Kings Bowl in Orlando, Fla. - MCT

Alleys toss concept of 'bowling food' in gutter

ORLANDO, Fla. — A new genre of bowling alleys is striking a chord with foodies.

Once the home of dried-out hot dogs on spinning heated rollers and cardboard-cradled pizzas, bowling alleys have undergone a culinary and design renaissance in recent years.

Today, places such as Splitsville Luxury Lanes in Downtown Disney and Kings Bowl in Orlando, Fla., are touting chef-inspired menus. The souped-up settings include VIP lounges, sushi bars, signature cocktails and hip vibes.

"As an industry, we recognized that quality food is something our customers want," says Steve Johnson, executive director of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America. "It's been a natural evolution."

Bowling is the No. 1 participation sport in the United States, according to BPAA research.

"We've seen a resurgence of bowling as a recreational sport and I think a lot of that has to do with our members meeting guest expectations and that includes better food and drink options."

At this year's Bowl Expo, the industry's annual major trade show, exhibitors included food vendors such as Oviedo-based Asian Food Solutions; Wholly Guacamole, a line of avocado condiments that has expanded to include salsa pineapple dip and roasted tomato dip; and Sysco, a global food distributor whose inventory includes organic foods and artisanal pastas.

Despite the new food temptations in bowling alleys, there is one etiquette rule that still has to be followed: Food and drinks are not allowed in the area where players approach the lanes with bowling balls in hand.

Kings Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

In addition to the 22 lanes and a lengthy dress code, Kings has a full-service, chef-driven restaurant and two bars that serve signature cocktails and wines by the glass and bottle.

Best bites: Cajun grouper sliders ($10 for two, $13 for three) and the kingpin club wrap ($11)

Impressive entrees: Brazilian fish stew ($18) with grouper, shrimp, tomatoes, peppers, onions, fresh cilantro, coconut milk, white rice and grilled bread; 16-ounce rib-eye steak ($26) with mashed potatoes, asparagus and fried onion strings.

Splitsville Luxury Lanes, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

In addition to the 30 lanes on the two levels of entertainment space, the menu is guided by award-winning Boston chef Tim Cushman. There are two sushi bars.

Best bites: The super tuna roll ($15) with ahi tuna, tempura shrimp and cream cheese topped with seared ahi, avocado, eel sauce, tempura flakes and spicy mayo; filet mignon sliders ($14 for two) dressed with onion rings and horseradish cream

Impressive entrees: Grilled mahi-mahi with "voodoo" shrimp ($24), a blackened fillet with grilled shellfish and a spicy sauce, served with fries and vegetables; grilled salmon ($22) topped with mango chutney and served with broccoli and sushi rice.

Three Point Bowling, Orlando

This recently renovated 16-lane center isn't as retro hip as the others but it does have a chef on staff and touts a "Chef's Table" for entertaining up to 20 people for only $20 per person (tax, gratuity and bowling not included) and a $5 wine corkage fee. The alley is locally owned and independent.

Best bites: Flan dessert ($2.81) signature chili ($2.81 cup, $4.22 bowl); fried shrimp basket ($7.04), with 10 large, hand-breaded shellfish and fries.

Impressive entrees: Grilled skirt steak churrasco-style ($8.45), with chimichurri sauce with grilled onions and sweet peppers on white or yellow rice; ropa viejo ($8.45), a platter of shredded flank steak cooked in a rich tomato sauce and topped with grilled onions and peppers.

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