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Texas Burger Tour: Dart Bowl

Saturday, 18 June, 2011

Fate provided an unplanned visit to one of the great home-style restaurants in Austin. Not so long after I arrived to Texas, a persistent rumor stated that “way up North” one could find a bowling alley. Contrary to expectations, the diner at this bowling alley has really good food. That was about it really. Way back when people who consider themselves worth considering thought of any destination above 45th Street “way up North”. These days way up North means Killeen or Waco. It’s pretty much gotten out of hand, but that is another rant.

My Melanee is a fan and proponent of the readily overlooked game of bowling. Despite what you’re thinking right now, I do not consider this a character flaw. I admire people with authentic passion, especially if that passion is not the obscure passion of the month. As the outdoor temperature rose over 110 degrees, we sought out novel, indoor activities and Mel has consistently encouraged me to share this passion with her. My personal reservations with regard to this game were mostly related to the abysmal facilities provided in the area in which I was raised. My parents were similarly passionate about the game. 

In the many years since my arrival in Austin, the rumored bowling-alley diner has been revealed as that of Dart Bowl on Grover Avenue near RM 2222/W. Koenig Lane. If I’m going to go bowling, I may as well have another kind of experience.

Let me state plainly, the man before you today enjoyed the game of bowling. For the first three frames. Absent my orthopedic shoes and with my bum shoulders, hurling a twelve pound object is not at all advisable. By the fourth frame I couldn’t even control the direction of the ball. After a single game, I left the facility uncertain that I could successfully drive away.

Before indulging in this great game, we visited, according to the sign, the Dart Bowl Cafe, consistently spoken of via internet, and in the Austin Chronicle, as the Dart Bowl Steakhouse. Of the many addresses in the Austin MSA I have visited in my many years this place was without doubt the least Austintatous. It was like walking into a bowling alley opened during 1947 in Milwaukee, and has been kept up with passion and great fondness ever since. Somehow it is in this town. Only certain entries on the menu betray the Texas heritage. When you go to eat at Dart Bowl, have the enchiladas smothered in chili. Then again, the chicken fried steak sounded amazing. Of course, you know what I wound up ordering.

The environment is welcoming in a very non-Austin way. The decor is bowling-alley diner ca. 1963, excepting that it is all in such good shape someone must still be making this stuff somewhere. You have a full bar, two uncharacteristically unobtrusive televisions, tables, booths, it is brightly lit for a restaurant, and mementos and souvenirs are found everywhere. They have pictures of the staff with Gov. Richards, Gov. Bush and Gov. Perry on the wall. The classic wood paneling is rimmed with an ambitious beer-can collection which included cans of my hometown beers, Falls City and Oertel’s 92. It’s just the kind of place you want to hide from a 110-degree day in the pretension capital of the world.

Go back and read my review of Five Guys. This is what I was served when I ordered a double cheeseburger. The fries could have been hotter, but this is the stuff. It was served on a melamine plate rather than a sack and I enjoyed a quart glass of deep brewed, unsweetened iced tea. I note the price was lower than that of the Virginians. To my shock, Mel ordered chili-cheese fries. We both had the flavor of Cincinnati-style chili in our minds, but the “bowl of red” style suits freshly cut frites just fine in its own distinctive manner.

My friends, I shall return to Dart Bowl. While there I shall regret I wasted so many years not participating in their great game, for it is now too late. However these tears shall be shed into a simmering Chicken Fried Steak with Fries smothered in gravy or perhaps their signature enchiladas. While in Austin, stop screwing around and just get something good to eat at Dart Bowl.

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