When some coworkers suggested heading over to the newly-refurbished bowling alley down the street for lunch, I balked. I'd had my mouth set for some refreshing kimchee and cold green tea, not bowling alley food. They were persistent, however, and ten minutes later I found myself inside 300 Houston, a painfully trendy bowling alley/sports bar/urban bistro combination on Bunker Hill at I-10.
Although the music played over the sound system hurt my ears (the same music that's been taken out of KRBE's rotation for being overplayed) and eating while wearing a pair of clammy bowling shoes annoyed the ever-loving hell out of me, I found comfort in the fact that two things have not changed: I am still embarassingly awkward and terrible at bowling. And bowling alley food still sucks.
While the geniuses behind the bowling/club/bar concept have clearly made an attempt to class up the joint with fancy booths and light fixtures, private rooms, unstained carpeting, flat screen TVs and an "upscale" menu, they've still got a long way to go before the food at 300 is palatable. The fact that you're charged $3.00 for a coke (ahem, a Pepsi) and $9.00 for a burnt-tasting steak burger with unnecessarily frou-frou "roasted tomato" ketchup is not surprising given the gimmicky atmosphere, but that doesn't make it any less stupid.
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Other menu items include "Two Bite" sliders (in your choice of cheeseburger, Sloppy Joe or crispy chicken) and a trio of fries (regular, sweet potato and home fries) served with a trio of dipping sauces. Both options are $7.00, although the sliders provide you more value for the money. The Sloppy Joe sliders were actually decent, with the fluffy yeast rolls playing the starring role. The cheeseburger sliders, however, were as burnt-tasting as the steak burgers, but with the added distinction of having almost no physical or gustatory resemblance to actual meat. My coworker remarked that it could have been giraffe meat for all he knew. The trio of fries were soggy and bland, but at least the portions were small.
The idea behind 300 is that you have a lane captain (at least that's what her business card said) who keeps you in food, beer and balls while you and your buddies pick up spares. It's a further justification for the menu prices (hey, if we have waitresses, we can charge more!) but it's also a huge inconvenience. Despite the fact that we were the only group in the place, actually getting our lane captain to come by and take our order was like herding a cat. She then forgot to put in half of the orders and virtually disappeared after we pointed out the error.
Of course, when the tab came later (at the same time as our missing orders), we were amused to see that the cost of the games and the shoes ($4.00 per person, per game and $4.50 per pair of shoes) was included in the food tab with the clear insinuation that we were supposed to tip on both the food and the bowling. After such stellar service, we of course declined to tip on the game, but still left a respectable 15% for the food.
All of this would probably have been much more fun if I'd been drinking -- what isn't? -- but for bowling and food alone, this isn't an activity I'm eager to repeat. 300 Houston might have a great scene on Saturday nights, but those folks can't possibly be going for the food. For my part, I miss the old days of questionable hot dogs and nachos with "cheeze" that I got for myself from a ratty concession stand and I miss seing Kingpin and Uncle Buck-type characters over my cheap beer. Bowling alleys putting on fancy airs and fancy menus...not for me. I can get crappy food anywhere; I'd rather not shell out $20 for it while wearing someone else's sweaty shoes.