Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Bowling for lunch is right up our alley

The ball speeds down the alley and smashes into the 10 pins, scattering them with a distinctive crash. Or the ball veers into a gutter, and the pins seem to smirk and stand a little straighter.

Bowling is an either-or proposition, as well as being hugely social long before digital social media took over the world. Hey, tweet that!

Those are two good reasons why it’s time-tested and not time-worn, retaining its place as one of the most popular sports in the world. If you doubt it, drop by the 18,000-square-foot International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas (, and explore “5,000 years of bowling history.” Fifty centuries. Who knew?

Closer to home, we slipped into our rented bowling shoes and went out to get the lay of the land.

Country Club Lanes

When the landmark, family-owned Country Club Lanes went up in 1959, the advertisements in the Sacramento Bee proclaimed, “We are air-conditioned!” Still is. We loved the river rock-lined walls at the entrance, helping to hold up an overhanging, swooping arc personifying 1950s “space age” architecture.

Beyond the endearingly gaudy entrance, the center feels like a well-conceived mini-amusement park that happens to have 48 modern bowling lanes. Check it out: pool tables, electronic darts boards and Skee-Ball in the cavernous bar area (with more rock-studded walls); a contemporary arcade with 20-some games (including Operation, “where you’re the doctor”); a laser tag room; 10 mounted TV sets, a photo booth, arcade games along the concourse; and drop-down 10-foot-square screens that play music videos blasted over a 100,000-watt Bose sound system, accentuated by black lights and strobes.

Upstairs are 7,000 square feet available for dances and special events. To top it off, the center is open 24-7-365. Yeah, there’s a party goin’ on.

The Concourse Cafe seems tiny in comparison. Order at the snack shack-type counter and grab a random table fronting the lanes. The menu offers breakfast all day, plus nachos and chicken nuggets, burgers and dogs, sandwiches, pizza and more ($1 to $13).

We sampled hearty chili-topped fries with fluorescent-orange cheese sauce, a salty hot dog, a salty cheeseburger, a pretty good pepperoni pizza and a hefty BLT with really good thick-cut bacon. Milkshakes were on the thin side, but flavorful.

“The food is an integral part of our marketing,” said Dave Haness, the president and general manager, who’s been on site since 1977. “We have an all-you-can-eat buffet of ‘fun food’ and a spread of desserts for $9 (a head) that we set up for groups that have bowling parties. And we have a ton of birthday parties, with $4 pizza-and-soda packages for kids.”

Any plans to expand the menu?

“We may offer a pulled-pork sandwich this fall,” Haness said.

Capitol Bowl

We crossed the river into West Sacramento and found Cap’s Bar & Grill (“Where you can play with your food)”) inside Capitol Bowl. The stylishly renovated space is way smaller than Country Club, with 18 lanes and a mini-arcade, but with a focus on the restaurant-bar. The dining room is full of booths and tables, and a granite-topped counter surrounds the full bar. A list of seven drink specials included the potentially infamous Ladies Night, made with tequila-coffee liqueur, vanilla-flavored vodka and a choice of almond or hazelnut liqueur. Best advice: Don’t pair it with nachos.

We’d missed the fourth annual Big Lebowski Party (referencing the Coen Brothers’ 1998 bowling-centric film starring Jeff Bridges as “the Dude”), so sat regretfully at the bar and cruised the lengthy menu (salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and “Bowling Food” such as Buffalo wings, jalapeño poppers and chili; $4 to $19).

There were a couple of surprises: Owner Ross Amin uses seasonal organic produce from the West Sacramento farmers market whenever possible. And what were tender, juicy, marinated and skewered chunks of chicken breast (with basmati rice) doing hanging out in a bowling alley?

“(The dish) is Persian, (the chicken) marinated in lemon juice, onion and 10 spices, (including) saffron,” Amin said. “I look at (Cap’s) as a restaurant, not a snack bar.”

We also went through excellent housemade french fries from russet potatoes, cloyingly sweet commercial sweet-potato fries (“I’m on a diet of fat and salt and sugar,” said a lunch pal), a stacked turkey-avocado-bacon sandwich in need of turkey flavor, and a barbecued chicken salad that would have fared better without the barbecue sauce.

On the way out, we think we spotted Laverne & Shirley on lane No. 8, but didn’t want to spoil the illusion by asking.

Mango mania

We dropped by the Thai Hut the other day to find husband-wife owners Ten and Tuck Siri doing what they do best, Tuck whipping up marvelous concoctions in the small kitchen, and Ten greeting customers and delivering heaping plates of fragrant dishes to their tables.

The two lunch pals ordered from the menu, all delicious and fresh, as usual. But what really got my attention were the display of whole mangoes and the chalkboard listing seven mango-centric specials ($4 to $15). We’ve enjoyed these Grade-A mangoes from Mexico on past visits, sliced and served with sticky rice. But the mango specials held new promise, especially as these mangoes are the best we’ve had in California.

Soon, a platter of mango stir-fried fish and a platter of mango fried rice arrived at the table. The tender pieces of fish basa matched well with the medley of mango, peppers, onions and cashews. The mango fried rice was full of tail-on prawns, chunks of mango and multiple veggies, including cucumber coins. Memorable dishes worth repeating.

Thai Hut, 5800 Madison Ave., Sacramento, (916) 348-1880,