With New York confidence, Brooklyn Bowl mixes nostalgic fare with homegrown originals
Bemoaning the absence of good (insert regional specialty here) is a familiar pastime for overly proud native New Yorkers like me. For instance, I’ve stopped paying mind to any sign that advertises “New York-style” pizza; the vicious emotional roller coaster of high hopes and big letdowns is a ride I can no longer endure. A fresh-baked bialy with my Sunday morning paper? Those dreams were shot to hell the first time I bit into those floury ring-shaped things that some locals mistakenly call bagels. And for all the food trucks to flood our city, who do I have to pay to open a halal street meat cart? I weep at the thought that a tin foil plate of lamb and day-glo orange rice — the fuel of countless New York City businessmen, college students, and late night drunks — is a pleasure that some of you may never know.
I know what you’re thinking, and why, yes, I could use some cheese with this whine. (Unfortunately, the fresh “moo-zah-rell” that I love from home is hard to find out here.) But with the arrival of Brooklyn Bowl, the mouthy New Yorker in me is momentarily silenced. The hybrid bowling alley/live music venue/restaurant, located at The Linq, is the first big project on the Strip to capitalize on the concept of modern-day Brooklyn (which is essentially, and ironically, a throwback to old-timey Brooklyn). The design is inspired by Coney Island in its freakshow-friendly, pre-war heyday, and a menu designed by Blue Ribbon’s Bruce and Eric Bromberg is an equally nostalgic match.
For starters, there’s a smoked fish spread with capers, dill and dainty triangles of rye toast. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing: precious on the plate, but a salty and smoky flavor bomb on the tongue. It also satisfies my homesickness for whitefish salad on pumpernickel.
If you’ve never had a knish (a kind of giant mashed potato dumpling), the potato and onion version at Blue Ribbon might be a misleading introduction. One of the more common versions sold at Jewish delis and hot dog stands is square-shaped with a dense filling and leathery crust. These are far more refined, made with almost frothy potatoes and tissue-thin pastry. The requisite dollop of deli mustard and sour cream are also included. Despite my love for tradition, it’s a successful update on an iconic street food. The menu isn’t entirely old New York — there’s an eclectic list of offerings to suit all bar-food lovers. Pork rinds are given the Mexican treatment with a shower of queso fresco and jalapeños, and pulled-pork sliders will sate the Southern contingent.
Like bacon, fried chicken is an infallible creation that’s perfect in every form. At Brooklyn Bowl, the common blue-plate special is made outstanding with a breading of matzoh crumbs and a generous shower of Blue Ribbon’s secret crimson-colored spice blend. A mix of light and dark meat, smoky rags of fork-tender collard greens, and a side of mashed potatoes with gravy isn’t revolutionary, but it’s delicious. An order of smoked and baked chicken wings don’t have the same crunch, but its thick lacquering of barbecue sauce was flavorful and complex.
You can order food and drinks almost anywhere within the massive, 80,000-square foot space, but anyone looking to unleash his inner Dude at the lanes will have to choose wisely. Perhaps the most bowling-friendly item is the French bread pizza, cut neatly into hand-held rectangles. I applaud the Brombergs’ decision to stay neutral in the regional pizza wars. While others are busy arguing the merits of New York versus Neapolitan versus Chicago-style pies, these cheesy, sauce-drenched bread boats — particularly the sausage and pepper-loaded San Gennaro — do not pretend to be anything more than a fresh version of a supermarket freezer aisle favorite.
If I had any regrets about my recent meal, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to sample the sweets. That’s because a chocolate egg cream that I ordered at the start of the meal was entered in the system as dessert. Sacrilege! The classic drugstore drink, made with milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer, is best described as a milkshake-flavored soda. At Blue Ribbon, it’s served with an iced tea spoon so that guests can mix the concoction to order (the only way to achieve a classic foamy head at the top of the glass). It was good, but after a one-hour wait, I was expecting liquid crack.
Also lamentable is the fact that one must brave swarms of tourists and concertgoers in order to gain access to this food. However, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. After all, it’s only fair that I put up with New York-style crowds for my beloved New York-style food.
3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #22 (at The Linq),