Upscale bowling alleys have thrived in other cities, but the concept is new in New Orleans. Rock 'N' Bowl, while upgraded from its original location, still has a very relaxed atmosphere. The newest local spot to embrace the game of strikes and spares is a different affair. Fulton Alley offers boutique bowling, craft cocktails and elevated bar fare in the Central Business District.
A visit to Fulton Alley reveals a spot that's about as different from your grandfather's Monday-night-league alley as a luxury resort. Its darkly handsome (if somewhat antiseptic) decor features polished hardwoods, wrought iron, gleaming floors and handsome leather couches. A dozen lanes shine like a new penny, outfitted with state of the art flat-screen monitors. It's a place clearly intended for high rollers, and lanes cost $15 per half-hour.
Fulton Alley hired chef Mike Nirenberg, formerly of Tivoli & Lee, to create a Southern food-inspired menu, and he's mostly done a fine job. The list of snacks, small plates and a few larger offerings isn't particularly original but most items are well thought out and nicely prepared.
A recent meal started with a snack of house-made corn nuts with flavorful chili-lime glaze and some of the most wonderfully airy, puffed pork cracklings in the city, served with an addictive sweet chili sauce. a must-have dish that appears to share its origins with those at Cane & Table. A trio of deviled eggs topped with remoulade and crispy chicken crackling also make a decent snack.
More substantial options include impressive chicken and mushroom meat pies served with green onion sour cream. With five nicely filled and perfectly fried pies per order at $7.95, it's a hit. Similarly, Nirenberg and his staff turn out excellent sliders, including pork belly with barbecue sauce and spicy apple-cabbage slaw. Griddled Beef sliders topped with sweet pickle and onion relish and American cheese also are big winners.
There are some missed spares on the menu. Smoked and fried chicken wings served with ranch and blue cheese dressing had a lovely smoky aroma, but they proved to be overcooked and tough. Andouille gravy fries topped with four sauteed Gulf shrimp were cooked nicely, but the dish is not worth its $13.95 price.
Service at Fulton Alley needs improvement. The place appears amply staffed, with servers, managers and bussers frequently patroling the dining room and bar, and yet they seemed to ignore our table for long periods on several occasions in a dining room that was far from full.
The drink menu at Fulton Alley was created by the team behind the craft cocktail lounge Cure, and it has that bar's fingerprints all over it. A trio of vest-and-tie-clad mixologists serve guests a list of 10 original cocktails, and the spirits selection is extensive. There's a short list of beers, but nothing is available on draft. The Exchanging Lanes, a Sazerac variation, did the original justice, but the Red Eye to Manhattan, with Rebel Reserve bourbon, sweet vermouth and a vanilla tincture, was overwhelmed by the addition of coffee bitters.
Fulton Alley's take on the trendy bowling den is something genuinely new in New Orleans, and we'll see if well-heeled locals take to rental shoes.