FOOD: Bowling Alley Burgers
It is a little known fact that the burger was invented by Bob. Bob was the proprietor and chief cook and bottle washer at a small bowling alley in northeastern North Dakota. The Meat 'n' Potato Man was a frequent customer for lunch at his counter in the early 1970s. Bob would be busily working on the pin-setting equipment until he noticed a customer at the lunch counter. Ambling back the length of the alleys to the front, he would gruffly inquire, "What'll 'ya have?" "Burger," was always the response - since it was the only item on the menu.
Bob always wore a white towel in his beltline.He would brush some of the grease from the pin-setting equipment on the towel and the rest seemed to go into the fresh burger that he scooped up into his big hands before slapping it down onto a sizzling grill. Those were the best damned burgers, bar none, that could be found anywhere.
The Meat 'n' Potato Man set out to relive that experience recently. After all, the everyday person, thinking outside the box, could shake off their culinary habits and enjoy a trip to a local kegler meeting place and enjoy a great burger and fun people watching.
My first stop to reclaim my youth was the newly opened Al's Grill, located in Tanski's Ridgeview Lanes on Calvary Road in Duluth. With 10 bowling lanes remaining; six had been removed to accommodate this new eatery. It was early, no other customers were there, and I was greeted and advised to sit anywhere I wanted. Being new construction the physical aspect of the joint offered eye-appeal and cleanliness for what appears to be 60-plus patrons. The extensive menu offered 16 appetizers, six wraps, nine sandwiches, four salads, two soups, five full dinners, six pasta dishes, seven Chinese entrees, and pizza. The Meat 'n' Potato Man was on a mission. "A cheeseburger basket, raw onion, no tomato and a Sprite, please."
The menu stated that soon I would enjoy a one-third pound burger made from two fresh patties that had been marinaded.
The meal was served after a short time. Sprite in a can with a glass tumbler full of ice. The burger was served in a plastic basket along with the fries. Upon the burger was nice crisp shredded lettuce and a beautiful slice of fresh tomato. I looked over the presentation and as I was removing the tomato, the slice of fresh onion was brought by the server. The fries that accompanied the burger were those big fat steak fries sans any skin. There was no salt on the fries. I rate that a plus as I can salt them to my taste. Almost drooling, I dove in. The burger retained its "just cooked" temperature during its' trip from the kitchen, as did the fries. The Meat 'n' Potato Man was stumped trying to figure out the flavoring that comprised the marinade. It was noticeable, but subtle. It was delicious. The only disappointment was that I could not find grease running down my chin after the meal, but that may be an item of fond memories. Al's Grill gets a perfect 300.
My next stop (on a different night, of course) was Village Lanes in Superior. I had been fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough depending on the night) to secure the company of my future ex-wife. We arrived in the parking lot at about 7 p.m. and made our way through the busy lanes. I wanted a good burger but had to stop and talk with friends on the lanes.
Village Lanes offers 14 sandwiches and 14 appetizers on their menu, along with a wide variety of pizza. The bar/restaurant seats about 28 people with 12 more seats at the bar. Promptly, the bartender/waitress came to our table with menus and took our beverage order. Returning with our beverages, this very pleasant and engaging waitress took our order.
At 7:35 p.m. my table was enjoying a cheeseburger basket and a bacon-cheeseburger basket. Enjoy we did. Raw onion on mine, thank you, as I had no other date for the night. Served without any lettuce or tomato, the burger was just a bit on the dry side. Careful examination would reveal that the burger was cooked "well-done." Very "well done." Living dangerously as I do, The Meat 'n' Potato Man grabbed the spousal burger and examined it visually and gave it the taste test. Again, very tasty, but overcooked. The burgers had been served with crinkle cut fries which were unseasoned and they were cooked to perfection, not greasy, and plentiful. Village Lanes bowled about a 200 game that night. Points added for the efficient and pleasant service.
Rounding off this month's search for Bowling Alley Burgers, I stopped at Landmark Lanes in Superior. "We don't serve burgers, sorry." OK, a sure bet will be the highly touted Incline Station/Spot Bar in downtown Duluth.
At about 6 p.m. I sat down in the restaurant that contained 10 other guests, happily enjoying beverages and food. I sat. I waited. I noted the waitress busily chatting with a lone female patron at the bar's wait station. I waited. I sat. I clicked on the stopwatch and when it read five minutes had passed, I casually walked up behind the waitress and stood. And stood, and stood. After another four minutes of chatter between the waitress and the patron at the bar, the waitress wheeled around, blew by me and left the dining room. A few moments later, the young bartendress asked if I wanted something and I asked for the manager. "He's not here," she replied. Maybe he should have been. Gutter balls for the Spot Bar and their lack of service.
By this time, The Meat 'n' Potato Man is hungry and lusting after the perfect burger. A trip over the hill to Country Lanes North would certainly sooth the beast growling inside. I found my way to the bar/restaurant and found an empty table where I seated myself. There were two other patrons, both seated at the bar. The bartender/manager was busily chatting up the two patrons. The waitress was busily making popcorn. I was busy playing solitaire on my I-Phone. Again, time passed and I started to get the sinking feeling that starvation was to be the demise of The Meat 'n' Potato Man. After a measured five minutes of no service, where I was 30 percent of the patronage, I left.
Now readers, this is not the type of non-service I expect. I am sure that you don't either. Please contact The Meat 'n' Potato Man through the Living North editor (editor@livingnorthmagazine) and tell me where I can get good food and good service. The Meat 'n' Potato Man usually gets hungry a couple of times a day and I want to let the readers know where they can get the good value they deserve. If you are a restaurateur and feel you are up to an honest appraisal, make the contact.
Oh yeah, I had Chinese take-out that night.