The Stranger: “How things been going?”
The Dude: “Ah, you know. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs.”
“The Dude,” the schlumpy sage at the heart of the 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, delivered many misshapen pearls of wisdom. His apt analogy comparing life’s vagaries to the realities of bowling also applies to romance (it’s Valentine’s Day, after all) and to food in restaurants. This certainly seems to be the case at The Alley Lanes & Lounge, Santa Fe’s cavernous new amusement emporium, where bowling lanes, billiards, pinball, bocce, and tabletop shuffleboard exist side by side with food from executive chef Ever Paz, late of the popular food truck El Sabor Tapas y Masss. While some meals may leave you disappointed and dejected, others will make you jump for joy — in your rented bowling shoes, no less.
Half the menu consists of the usual suspects: burgers, sandwiches, wings, nachos, and chile cheese fries, with some salads thrown in as a nod toward the lighter side. The rest is dedicated to more unexpected fare, at least for a bowling alley. Roast chicken ($24) and a ribeye steak ($28) are here for (presumably) date night, or for parents who’ve decided to splurge on a babysitter. Santa Fe might be the only city in the nation where paella ($28) and tapas are on the menu at a bowling alley, and while it’s hard to imagine ordering gambas al ajillo ($13) or grilled artichoke hearts ($11) as you slide on your Velcro-fastened bowling loafers, one is reminded that most preconceived notions should be reconsidered from time to time.
Although not exactly memorable, the burger ($9) is as satisfying as they come, served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles as well as a choice of cheese, green chile, or bacon. The fries are stellar — that iconic medium-slender cut, a perfect light-gold hue, crisp, salty, hot from the fryer, and not greasy at all.
These fries seem ideal for nearly every application, so the obvious next step was chile cheese fries ($7). But while liquid molten queso makes so sense when it comes to that classic combo, the kitchen drowned our poor frites in a tsunami of cheese and red and green chile sauces, and their potato glory was lost at sea.
Buffalo wings ($10), that bastion of bar food everywhere, are perfectly serviceable here — less battered and so a touch lighter than many of their sports-bar cousins, and lacquered in glistening sauce. They’re plated prettily alongside batons of carrot and celery, and if you ask nicely (and agree to a small upcharge), the kitchen will provide dipping dishes of both blue cheese and ranch, rather than making a girl choose.
During his food-truck days, the word on the street was all about Paz’s fish tacos ($14), which have resurfaced here and are indeed buzzworthy. Nuggets of spiced cod are cradled in four sturdy corn tortillas along with cilantro-cabbage salad and perfect wedges of avocado. Four tacos might seem like an overly generous serving, but you might reconsider after you’ve worked up a hearty appetite on the lanes.
The kitchen also offers a lovely flash-fried avocado ($11) topped with pico de gallo and lime yogurt sauce — another holdover from Paz’s food truck days that’s hot and buttery and feels way too decadent for a delivery method of “good fat.” Avocado reappears in a panini ($10.50), where it’s sandwiched on a hoagie roll with provolone, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo — just the right amount to suit this non-mayo-fanatic. The still-puffy sandwich seemed to have merely glanced at the panini press as it passed through the kitchen, the bread begging for more of the crispness the press would impart.
Seriously respectable fried chicken anchors the kiddos’ chicken fingers basket ($9) — which includes more of those glorious fries — and the serving is generous enough to satisfy someone outside the 10-and-under set. An evergreen kid favorite at The Alley might better be called “cheese and mac” ($5), with far more of the former than the latter, but it will delight the little ones.
The crisp golden skins of the patatas bravas ($9) — which could be thought of as highfalutin Spanish homefries — give way to fluffy insides. That glorious perfection is marred by the excessive dousing of sriracha and something resembling spicy mayo, as well as a mystifying pocket of inexplicably raw garlic hidden amid the tater mountain. This combo made all but the outermost nuggets practically inedible and overall placed this dish in a category I call “not first date food” — best reserved for outings with friends and family who’ll love you despite your dragon breath.
Frankly, one feels a little silly critiquing food at a place like The Alley, because presumably, this is a place where, by design, vittles are bound to play second fiddle. You may not be blown away by any of it, but you’ll be satisfied. The pleasant, usually attentive staff will make sure that you’ll be able to enjoy your diversion of choice without going hungry — or thirsty, for that matter. The Alley has a full bar (called the Bocce Bar), serving beer, wine, and cocktails. The beverage list includes some house versions of classics — like the Cuba Libre ($9) and the gin and tonic ($10), which make good use of local spirits. The Alley’s version of the margarita, called the Perfect Game ($11), is made with Tumbleroot’s agave spirit and Italian orange liqueur, and the menu is practically required to include a white Russian — here involving Tumbleroot’s cane vodka, Kahlúa, and half-and-half, and rechristened The Dude ($10). Sometimes your bowling game improves if you loosen up with a cocktail, but just be sure you don’t go over the line. ◀