Flavor: Bowl em’ over – Sampling the trout salad at Bryant Lake Bowl

Ummmm, I’ll have the salad with a side of bowling, hold the shoes, and for dessert, what to choose — the cheesecake or the cabaret? Oh, make that cheesecake (with after-dinner drinks) in that sweet little performance space behind the bar and its honor guard of bowling trophies.

When it comes to a night on the (Up) town, we’re talking one-stop shopping.

That’s been the forté of funky little Bryant Lake Bowl, for over 15 years defying the law of gravity (still topping the charts with no signs of coming down), the advice of MBAs and flat-out common sense. But then, no one’s ever accused owner Kim Bartmann of thinking inside the box. So when a shopworn Uptown bowling alley, dear to the blue-collar, Bud-drinking crowd, came vacant, she snapped it up to launch her alternative empire. Possibly it’s the only venue where folks can sip Chardonnay and snack on bison while they roll their strikes and splits, and then retire to a black box for the latest in avant-garde theater without leaving the building.

In its former incarnation, they would have reported anyone ordering a Cosmo to the FBI, but these days, the counter is dominated by counter-culturalists, from stridently hip Gen-Yers to their Gray Panther grandmas: gay and straight, black, pink and yellow inner-city-and-proud-of-it types plotting the next mixed-media performance, or revolution.

I fit right in. And when I ordered the smoked trout and roasted beet salad, my server practically pinned a gold star on my forehead. "Good choice!" she commended. "The trout’s from Star Prairie, Wis. We source everything we can locally and support small, organic producers."

The salad plate was composed as if by a still-life painter: First a bed of deep-green baby spinach under a blanket of paler, crisper romaine. To one side, rounds of cucumbers, painstaking notched with TLC for glam, and on the other, sturdy batons of sweet roasted beets. The star of the show, the trout — sweet as clover and oh-so-gently smoked — was mounded atop the hill of greens in moist, tender shreds. Then the works got a spritz of Green Goddess dressing (fashionable about the time that the original alley opened), elevated from the glow-in-the-dark green sludge of supermarket shelves to a homemade version laced with lots and lots of just-snipped dill.

A plate fit for a diva, indeed. But trust me not to let well enough alone. I also found among the menu’s list of salads this selection: "bowl of herbed mashed potatoes with tarragon butter." Well, if a past President can declare ketchup a vegetable, I guess this dish can make the salad cut. On that pretense, I ordered it, too.

Turns out it’s actually almost healthful, for the spuds are whipped sans cream or other fat, with the promised butter delivered on the side. Thus it lies upon your conscience, not the cook’s.

Heeding our health-forward, eat-your-veggies theme, it’s probably also wise to order a Bloody Mary to ensure your daily quota of vitamins. Helps steady your bowling arm, too.

Contributing writer Carla Waldemar spotlights the restaurant scene for the Southwest and Downtown Journals.

Lake Bowl
810 W. Lake St.