The Austin Chronicle

Favorite Finds

Restaurants You Shouldn't Miss

By Pableaux Johnson, March 17, 2000, Food

Dart Bowl Steak House

5700 Grover, 459-4181

Mon-Sat, 8am-10pm; Sun, 8am-9pm

Sometimes even the most rabid live music fan needs a break from Austin's annual celebration of hyper-packed clubs and leather-clad A&R people. Far off the bar-beaten path of SXSW, the Dart Bowl Steak House swaps the conference-based bustle of Sixth Street for the sporadic crash of tumbling tenpins. Multicolored rental shoes replace pointy boots and onion-heavy diner enchiladas edge out expense-account sushi binges.

As the name implies, the Dart Bowl Steak House sits at the back of a Seventies-era bowling alley in mostly residential north central Austin. Since moving from its original location -- a seriously old-school Fifties alley -- the Steak House has maintained its food quality while taking a serious hit in the atmosphere department. When they moved to the newer digs, they brought the griddle from the old joint as well as one of the old dining-room walls, lovingly signed by dedicated regulars. Most of the Dart's loyalists still dine here -- Where else would you go on league night? -- but they sit in pastel-toned booths instead of the old flecked formica versions. Wall-to-wall carpet replaced the weathered linoleum, but luckily the burgers, home-baked dinner rolls, and short-order breakfasts haven't changed a bit.

One key to the Dart's appeal is their dedication to fresh bread -- a relative rarity in the world of recreational cuisine. Every morning, the cooks at the Dart bake a day's worth of homemade loaves and enough yeast rolls to last the lunch rush. Sliced thick, the loaves become tasty breakfast toast; later, the same slices form the basis for the cafe's sandwiches and burger specials.

The burger patties run a bit on the thin side, which make them perfect for decadent double-patty configurations. Cheese, bacon, or jalapeños -- choose your flavor of choice and don't skimp on the grilled onions. The fries, fresh-cut and served on plastic dishware, complete the indulgence.

All-purpose diner enchiladas -- cheese-stuffed tortillas scattered with onions and peppers, then topped with chili con carne -- are another notable specialty of the house. As is the case with daily lunchtime blue-plates, the correct "soppin' option" is always the steaming-hot lunch rolls, which easily beats store-bought tortillas and saltines in bread-to-bread competition.

For those with significant hangover considerations, late breakfast may be the meal of choice. Fewer bowlers means less chance of head-shaking rumbles as retired rollers march through the frames. And thanks to the Steak House's full bar, the proverbial "hair of the dog" can be enjoyed along with omelette plates, eggs any damn way, or (for the truly adventurous) "enchiladas and eggs."

After a good hearty meal among the pin people, it'll be back to workaday festival club life. But later that night, people might just admire your snazzy suede shoes. As the prophet once said: Why buy when you can rent?

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