Dining del Lago
Lakeside Dining 2000: Many Restaurants, Not Much Water
Sundowner Grill at Volente Beach16107 FM 2769, 258-5109
Sun-Thu, 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm
As a recent Statesman article revealed, the neighbors of this water park are not necessarily among its biggest fans, but visiting tots and their parents are. With two water slides, this park is easily navigated without a map. The big pool is a mere four feet deep, and the kiddie water-play area reaches a whopping eight inches. By day at least, this is family heaven.
The Sundowner Grill is the eatery on the premises. The menu is a textbook example of what lake/beach food is all about. Nachos, fried cheese, wings, burgers, BBQ, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches. Nothing over $14, and nothing under high triple-digit calories.
While the casual, approachable menu reflects the easygoing lake lifestyle, the atmosphere defines it. On a recent weekday visit, we arrived before the stated opening hour of 11am. We had no trouble whiling away the wait: A couple of rides on the Big Slide (the Sidewinder wasn't yet open) and a dip in the pool made for a refreshing diversion that whetted our appetite. When 11 o'clock came and went without the restaurant opening, we were told that the opening hour wasn't set in stone.
At 11:20 we were seated in the small, bright dining room overlooking the park. Our waiter was a cheery fellow right from the Slacker division of Central Casting. We were promptly told the cook wasn't in. Should we come back another time, we wondered? Nah, he replied. He'd handle it. Fair enough. Too bad about the miscommunication with the cook, we sympathized. No miscommunication; the cook just didn't come in. Ahhh, the work ethic of the beach crowd! It almost makes one nostalgic for the days of yore when this attitude prevailed in town, too. Almost.
We gamely plunged in. In our party was the self-proclaimed expert in the field of queso, a seven-year-old. Naturally, that was our choice for starters ($5.49). Well, it turns out that was the one item that the makeshift kitchen patrol felt was beyond their powers. The queso was hard as rock, we were told, so could we please try something else? Sure, we understood the constraints under which they were operating. Were there any other items we should avoid, we wondered? Oh no, that's it. But our second choice of quesadillas was also ruled out. And the nachos. Finally, we decided to just try the salsa. But the plucky kitchen help persevered and came through with the queso nonetheless. Our expert ruled it delightful and the rest of the help agreed. Smooth, pleasantly and mildly spiced, it was served with warm and fresh tortilla chips.
Our entrées ran the gamut from pork rib plate ($12.99) to catfish strips ($10.99) to the Volente Veggie ($6.99) to a kid's plate of mini corn dogs ($4.99). All were satisfying, some even surpassing the okay mark. The ribs were meaty and heavily smoked, but the tangy sauce tamed the smoke. The accompanying potato salad and beans were decidedly above the run-of-the-mill, supermarket-deli variety.
The catfish, too, was fresh-tasting, firm, and crispy. Whoever was manning the frying process did a great job. Everyone agreed the accompanying seasoned French fries were addictive.
Only the Volente Veggie was ho-hum. Not a veggie patty at all, but a sandwich comprised of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber slices, mushrooms, and guacamole, it seemed more like a hodgepodge of toppings from burgers and salads rather than a sandwich composed in itself.
The cheerful, laid-back atmosphere and the hearty, casual food are a terrific match to the beach scene that has been carefully constructed on-site. The perilously low lake makes the beach very rocky, but the area can still be approached by boat.
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