Which of these three things does not belong with the other two?
1) A bowling ball rumbling down an alley, followed by the crash of pins.
2) Three young men in T-shirts and jeans sizing up shots at a pool table.
3) A perfectly cooked steak on a plate decorated with swirls of basil-infused oil placed on a white tablecloth.
It's a trick question! You can experience all three simultaneously at a most unexpected eating spot – Keglers in Transit Lanes in Amherst. Best of all, the steak dinner, along with several other dinner entrees and a few specials Sunday through Saturday, served with soup or salad as a starter, is just $10. (Friday night has a fish fry for $8.95.)
If you haven't been in a bowling alley for a while, your mental image of stale bags of chips, hot dogs spinning forlornly on rollers and dried-out pizza slices needs an update. But I have to confess that even after reading the menu, even after hearing that the place has a chef, even after choosing a spot in the dining room at a white-cloth-topped table, I didn't expect the food to be as good as it was.
The place is set up like a sports bar, with large-screen TVs on every wall and one massive screen, each playing a different event, including golf, football and baseball. There are about 15 regular-height tables and a group of taller tables in the room closer to the bar, where patrons can easily look out a window to follow the action on the lanes.
The menu at Keglers is extensive, as we found out when John and I met John and Paula at the place on a Saturday afternoon. (Tom was a last-minute scratch when he got called in to work.) There are wraps, salads, sandwiches, hoagies, many kinds of burgers, wings and fingers, pizza, sliders, quesadillas, tacos, nachos and stuffed baked potatoes. And you can also get breakfast!
There were two specials on the menu, each for $10 – the previously mentioned bistro steak and a Buffalo chicken three-cheese mac and cheese.
We started with exceptional salads that came with two of the dinner entrees. Served in large china bowls, the fresh mixture of chopped romaine, slices of cucumber and tomato, was topped with large crunchy croutons. We also shared an appetizer of the day, an Italian sausage egg roll, with nicely spiced sausage filling a thin-leaved wrapper of puff pastry. Served with a small dipping cup of marinara on a sharp-looking rectangular plate, it was a delicious cross-cultural creation.
Dinners were up next. I have to start with the bistro steak dinner, a special, because it was the one that was most un-bowling-alley-like. The 6-ounce steak was seared on the outside and, as requested, done through without being dry. It was served on a mound of smoothly mashed potatoes and drizzled with a caramelized onion au jus. Fresh broccoli and cauliflower florets were tender-crisp. The entire plate was then decorated with squiggles of basil oil. This creation convinced us that a chef works in the kitchen.
Another special, the Buffalo chicken three-cheese mac and cheese, was not as elegant but just as much of a success. The large bowl of sturdy, semi-curled pasta shapes were perfect carriers for the decadently rich cheese sauce, which was served with crumbled blue cheese on top. The dish was extraordinary.
The personal-sized pulled pork pizza ($5.95) was unusual. Made on a hand-shaped, medium-thick crust, it included a thick layer of tender pulled pork, jack and cheddar cheeses and barbecue sauce, as well as banana peppers, which we chose to go without. It was extremely meaty, with a few large chunks of unshredded pork that, although tender, interrupted the texture. The flavor, however, was intense and delicious.
Our final dish was the baked lasagna rolls ($10), an entree of three long lasagna noodles rolled around layers of cheese, topped with a tasty red sauce and baked. The dish was served marginally hot rather than bubbling and fresh out of the oven, and the rolls seemed a bit bland. The garlic bread on the side was crunchy and delicious.
We were too full to try the intriguing-sounding funnel cake sundae ($3.99), which we were told included strips of funnel cakes topped with ice cream and syrup. Next time. And after our excellent dinner, maybe we'll bowl a few frames, too.
3.5 pennies (out of 4)
Where: 7850 Transit Road, Amherst (632-3940)Hours: Opens at 9 a.m. daily. It closes at 1 a.m. weekdays, at 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 11 p.m. Sundays.