Restaurant works to overcome bowling alley image
Over the sound of a bowler nailing a strike and the muffled commentary from television sportscasters, the team at CJ’s Sports Bar and Grill serves food rarely found in a bowling alley. Stretching beyond standard nachos and hot dogs, the menu includes turkey and chicken wraps, salads, pizza and breakfast tacos.
In April 2008, Food and Beverage Manager Tracey Waters helped open the restaurant—attached to Mel’s Lone Star Lanes—with hopes of it becoming a family entertainment destination. She said improving visitors’ initial idea of bowling alley food is a challenge.
“Our goal is to exceed people’s expectations on everything from the appearance of the building to the service they receive when they walk inside. Some people don’t even know they’re going to get service.” Waters said.
The in-house menu was designed with bowlers in mind. They can order food in the alley every day after 4 p.m., while those in search of a bite away from the lanes can dine inside the restaurant and bar all day.
“When people are bowling, it can’t be knife-and-fork food. The menu is birthed from being a bowling center and a bar, so we’re talking about wings, pizza, sandwiches and burgers,” Catering Manager Ralph Acquaro said. He began expanding CJ’s catering services in August 2010, adding a new spectrum of flavors and dishes to CJ’s offerings. “Our catering is lot more diverse. We’re really not tied into any genre.”
CJ’s caters events for organizations throughout Central Texas, including the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Williamson County and daily lunches at two Catholic schools. Acquaro said CJ’s catering can personalize menus and negotiate prices for nonprofits.
“Part of that focus is, we want to give back to the community that we live in, and also we want to help nonprofits be successful,” he said. “I’ll get a call saying, ‘I have to feed 300 people and I have $500, what can you do for me?’ And we make it work.”
The kitchen team can feed hundreds of people a day between catering events and in-restaurant orders, so the managers meet weekly to plan for a high volume of outgoing food.
“We try to be on the same page and have the best communication possible,” Kitchen Manager Jorge Pineda said. “We go through the menu once a month and look at what items we sell the most, and we try to improve.”
CJ’s has weekly lunch specials to entice business professionals and lunchtime guests. Acquaro said a larger midday crowd would help propel the restaurant’s image as an accessible and sensible dining option.
“I don’t think people realize they can come in here, have a beer or have a tea, get in and get out in 20 or 30 minutes. I don’t think they realize that we’re capable of that,” he said. “If you took this food and put it at a different location, it would be an unbelievably, wildly successful restaurant. When you have to prove you’re a bowling alley making this food, that is where the challenge is. Our goal is to get that message out that you don’t know what you’re missing.”
CJ’s serves hand-held appetizers such as the 300 Sampler, which includes:
- Beef Nachados —tostada-size crispy corn tortillas cut in half with refried beans, cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese, beef and jalapeños
- Cheese quesadillas
- Beer-battered onion rings
- Fried dill pickle chips
- Mozzarella cheese sticks
Homemade dipping sauces including the ranch and chipotle garlic dip, salsa, sour cream and guacamole accompany the 300 Sampler appetizer.
CJ’s serves burgers with french fries or homemade chips.
- The Dude Abides is a 1/3-pound chicken-fried burger patty topped with onion rings, grilled jalapeños, queso blanco and chipotle garlic sauce for $8.99.
- The Big Cheese is a 1/2-pound patty grilled medium-well, topped with a cup of shredded Monterrey Jack and cheddar cheeses and presented on a kaiser roll ($8.99).
- CJ’s Chili Burger is a 1/3-pound patty with two layers of cheese and smothered in chili and onions ($8.99).
CJ’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1010 N. Austin Ave., 930-2200, www.melslonestarlanes.com
- Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
- Mon.–Tue. 9 a.m.–11 p.m.
- Wed.–Fri. 9 a.m.–midnight
- Sat. 9 a.m.–1 a.m.