Let’s get this straight: Mission Bowling Club is actually a bowling alley. Yes, lanes may run $55 an hour, you can sip prosecco instead of swill Coors Light and the chef was on Food & Wine magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 list.
Still, the vibe isn’t precious. There are frequent theme parties, with Mylar balloons, tiaras and sheet cakes. Classic rock is on heavy rotation. Nobody’s too cool to cheer.
“Most people who come to Mission Bowling don’t read Eater SF and all that,” chef Anthony Myint said. “They just want to bowl.”
Myint is an award-winning, cookbook-writing, boundary-busting chef, with creds spanning from the street (Mission Street Food) to the molecular (Commonwealth). But as he’ll be the first to tell you, it’s a tough balancing act at Mission Bowling. Myint needs pub staples to reel in the nonfoodie set, but he yearns to set the bar higher.
As a result, corn dogs and beef jerky share a menu with sous vide salmon and roe. A tug of war is playing itself out; winners and losers emerge.
The lush, complex vegan burger — a chickpea-fava patty deep-fried with sauteed kale, shiitake, edamame and scallions — paired the heat of sambal chili paste with a cooling fennel slaw. (I’ll refrain from omnivore cliches: “So good, even a meat-eater ...”)
Sausage corn dogs sprouted diagonally from the plate like pre-flight bottle rockets, perched over an artful splash of habañero crema. The sausage was mild and sweet, with a moist, sour cream-infused breading.
And the storied Mission burger, made with granulated brisket, hangar steak and chuck, needs no introduction from me; it’s justly ranked among The City’s best.
Lest this all seem a bit heavy, Myint can do delicate, too. Fried chickpeas were a crunchy contrast to the fanciful, simply dressed seven-bean salad, served under a delicate tangle of mache. And the tangy buttermilk panna cotta was springtime purity in a cup, topped with fresh basil, mint oil and a modernist shard of chamomile brittle.
Other items were less sure-footed. Dry beef jerky had an unpleasant, gravelly crumble.
The Everything pretzel — poppy, caraway, sesame — was a throwaway breadstick (though I loved the nostril-flaring horseradish of the lardo mustard dip).
Tender slices of pork shoulder were well-paired with grapefruit wedges and crunchy jicama in the jerk pork sandwich, but the cold, untoasted bun went soggy after sponging up too much sauce.
The blackened sturgeon (this fish alternates with salmon) was a rubbery little wedge; I don’t understand how a sous vide preparation could produce such a texture. The ebony leek ash-and-caraway crust looked striking on the white fish, but was chokingly thick and over-seasoned.
And I won’t dwell on the odd mush that is the French onion casserole; Myint said it will be retooled or removed soon.
MBC’s menu has already undergone many revisions, with items switched up, swapped out and the whimsical “Food on Sticks” section abandoned.
Myint is now toying with the idea of making two separate menus, one for dedicated diners and one for bowlers and bar patrons. I’m not sure how successful that will be — a sit-down dinner with $18 entrees is a hard sell at a bowling alley — but I understand the wisdom in parsing out Myint’s ambitions. With a little sharpening of focus, I can see Mission Bowling Club living up to its potential: a bowling alley with damn fine food.
Mission Bowling Club
- Location: 3176 17th St. (at Van Ness Avenue), S.F.
- Contact: (415) 863-2695
- Hours: 3 to 11 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 3 p.m. to midnight Thursdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays
- Price range: $7 to $18
- Recommended dishes: Mission burger ($15, $10 during happy hour), vegan burger ($10), sausage corn dog ($7), seven-bean salad ($9), buttermilk panna cotta ($7)
- Credit cards: All major