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REVIEW: River City Roll 

At Richmond’s boutique bowling alley, the unusual menu is a perfect strike.

click to enlarge A pizza featuring prosciutto and Castelvetrano olives, a cheeseburger with white cheddar and oyster mushrooms and a hot, gooey cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and the Sour Wench from Ballast Point Brewing Co. are just a few of the menu items at River City Roll.

Scott Elmquist

A pizza featuring prosciutto and Castelvetrano olives, a cheeseburger with white cheddar and oyster mushrooms and a hot, gooey cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and the Sour Wench from Ballast Point Brewing Co. are just a few of the menu items at River City Roll.

Lately you may have noticed a spike in the games-meets-neighborhood bar craze, particularly in Scott's Addition. Mixing dining and entertainment is a popular trend, and it turns out there can be a lot more to bowling alley food than hot dogs and stale popcorn.

Driving home that idea is River City Roll, a boutique bowling alley with a menu created by a chef from Lemaire. Guess what part of town it's in.

Yes, River City Roll is your friendly neighborhood bowling alley, but between the cinnamon roll with Meyer lemon frosting and the french fries with white truffle and shaved egg yolk, it's also a restaurant with a theme that appears to be going for a fancy fireside aesthetic. And it's hitting all the trendy fall foods, and doing it well.

There is no hot dog to be found on this menu. Instead, we get brick oven cauliflower ($5), a standout. Florets are roasted in curry to a tender finish, with a slight black char and a light sprinkling of parsley and paprika. For a more substantial snack, try the braised chicken nachos ($9), a platter of blue chips topped with a generous amount of creamy queso, black beans and shreds of chicken. The whole thing is doused in a vinegar-based, house-made hot sauce, which adds a kick that's friendly to a range of palates.

Pizza is rarely a bad idea, especially in a social setting, and here you've got several solid options. Mister Average ($15) is the answer for chicken-bacon-ranch devotees, the Brooklyn ($13) features Brussels sprouts, onions and bacon, and the Hook ($15) takes the prize for upscale Italian hodgepodge, with prosciutto instead of pepperoni, fennel and green, succulent Castelvetrano olives, all incorporated into a melty blend of ricotta and fontina topped with garlic confit. Yes, confit. The crust is a salty sourdough, baked to a nice crisp.

Billed as a main dish, the pork belly ramen ($13) boasts a satisfying flavor profile, but it's not filling enough to serve as a meal. Over a small nest of thin black rice noodles in a ginger broth, accompaniments are specifically arranged along the edges of the bowl. There's bok choy sauteed in garlic, a small cluster of pickled shiitake mushrooms and a cube of pork belly nestled in there. On top? A beautiful, raw egg yolk sprinkled with crushed sea salt and black sesame seeds. This one is for people who photograph their food as soon as it hits the table; I'm challenged to think of a prettier bowl of food in Richmond's dining scene. I wish there was about double the amount of broth to make it a true soup, but the flavors are distinct and memorable.

If you're hungry for dinner, go for the Roll Burger ($10), which may be accompanied by french fries for an extra dollar. Our dining scene can feel oversaturated on the burger front, but this one belongs on the list with places like Burger Bach, Citizen, Beauvine and Saison. River City Roll's version is a medium pink patty with crispy shallots, white cheddar, oyster mushrooms sauteed to tenderness, a heap of arugula and a sherry aioli on top. Now is not the time to be picky or ask for substitutions — it's the mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures here that makes this burger worth ordering.

Be sure to save room for dessert. And if you don't have a big appetite, you might have to forego the pizza, because the skillet-baked cookie ($5) has earned a spot in my dessert hall of fame. This is one of a few menu examples that don't mess with a classic, and it is everything you could want from a brown-sugar, chocolate-chip cookie. It's hot, it's gooey and it has a scoop of vanilla ice cream the size of tennis ball on top with a drizzle of caramel sauce. Call me a trendy millennial because this dish is giving me major cozy, winter vibes. The skillet cookie is shareable but this critic is here to tell you she ate the whole thing.

The cinnamon bun ($5) is equally impressive, with its light cream cheese lemon zest glaze. The thin layers of dough are not overbaked, a common snafu in the world of cinnamon rolls, and they have that soft elasticity in each bite, from the outer layers to the center of the spiral.

River City Roll seems to be a destination with or without the bowling. The giant pizza oven is the first thing to greet you at the front, bowling lanes are tucked away and other games like shuffleboard don't impinge on dining space. The bar features about a dozen beers on tap and a cocktail menu with just the right amount of creativity, plus a generous selection of wines by the glass.

It's a family-friendly birthday party spot, it's a casual bar vibe for a Saturday night and it's also home to a truly perfect chocolate chip cookie.

River City Roll
939 Myers St.
331-0416
rivercityroll.com
Mondays – Thursdays 5 p.m. – midnight
Fridays 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturdays 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Sundays 11 a.m. – midnight.

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