Food and Fun
It is game time at these two bars.
Fulton Alley’s chicken wings
Photographed by Jeffery Johnston
Carnival turns New Orleans into a world-class playground, and a couple of new places in the Warehouse District have recently expanded the scope of entertainment options available. By splicing quality food and drink offerings to their primary entertainment, DNA, Fulton Alley and Barcadia up the ante for things to do in the Crescent City while creating new options for private parties and events.
Fulton Alley opened in mid-November 2013. It isn’t the first hybrid bowling alley (the venerable Rock ‘n’ Bowl wears that crown) but the vibe is distinctively different. Posited on the pedestrian-friendly stretch of Fulton Street behind Harrah’s Hotel, Fulton Alley puts forward a downtown lounge ambience to go with its primary attraction of bowling – here you’ll find Chesterfield sofas flanking the lanes rather than hard plastic benches. An idiot-proof computer takes the hassle out of keeping score, and servers are quick to come around to ensure drinks (or in the case here, craft cocktails) continue to flow.
Principal owners Shawn Barney and Kyle Brechtel brought in chef Mike Nirenberg to handle the cuisine. Formerly chef at Tivoli & Lee, Nirenberg was attracted to the project in part by the ownership group but also because it appealed to him on a personal level. “This is the kind of place that I would want to go to,” Nirenberg says. “My food could reach a lot more people and is also more my style. Not quite fine dining but good food in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.”
Nirenberg came in on the ground floor, helping to design the kitchen layout as well as hiring the staff and creating the menu. Like Tivoli & Lee, Nirenberg’s food emphasizes Southern and regional cuisine, with a few unique caveats tailored to the setting. Given that it’s served lane-side, plates are snack-oriented and designed to be shared; basically finger food that doesn’t break your focus between frames.
“Everything we do is prep-heavy but fast on the line,” Nirenberg explains. His menu is set up so that orders can be finished à la minute and sent out right away, but in a manner that doesn’t compromise quality. “We have to be able to execute the food quickly. If it takes too long for our guests to get served it can hurt their bowling experience.”
Take the chicken wings, for example. Rubbed with coriander and paprika and smoked ahead of time over hickory and mesquite, when the ticket comes in, the wings get flash-fried to order and sent out with a Crystal hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. The result is a wing that has bold flavor but isn’t sauced or greasy, and therefore manageable to eat while rolling.
Unique dishes such as Nirenberg’s blackened drum tots stick to the theme of being regional and creative without being stuffy. Nirenberg often ran variations of this favorite finger food during his time at Tivoli & Lee. Here they’re bite-size morsels of coarsely chopped spiced fish that come with a tomato aioli dipping sauce.
Also carried over from his prior restaurant is an emphasis on local sourcing. “We don’t necessarily write it all over the menu where we get these ingredients from, but we do use Two Run Farm, Covey Rise and Hollygrove Market and Farm, among others,” he says. “Pretty much the same contacts I used with Tivoli & Lee I use here.” For those with a sweet tooth, try the chocolate and raisin bread pudding beignets – you get a little bite of New Orleans with the bread pudding done up beignet-style with the bourbon sauce on top.
The cocktail side of things is a big part of the attraction as well. Curated by Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal of Cure, it leans heavily on small-batch liquor and New Orleans-inspired drinks, yet is less highbrow than some of their other ventures. Exchanging Lanes, their version of the Sazerac, is Nirenberg’s pick.
Fulton Alley makes for an excellent option for parties and other special events. It has a decidedly adult vibe, but those under 21 are welcome during “family hours” on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Just a few blocks away from Fulton Alley is Barcadia, the retro video game nirvana carved out of the ground floor of a parking garage just a block off of Poydras Street. Gamers of a certain age, please take note of the titles available – Tron, Frogger, Spy Hunter and Defender for starters, and the list goes on. Table-style attractions such as air hockey and skee ball are represented as well. Décor is casual and accented by 1950s-era cheesecake pinup art with an overall fun, friendly vibe.
Food offerings are a grab bag of wraps, burgers and deli-style sandwiches. The Manager’s Special best represents the latter, with its pastrami and Swiss cheese on marble rye dressed with Abita Andygator-spiked mustard. Their everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach encompasses some curveballs, like a tempura battered and fried peanut butter and jelly dessert sandwich, Korean “pork shanks” done up with Sriracha and a bulgogi marinade and naan (the Indian flatbread) pizza topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce and cilantro and onion. A french fry submenu offers numerous variations (including one with pastrami and Swiss cheese, should you prefer your deli sandwiches in french fry form).
A standout draft beer menu offers more than 40 options with a full bar for spirits as well. Daily drink specials include enticements such as “Free Play” Tuesday as well as a “Sous Vide Steak Night” on Wednesdays with $2 PBR and $3 Jameson shots. A life-size Jenga game is offered on the patio. Like Fulton Ally, Barcadia is a fun option for parties and private events, and a private game room is available for such functions. Barcadia is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., making it a late-night option as well.
Other entertainment options offering a particular focus on food and drink include The Theatres at Canal Place , with its full bar service and a snack-heavy menu c rafted by chef Adolfo Garcia; the number of available theaters has recently expanded. Over on the West Bank, NOLA Motorsports offers clubhouse and catering options from chef Scott Boswell of Stella! and Stanley!. Rock ‘n’ Bowl is a cl assic as well.