When it comes to having a good time, I’m as old school as they come. Mini-golf, board games and bowling? Count. Me. In! And if you throw in some good food, well, don’t be surprised if I never leave.
The newly remodeled River Alley does just that, pairing 32 lanes of high-rolling action with a “bigger than you’d expect from a snack bar” menu of all-American appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. There’s craft beer and a full bar, too.
Even better, you can enjoy all of this food and drink at the bar, in the café or on tables right down on the alleys as you bowl! (Most alleys have strict “no food or drinks allowed” rules in the bowling area, which puts a real damper on the fun in my book. Glad that’s not the case here.)
After sitting vacant since May of 2019, the former Venture Lanes bowling alley along MacCorkle Avenue between South Charleston and St. Albans reopened as River Alley this August after being purchased and extensively renovated by the family of Aaron Morris.
The newly remodeled space features spiffy lanes with automatic scorers and new tables, carpet, paint and woodwork fashioned from original mahogany saved from the building during construction.
The newly expanded menu features appetizers like pretzel breadsticks with beer cheese, pulled pork and beef sliders, nachos, mozzarella sticks with marinara, spicy battered cauliflower and hushpuppies with cinnamon butter.
Hand-pattied sirloin burgers range from The Classic and Bacon & Bleu (topped with grilled onions, melted Swiss and sweet BBQ drizzle) to The Flamethrower (spiked with grilled jalapenos, melted pepper-jack and fiery sriracha).
A hot dog lineup includes The Alley Dog with chili, slaw, mustard and onions; a Chili Cheese Dog with melted cheddar; a Southwestern Dog with avocado, salsa and sriracha; or the Four-Alarm Fire Dog, which is fried crispy and smothered in sauteed jalapenos, onions, queso and spicy mayo.
Other sandwich options include a pulled pork BBQ with coleslaw, a hot ham melt with Thousand Island dressing, and a New York-style chopped beef with ground sirloin, sauteed mushrooms, onions, peppers, melted Provolone, banana peppers and mayo.
Or if you’re in the mood for pizza, you can dig into The Meatworks (sausage, pepperoni, diced ham and bacon), The Hawaiian (diced ham, bacon and pineapple) or The Spicy BBQ (pulled pork, bacon, jalapenos and red onions topped with sharp cheddar and spicy BBQ sauce) along with pepperoni, cheese and veggie versions.
A couple of salads and desserts round out the mix.
We rolled in Saturday night to check the new place out, enjoying several games (and snacks) along the way.
The Philly Melt Burger was deliciously chargrilled, which was a nice accompaniment to the grilled mushrooms, onions, peppers, melted Provolone and mayo sandwiched with it between toasted brioche.
The Alley Dog was good, especially on its split and toasted English bun, although the Chicago Dog needed more punch than the sliced tomato, sweet pickles and diced onions topping it provided.
The chicken strips were not fancy, but surprisingly moist and perfectly crispy, and the crinkle-cut fries and beer-battered onion rings we ordered alongside them were better than most. The Works pizza with sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and black olives also hit the spot.
Let’s be clear, though, the food is not life-changing.
Those crinkle-cut fries could’ve been crisped up a few minutes longer and the pizza could’ve definitely used a few more minutes in the oven to achieve melty golden perfection.
But here’s the thing:
By the end of the night, nearly every lane was full of lively groups of bowlers enjoying lots of fun, laughter, food and drinks – us included.
We truly had a blast and the pizza doesn’t have to be perfect for that.
IF YOU GO: River Alley at 6300 MacCorkle Ave. between South Charleston and St. Albans is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 681-265-1320, visit www.riveralleyfun.com or check out the bowling alley’s Facebook page.
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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.