Happiness is a basket of frickles

No depression at the bowling alley

The snack bar at AMF Orchard Lanes
2397 Esplanade

I gotta be honest, I’ve been feeling a little bit down lately. Life, y’know? I realize that statement may more appropriately kick off a therapy session than a food review, but it’s pertinent here to establish my frame of mind heading to AMF Orchard Lanes one recent Friday for beer, bowling and dinner with friends. I wasn’t feeling too social, but had a definite need to socialize, and the usual bars seemed overwhelming. I hoped to shake the funk, but my expectations were low.

But bowling alleys are surreal, special places, like supernatural vortexes where threads in time converge, and anything is possible. In bowling alleys, middle-aged, overweight men are honored athletes, goofy facial hair is rocked without a hint of irony, Guns ’n’ Roses and Toby Keith occupy adjacent spots on the playlist, and everybody wears cool shoes.

We started the evening in the bar, which fortunately has avoided the current trend in which every dive bar has a confusing, hand-written list of IPAs and WTFs. There are a few fancier options, but your all-American corporate domestics rule here. Our evening was primarily fueled by a few Towers of Power, colossal lava lamp-like, tapped tankfuls of Coors Light ($18.35) so voluminous they can be ordered only by a minimum of three people. It’s like, bowling alley law, or something.

Even mediocre beer is made excellent by good company, and those things compounded with the singular sounds of spheres sliding across pine lanes and crashing pins conspired to change my mood for the better. After downing enough Silver Bullet to battle a pack of werewolves, we made our way to the lane-side snack counter to get our grub on. Some members of our party grappled with their personal dietary concerns, expressed their righteous indignation with American food culture, then proceeded to order every deep-fried thing on the menu.

I tried a few bites of a Handcrafted Hamburger ($7.99) and a few slices of Kingpin Pepperoni Pizza ($16.99), both of which were just OK. We also split a Team Xtreme Platter ($20.99), which is basically a collection of the best junk food offered at every little league, arcade and mini golf snack shack this fat kid ever encountered.

The platter includes Old Fashioned Wings, which are available in several flavors, and we chose Blazing Buffalo. They also were just OK. The mozzarella sticks were an all-around hit, and opinions were split on the Nine Napkin Nachos (smothered in chili, cheese sauce, olives, pico de gallo, jack, cheddar, sliced jalapenos, guacamole and sour cream). I liked them. Some people thought the chili was overkill, but then some people just aren’t as Xtreme as others.

The final component of the platter is fried pickles, here known as Frickles. I’ve encountered these rare delicacies on occasion, the best instance before the bowling alley being deep in the swamps of Florida. But the bowling alley Frickles were a revelation, and a delicious one at that. They’re garlicky dill chips battered and deep-fried to crispy, golden-brown perfection, and biting into the first one felt like mainlining a speedball-like cocktail of dopamine and hot grease. A basket full of Frickles is a basket full of smiles, like deep-fried, salty Prozac.

Entree-wise, the Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla ($9.99) also was impressive. It was well-stuffed, and a dining companion who is particular about such things said it was more perfectly grilled than any she’s found in Chico. There are many other menu options for future exploration, including Mac & Cheese Bites (!), a full range of Wicked Wiches (get it?) and a 5ive Under 550 menu offering lighter fare, like salad or a Jive Turkey Burger. Most appetizers range from $4.59 to $5.99, while entrees range from $7.99 to $10.99.

Some of the prices on the menu, and at the bar, may cause understandable sticker shock. But at the bowling alley, you pay for the atmosphere. The value in people-watching alone is worth the price of a beer and a meal, and bowling a few games, no matter your skill level, can elevate it to a memorable night out. And hey, it’s a lot cheaper than therapy, and healthier than pharmaceuticals.