Upon hearing of the opening of Ezra’s Place, my interest and excitement were piqued, and for more than one reason. The proprietor is Dennis Apodaca, the man behind Sophia’s Place. Sophia’s is treasured locally and has even caught the attention of Guy Fieri, landing it a spot on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." And the location—the Lucky 66 Bowling Alley (spitting distance across Fourth Street from Sophia's)—couldn’t have been more intriguing. Inventive cuisine served amid the polished maple lanes? I’ll take a size 6 1/2 and the booth in the corner, please.
Inside, shabby vinyl booths overlooking the lanes echo a faded, threadbare carpet; worn and aesthetically distracting furnishings are the calling cards of any bowling alley café, even this one. Simple but colorful artwork hangs above diners, the one bright spot in the restaurant's decorating scheme.
Margaritas, concocted in several varieties, were zippy and colorful. Much to my delight, the restaurant's bar bypassed cheap sweet and sour mix for pure, unadulterated lime juice. Its standard Margarita was difficult to outdo, but Ezra’s managed to one-up its own offering. The prickly pear Margarita blossomed with a rich rose color and fruity flavor, all without overpowering the tangy lime.
Topped with house-made honey butter studded with piñons, a morning meal can reach no greater heights than these pancakes.
As refreshing as the cocktails were, it didn’t take long to realize the service was anything but. My server stayed away for such long stretches I forgot what she looked like between stops to my table. This held true for each of my visits.
Thankfully, the food faired much better. An appetizer of fried calamari was drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Sharp and sweet, the vinegar syrup lightened musky thickness with acidity—a welcome break from marinara sauce. Dill-infused ranch dressing also accompanied the lightly battered squid, perhaps in a nod to its bowling alley setting.
Though the dinner menu is brief, it manages to go from tacos to filet mignon. Tender and rich meat emerged beneath the heavily seasoned char of grilled salmon. It was served with a folded calabacitas enchilada: Decked out in a sweet tomatillo sauce that blended smoky roasted tomatillos with citrusy cilantro, caramelized sugar notes were coaxed from the sautéed vegetables. Too bad the corn tortillas were on the tough and chewy side.
Each entrée was served with a simply dressed green salad—but, as at Ezra's sister restaurant down the street, its placement led to logistical problems. The greens were squeezed onto already crowded plates, raising the temperature of the lettuce to that of the entrée, and getting cozy with whatever sauce was covering the main attraction. Even with the crash of bowling pins in the background, warm, saucy salad just isn't up my alley.
The idea of breakfast next to bowling lanes may be hard for some to swallow, but it's a feat at which Ezra's Place excells. Exhibit A: lemon sour-cream pancakes. The sunny citrus flavor was reason enough to worship these flawless flapjacks. But it was the silky texture that bowled me over—the moist and supple cakes were rounded out with crackling edges. Topped with house-made honey butter studded with piñons, a morning meal can reach no greater heights than these pancakes. Ezra's clearly takes breakfast seriously—clownish, rented bowling shoes or not.
The Alibi recommends:
•Lemon sour-cream pancakes
• Prickly pear Margarita
• Licking honey butter from your fingers while brainstorming bowling league names. “The Gutter Punks," anyone?
Ezra’s Place, 6132 Fourth Street NW, 344-1917. Hours: Tue-Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Price range: Dinner entrées average $15. Ambience: Snack bar with real silverware. Credit cards, booze.