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Stuck in the slow lane

Times Staff Writer

A bowling alley with real food? It seems too good to be true. But that’s the concept, or at least one of them, behind Lucky Strike Lanes in the giant complex at Hollywood & Highland.

To that end, the owners have brought in longtime Hollywood caterer Along Came Mary Productions with a middle-of-the-road menu of American food. Everything from hot dogs to tomato soup or chocolate brownies speaks to the inner child. It’s the food equivalent of baseball caps, T-shirts and shorts.

The place itself is fun. With its ample booths, soft lighting and huge bar, the restaurant is a comfortable place to hang while you wait for one of the bowling lanes to be free. At $55 an hour, you’d think that would mean a short wait, but no. Only four or so of the 12 lanes can be reserved. The rest are first come, first served, and at prime time -- generally between 9 and 11 p.m. -- it can be a while.

So why not sit back and order a Pilsner Urquell and a basket of onion rings or some potato chips covered with a rubble of blue cheese? The chips are homemade, but tough: go with the onion rings, which are fat and golden.

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Service is amiable enough, but awfully slow. We order a pizza, and after 20 minutes finally ask what’s doing. Our waiter explains that they have a big party down on the bowling alley. Even so, it shouldn’t take this long. By the time our pizza arrives, we’ve almost forgotten about it. Sad to say, the pillowy, underbaked crust blanketed with mozzarella and tomato dotted with decent pepperoni is underwhelming, about one notch better than fast food.

Tomato and cheese s’mores, little sandwiches of toast smeared with tomato and melting mozzarella make pretty good finger food, but like the vinegary, boneless Buffalo “wings” with blue cheese dip, they’re messy to eat. I can’t help picturing finding mozzarella or blue cheese in the holes of your bowling ball.

Though everybody looks like they’re having a blast at this sexy new bowling alley, which features video projections and a pulsing soundtrack, the food could use some tweaking. The best thing I had, in fact, was the juicy hot dog. A pulled pork sandwich cloaked in an achingly sweet sauce is a real disappointment to anybody who knows the genuine article. The sirloin burger wouldn’t stand a chance against one from In-N-Out Burger. Ordered rare, it came medium, in a squishy bun. But a holder provides plenty of options for doctoring it, everything from Dijon and ketchup to some wicked green Tabasco. It also comes in turkey and vegetarian versions.

Desserts strike out. The specialty, called Chocolate Insanity, is something like a chocolate bread pudding with gritty pieces of not very high quality chocolate decorated with a ruffle of what looks and tastes very like Reddi-wip. Vanilla pudding closely resembles Crisco and doesn’t seem to bear a trace of vanilla. The best thing about it are the Oreo cookies. Cheesecake is revoltingly sweet.

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It just goes to show that catering skills don’t necessarily translate to running a restaurant.

Lucky Strike Lanes has the chance to define a new genre, but to do that, it has to make more of an effort. Instead, it looks as if it’s more interested in marketing mugs, T-shirts and other paraphernalia inscribed with the Lucky Strike logo, including a fetching pink bowling ball.

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Lucky Strike Lanes

Where: 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Full bar, beer and wine. Parking available at either of the Prestige lots on the east side of Highland Avenue for a $3 flat rate for Lucky Strike patrons.

Cost: Starters $6.95 to $10.50; pizzas $7.75 to $9.95; burgers and dogs $6.95 to $13.95; desserts $6.95 to 8.95. Bowling $4.95 to $6.95 per person per game; shoe rental $3.95.

Info: (323) 467-7776

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