It's impossible to review Uncle Buck's FishBowl & Grill without looking at the temple next to it, so let's talk about Bass Pro Shops for a little bit.
It's certainly an interesting experience, crossing underneath the arch emblazoned "Welcome to Sportsman's Paradise" and immersing oneself in the world of the National Rifle Association, the Professional Bull Riders and NASCAR — all important partners of the $4 billion retailer. Every third row at the 117,000-square-foot behemoth, located on Bass Pro Drive, seems to be hawking something from Duck Dynasty, and plaid, camo and Carhartt are ever-stylish.
Tools for killing animals, and accessories to help one do it, lay about everywhere. Knives, machetes, crossbows, pistols, rifles (pink for the ladies, toy for the kids), tree stands, scent-elimination kits, animal calls and decoys are just the beginning. One endcap loops a video showing scenes of coyotes running across a field before they suddenly collapse, shot in the chest.
Live creatures feature, too — mostly bass swimming in an impressive waterfall display — but generally you'll find lots and lots of dead ones: stuffed bison, deer, elk, brown bear and mountain lion, blankly posed high above the showroom floor. The many animal heads and decorative racks of antlers scattered throughout are a bonus.
See the size of that thing?
The display is, of course, aimed at our hunters and fishermen, and Lawd knows they get hungry, too, so enter Uncle Buck's. The 16-lane bowling alley and restaurant is named after a family member of BPS majority owner Johnny Morris, with a clip-art logo featuring a busty, blonde mermaid.
In here, though, it's easy to miss the tail (and there's a bit), because there's so much of everything else. With huge, hand-painted murals on the walls; giant fish suspended from the ceiling; and the prow of a ship coming out from behind the host stand, the 550-seat restaurant across the hall from the store is Finding Nemo in an airplane hangar.
Add in the bowling, whose crashing sounds create the soundtrack to your meal, and it's a child's happy place, especially considering how nice the waitstaff are and how fast the food comes out.
I would generally avoid it, though, if you've got taste buds more advanced than a 10-year-old's.
For instance, a kid would probably think the "gator sauce" — which comes drizzled in the shape of the predator in the Alley Gator ($9.50) — is pretty neat. Somebody else might think the seafoam-green goo looks and tastes like too-sweet toothpaste. (At least it helps counteract the breading on the alligator meat, which is salty as hell.)
The Portobello Logs ($6) are totally OK, since they're just light breading over sliced mushrooms, and the accompanying horseradish cream is useful for hiding the burned-garlic flavor on the fries. That sauce comes up again on the tender pot-roast sliders ($9), which are unequivocally decent. But the tuna wasabi ($15), with its slices of undercooked, chewy tuna and frozen vegetables, is as bland as it is expensive (for this menu); while the top sirloin ($11) comes overcooked, if still fairly tender, with a weird, freezer-burned aftertaste.
Fall in the drink
But let's move on, because what I really want to talk about is The Fish Bowl ($13.20), the restaurant's signature cocktail. The size of a small cantaloupe, the neon-blue two-hander glows with a sugary inner light from all the vodka, gin, rum, blue curaçao, sweet-and-sour mix and Sprite. Two swallows in on an empty stomach, and I had a headache plus the buzz to combat it. There's even Swedish fish floating in the bottom, for God's sake.
To paraphrase Monty Python's "Australian Table Wines" sketch: This is not a cocktail for drinking; this is a cocktail for laying down and avoiding. When I asked my fiancée, after a few minutes, if she could feel its effects, she just paused before laughing.
Our food wasn't helping much, either. The Northern Italian flatbread's ($9) super-salty prosciutto tasted like Pizza Hut pepperoni, and the garlic tasted burned again. The Southwest Burger ($10) arrived with its uniformly round patty overcooked and tasteless. (Nice, soft potato bun, though.) A lone exception was the Ginger Salmon ($13), which, despite more generic steamed vegetables, came lightly glazed, flaky and crisp at the edges and steaming — a perfect plate of fish.
Considering all the fishing implements around, maybe the kitchen crew caught it themselves?