The Dust Bowl is the brainchild of The McNellie’s Group, a restaurant group based out of Oklahoma. The Little Rock location is their third such spot and the first venture outside of the Sooner state.
“There are a ton of similarities between Tulsa and Little Rock. The downtown scene that has reasonable lease rates mixed with the close proximity to home-made it a logical spot to expand, ”McNellie group partner Adam Price. “We really had no plans of expanding out, but we fell in love with the downtown here and it seemed like the perfect addition.”
The bowling alley itself is cozy, with just 6 main lanes and two additional that can be reserved as a private room. All of the bowling equipment and lanes were refurbished from old bowling alleys. They also worked in parts of the bar from the American Legion that once occupied the space. It also has karaoke rooms down the hall, for those interested in more than bowling.
Bowling is great and all, but what we really care about here is the food. Suffice to say, it is not your typical canned nacho meat and frozen hot dogs.
On the food menu, there are a number of big winners. The first is their signature onion burger. This is inspired from a famous spot outside of Oklahoma City known as Sid’s Burgers. It is equal parts onion and beef, with the onion blended back inside the beef. It is a thin patty that is then seared well that both provides a great crispness to the patty and caramelizes the onions. It is finished very simple with cheese and mustard. Mayo is available to swap out on request, but even if you are not a mustard on a burger person (I certainly am not), it works well with this burger.
The street tacos (on the appetizer menu) were also a surprising hit. They are very solid tacos, especially from a menu that looks like tacos do not belong. The dust bowl dog was also great. It is topped with cheddar, candied bacon, jalapeno relish, and mayo. It is way spicier than you expect, so be warned, but it is a great dish.
They also jump on the hot chicken bandwagon here in the form of both a hot chicken popper appetizer and a sandwich. The appetizer is essentially chicken nuggets given the hot chicken treatment, then finished the traditional Nashville way with a slice of white bread and pickles. It may be because I ate the hot dog first, but this is not nearly as spicy as expected, so if you are scared of things too hot, this is a nice mild option while keeping a strong seasoning.
Their other big signature item is the Totchios. This is essentially nachos that uses tater tots as a base instead of chips. It would make Napoleon Dynamite proud and is a great fusion of a couple of bowling alley classics.
On the drink side they have a small, but a stable lineup of craft beers. Locally I spotted some Stones Throw and Lost Forty along with a few national crafts. Unique to the Little Rock location, however, are the cocktails. They have a lineup of 8 signature cocktails along with a full bar to make most of the basics. The signatures were good, most are on the lighter side. I tried the “Ice and Rug” which is a pomegranate and vodka-based drink as well as the “Ride the Lightning” which is cognac, Grand Marnier based. Both were well balanced and good for a bowling alley cocktail.