Santa Barbara has the Funk Zone. Santa Monica has Third Street Promenade. San Antonio has the Riverwalk. Austin has Sixth Street. What does Bakersfield have?
Nothing equivalent, you say? I think you’re wrong; we just haven’t named it yet.
It started long ago when Buck Owens built his Crystal Palace on what was then called Pierce Road, and the road has since been renamed in his honor. Like the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, it was at the time an industrial area with truck stops and some shuttered big-box stores, including a former Costco that moved to a new location west of the 99. Then young entrepreneurs moved in and opened Temblor Brewing Co., Rush Air Sports, Bakersfield Karting Experience and now The BLVD a place with rope courses, bowling alleys, laser tag, pingpong tables, the most updated video games, giant screens to watch sports, private billiard rooms and more.
We need a name for this area and we need it quick. Kicking around ideas while visiting The BLVD, the obvious first choice was Streets of Bakersfield, but then we riffed off of various old Buck songs such as "Tiger by the Tale," "Act Naturally," "Together Again" and "Where Do the Good Times Go." Maybe Fun Zone, Bakersfield’s Boardwalk. Maybe combine some of the names — Streets of Bakersfield Concourse. I smell a contest. Somebody’s gotta come up with something, as this is an area that’s just begging for touristy promotion. And I suspect these businesses will feed off each other well. Temblor was even making a special beer available only at The BLVD.
What surprised us most about The BLVD weren’t all the diversions, the bright lights, the opportunity for family fun. What surprised us was the attention to detail in the kitchen to produce the menu that isn’t just bar food for people too distracted by everything else to really taste anything. There is what you’d expect in an environment like this — pizzas, salads, sandwiches, wings, burgers — but they throw surprises at you. Order the grilled tri-tip dinner ($17), and you get roasted corn succotash and smoked Gouda grits. Holy cow.
One of my companions ordered the Sicilian “craft” pizza (that C word is so overused nowadays) and it featured grilled chicken, chorizo, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and baby arugula tossed on top after baking. “I just would have never thought to combine those ingredients, but it works,” she noted. I thought the grumbly chorizo might add too much grease, but it had been drained and tamed.
Other food we sampled included the baked jalapeno wontons ($9), the cowboy burger ($12) and fish and chips ($14). I’d label all as at least satisfying if not more so. The wontons are filled with cream cheese, bacon and jalapeno bits, all balanced so none of the flavors are too dominant, and the topping of Sriracha aioli and maple syrup was perfect. My companion’s fish and chips were a generous four strips of beer-battered cod with a tempura-like crunchy exterior and a Five Guys portion of fries and a spicy coleslaw. The burger was on a fresh baked bun with crispy, thick bacon strips, smoked Gouda cheese and barbecue sauce. It’s an immediate contender for the best burger in town.
There are so many different seating options in the place. Near the door, if you prefer a more sedate atmosphere, you can sit there, though we went back near the bar area by the bowling lanes. I was surprised by the big TV showing MLB games and NBA playoffs above the lanes as you bowl. It’s worth noting that if you go in the bar area you can get a $2 discount on drinks and appetizers from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays. That can add up, especially since the wine list is more extensive than I expected and it betrays the same thoughtfulness you see on the menu.
Service was solid from waitresses who seemed to have sampled most of the menu and were knowledgeable, capable of making recommendations. The place was crowded with a wide variety of ages, and a lot of families on a play/dinner date.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.