With all due respect to those who love them — and they are legion and a devoted lot — karaoke and trivia nights in bars and restaurants aren’t the only attractions anymore. With the recent opening of Blazing Paddles, a Ping-Pong place next to Fenway Park, we looked into restaurants with other forms of amusements. Come for the food, but stay for the Ping-Pong, bowling, pinball, and (fill in the name of your diversion here).
It’s extremely loud. That’s the first thing you notice about Blazing Paddles, which opened in March in the downstairs of Game On!, a popular sports bar in the heart of Fenway. Much like its upstairs hot spot, the idea is that you never have to miss any of the action, no matter how far away from the Green Monsta you are. Six jumbo screens hover over the bar, and on game days, 12 Ping-Pong tables are set up throughout the place. You pay $15 per half-hour, $25 per hour for your entire group. Not bad.
At peak times, you can easily wait an hour or longer for a Ping-Pong table. We visited on a recent Sunday not long after the Sox had wrapped up and waited 20 minutes instead of the estimated half-hour. Blazing Paddles shares a kitchen with Game On!, and the menus are the same. The food is what you would expect (respectable), but it also serves its purpose. You want to nosh on hot ’n’ salty pretzel sticks, burgers smothered in cheese and avocado, and meatballs drenched in tomato sauce with garlic bread to sop it up. The pizzas are a highlight, particularly the Fenway, a thin-crust pie with a generous amount of sausage, mozzarella, pepper flakes, and red sauce.
You can dine at a table or at the bar or, better yet, have your food brought directly to your Ping-Pong area. Our bartender had a heavy pour, which meant that one margarita and a Yawkey Way Julep lifted not only our spirits, but our Ping-Pong prowess. The music, and specifically the deafening volume at which it blares, makes sense once you’re playing. It’s essentially a party soundtrack, with Top 40 hits from Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, and Rihanna putting you in the mood to stick around. 82 Lansdowne St., Boston, 617-351-7001, www.blazingpaddles.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Prices: appetizers $5-$18.50, pizzas and burgers $10-$13, sandwiches $10-$12, salads $8-$13. Noise level: Extremely loud. Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards accepted.
OK, so maybe two pinball machines, a jukebox, a shuffleboard, and a pool table don’t exactly warrant the “amusements” proudly listed on State Park’s website, right next to “food” and “drinks.” They do, however, make this recent addition to Kendall Square an addictively fun place to unwind.
From the team behind Hungry Mother, also in Kendall, State Park is its sister location and feels like it must be the black sheep of the family. While Hungry Mother puts an upscale spin on Southern dining, State Park is all about Southern comfort. The menu caters to your munchies with a decidedly retro bent: pickled eggs, gumbo, fried chicken, fried oyster po’boys, collards, and so on. Don’t miss the tobacco onions, a nest of thinly sliced onions seasoned and fried that puts french fries to shame.
Save room for dessert because you’ll want a slice of pie, whatever it is that day (we had buttermilk, and it was so rich I was tempted to ask for a glass of milk). The libations have a dive-bar charm, too, starting with the State Park cocktail: a bottle of Miller High Life with 2 ounces removed and replaced with rye and the amaro Braulio. It goes down fast, maybe a little too fast.
As for those amusements, State Park is likely to be the only place in town where you can play an Addams Family-themed pinball machine while Bob Dylan, Kanye West, and the Smiths serenade you from the jukebox. A dollar gives you two plays, and your server will gladly get you quarters for the games; in fact, quarters are listed on the menu. The shuffleboard is free, and the bartenders are down to come over and show you how it’s played.
Inside tip: If you’re headed to the nearby Kendall Square Cinema, buy your movie tickets here; they’re $8 instead of the $11 you’ll fork over at the box office. 1 Kendall Square, Building 300 lower level, Cambridge, 617-848-4355, www.statepark.is. Hours: Kitchen open 5 p.m.-midnight daily. Prices: snacks $1.50-$7, entrees $8.95-$18, sandwiches $9.95-$15.95, desserts $3.50-$6.95. Noise level: Conversations easily heard. Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards accepted.
SACCO’S BOWL HAVEN/THE FLATBREAD CO.
Bowling alleys and pizza parlors have a long history of going together like salt and pepper. They’re practically national pastimes, and Sacco’s Bowl Haven in Davis Square gets both exactly right. The food is terrific, and the candlepin bowling is from the old-school tradition. There’s nothing fancy about this place; it’s simply a reliable spot for a full evening on the town.
A Somerville institution since opening in 1939, Sacco’s has 10 lanes, and you have to press a button to clear the lane after your turn. You keep your own score, too, and the whole experience feels refreshingly time-warped.
The grub, however, is suited for modern palates, and your server will likely stress how Flatbread is dedicated to locally sourced ingredients. They’re called flatbreads instead of pizzas here, and the distinction is important: These circular pies are made with crisp, thin crusts, light on the toppings, and cut into long strips.
Even though they’re housed under the same roof, there are separate lines for Sacco’s and Flatbread. On a moderately busy Wednesday night, we put our name in for a lane and waited just over an hour, which was ample time to sit and devour three small pizzas at a table: Jimmy’s free-range chicken, the daily special of eggplant Parm, and the star attraction — the homemade sausage with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and delicate hints of maple and fennel. We washed them down with cucumber mint gin ’n’ tonics and splurged on Barbara’s ice cream sandwich, which features homemade chocolate-chip cookies.
You can also skip the restaurant entirely and place your order at your bowling lane, and a server will attend to your food and drink needs. The waitstaff, it’s worth mentioning, is exceptionally friendly and helpful. As for that dismal bowling score of 37, well, they can’t help you with that.
45 Day St., Somerville, 617-776-0552, www.flatbreadcompany.com/FlatbreadSacco2010.html. Hours: 9 a.m.-midnight daily. Prices: flatbreads $9.50-$19.75, salads $6.50-$7.75, desserts $5.25-$6.25. Noise level: Reasonable, especially on the restaurant side. Bowling lanes can get festive. Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards accepted.