Dramatic retail establishments near freeway exits can actually change the outer appearance of small cities, at least as they're viewed in passing. What Ikea and Jordan's Furniture have done for the Long Wharf Exit on I-95 in New Haven, Bass Pro Shop is now doing for Exits 28 and 29 and the waterfront in Bridgeport.
I pretty much hate shopping, but the Bass Pro Shop that opened in Bridgeport is every sports enthusiast's shopping dream. After I replaced my lost Swiss army knife and picked up a couple of fishing lures, we passed next door into Uncle Buck's Fish Bowl & Grill, a bowling alley and restaurant vibrantly decorated as if one were playing and eating inside a giant aquarium. First we bowled, the first time for me since I was young and thin. I should have stayed in retirement, as my wife and daughter beat me soundly while offering to activate the bumpers for me.
Next we dined, a hostess leading us past a more formal room, with comfortable looking wicker chairs and fine fish prints on the walls, to a brighter, more casual, aquarium-themed space with huge booths and flat-screen TVs tuned to football games. Service was cheerful, if leisurely. Keeping to theme, the menu was adventuresome, with starters ($4 to $11) like soft Bavarian pretzels ($6) and Cajun crawfish tails ($11); soups ($4 to $6); salads ($5 to $8); flatbreads and pizzas ($10 to $15) like veggie ($13) and buffalo alligator ($12); sandwiches and burgers ($10-$15), like the world famous Islamorada with grouper ($16), and double-stacked tournament burger ($11); and main events ($12 to $23) like wild sockeye salmon and grits ($16).
Our vegetarian daughter enjoyed a quinoa-and-black-bean burger and fries ($11). The rest of us relished breaded and deep-fried alligator nuggets ($13) with sweet jalapeño cream sauce; a smoked wahoo dip ($9), similar to whitefish, with cucumber slices and crackers; Uncle Buck's notably fresh fish and chips ($13); and served with sweet crunchy onion rings ($2 extra), a wild boar burger ($15) with pepper jack cheese and tusks of bacon.
UNCLE BUCK'S FISH BOWL & GRILL, 1 Bass Pro Drive, Bridgeport, is open Sunday for dining and bowling 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday for dining and bowling 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday for dining 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and for bowling 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; 203-362-4100; restaurants.basspro.com