Bowling for feathers

Even though the food is perfectly reasonable, the main motive for visiting the Bath City Bistro may be the Belgian trough bowling. The sport was once played exclusively in this country at the venerable Cadieux Café (where it’s called "feather bowling") on Detroit’s east side. Now Bath City brings it to Mount Clemens.

You could think of trough bowling as curling without the ice, or shuffleboard without the geezers. You roll a 3-pound wooden wheel down the lane, trying to make it stop as close as possible to a feather that's planted at the other end. That means there's nothing to knock down. Finesse is rewarded, rather than testosterone. If you roll too hard, your wheel will end up in the gutter at the end of the lane.

I had visions of a medieval game handed down by peasants through the centuries — maybe they started out hurling chunks of wood at live chickens — and played today as Belgium's national sport. But when I asked a Belgian immigrant, he said that not once, when he lived in Belgium in the ’40s and ’50s, and never during his extensive trips back since then, had he ever heard of trough bowling in his native land. Only in metro Detroit. The closest thing was a truly ancient sport still practiced there: Archers try to shoot a feather off the top of a pole. That would never fly as a bar sport in America; think "liability."

To create Bath City, the three owners — neophytes in the restaurant business — took an old building and stripped it down to its handsome soft-red brick interior. The first floor is two soaring stories high. Picture windows look out on the street and on the lanes themselves. It's an attractive place.

What to eat while you're bowling? The menu includes the usual bar appetizers: jalapeño poppers, botanas, mozzarella sticks, onion rings. More traditionally Belgian are the mussels, served with garlic and white wine and very good.

Equally good is the portobello mushroom stuffed with steak in a dark, winy sauce, with scallions for bite.

A baby spinach salad with bacon dressing is tender and rich, but the dressing for the mandarin orange salad was watery.

Steaks are a specialty, and the New York strip we tried was tasty and tender, if bloodier than the medium rare requested.

French onion was two different soups on different nights, first too salty and strong, then sweetish.

We had less luck with seafood. The clam chowder had a stale taste, and the swordfish was fishy (which I've always thought was a strange complaint to make about fish). Veggie calzones are large and stuffed with a multiplicity of vegetables.

Two pasta Alfredo dishes, seafood and chicken-portobello, are both rich, creamy and scrumptious, the latter woodsy and winy.

Desserts include chocolate overkill and a forgettable cheesecake.

Some advice if you bowl: Get instructions on scoring before you start, because the posted rules are ambiguous. We used an improvised scoring system that provoked several arguments. If we'd known, I'm sure the girls would still have beaten the boys (finesse vs. testosterone), but the margin might not have been 12-2.

Mixed-league bowling is on Wednesday nights. For more info, visit the Web site at

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

About The Author

Jane Slaughter

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
Scroll to read more Food News articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.