Pinstripes Bowling Bocce Bistro combines great food with great fun

I know it's terrible to admit this, but my favorite pastime is dining out. I love trying new foods and visiting new places and the experience of it all. I also love finding venues that bring something fresh and fun to the dining experience and Pinstripes Bowling, Bocce and Bistro definitely does that.

I had the pleasure recently of being invited to a media event at the Oak Brook location where we sampled some of the delicious menu items, took a tour and tried out a game of bocce. I hadn't played bocce ball since I was about 14 and we'd play at a local Italian restaurant.

Pinstripes has revolutionized the image of the dingy bowling alley and elevated it to an upscale experience where the food is top-notch and the decor is snazzy, sleek and hip.

Not everyone comes there to bowl or to play bocce. Some go there simply to dine and there are some great outdoor patio spaces to enjoy a meal. The food makes it totally worthy of a visit solely for lunch or dinner, but it would seem a waste to not at least try your hand at bocce or bowl a couple games while it's right there.

I've been bowling on a weekday morning league for a few years with some other PTA moms and I can't tell you how much fun we'd have at Pinstripes - lounging on the leather furniture and sipping some good wine while cheering each other on.

There are currently six locations in four states with a 7th scheduled to open in Chicago this fall. From there the company doesn't plan to slow down and there are plans for further expansion around the country.

Bocce can be played both indoor and outdoors and we played our game on a second floor patio area with a cozy fire pit area. Just inside that patio are private event spaces that include a roomy ballroom. (How cool would it be to have a wedding here?) It's also a super fun place to host a children's birthday party.

Now, since this is a food blog, I know you are wondering when I'm going to get to the food.  We had an opportunity to try out a buffet of some of their popular dishes. I learned that there's a chef's garden where fresh herbs are grown on-site. There's also an extensive wine cellar and all the draft beers are craft beers. They make their own gelato and sorbet.

Unlike most neighborhood bowling alleys that serve frozen pizza, chicken nuggets and french fries, everything is fresh at Pinstripes. You won't find anything frozen in the kitchen except for the ice. They make their own dressings and sauces and most of the pastas are even made from scratch in the kitchen there. Bowling alley food has traditionally been deep fried and unhealthy, but Pinstripes has changed that and it's awesome to see salads and fresh pasta dishes among the offerings. The menu also changes with the season to take advantage of locally grown ingredients when they are at their peak.

We tried out some of their signature cocktails, including the Puccini, and the scrumptious  Lemoncello martini. It was followed by such amazing dishes as Italian jambalaya, garlic and avocado hummus, pine nut crusted halibut and pear salad.

I'd love to return for one of their wine, beer or whiskey dinners where the five-course meals are paired with spirits.

The desserts we ended with were absolutely spectacular - among them a caramelized cheesecake with raspberry, house made cookies and brownies and Frangelico Chocolate Cake. I think my favorite was the absolutely amazing cookie dough gelato served with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. It was nothing short of heavenly!

The location we visited is located just across from Oakbrook Center. Other Chicago area locations are in Northbrook and South Barrington. You'll also find Pinstripes in Edina, MN, Georgetown, DC and Overland Park, KS. By the end of the year they'll be adding a location in Chicago, too.