Restaurant Review: Rule 3

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

A huge windowless box sitting off by itself, Rule 3 looks like a cinema megaplex from the road. Inside this strenuously thought-through, Pickerington-located mall of entertainment, it's another story.

Actually inside Rule 3, it's a prismatic profusion of stories. And to begin to describe it is to be overwhelmed again by its banks of blinking lights, its cacophony of noise and its buzzing beehive of activity.

Rule 3 is all about everything at the same time. So you can watch TV and bowl simultaneously. You'll also be listening to music - maybe First Wave on Sirius XM. Near your shiny, brand-new lane (where mammoth TV screens hang above the pins) is a full sports bar with tons of great flatscreens, plenty of boutique beers (Chimay, Columbus Brewing Co.), wines (Perrier-Jouet!) and lots of cocktail-movement-trendy (if sweet-side) drinks.

Behind and flanking the bar is a maze-like warren of game rooms where you can play everything from Ms. Pac Man to shoot-'em-ups; from Skee-Ball to PlayStation; from the hovering claw game (trying to snatch Buckeye-outfitted bears) to Wii!

There's also a full-service restaurant with a menu approximately the size of the Pickerington phone book. Though naturally there's a bit of everything on that menu, Rule 3 specializes in wings, pizzas, sandwiches and a "World Tour of Fries."

In short, if you could shrink this complex down and stash it in a time capsule (for, say, people of the future or space aliens), you'd have an accurate snapshot of early 21st-century American popular culture.

And that blurry, kinetic photo would be brimming over with gaming kids running around, tube-viewing tippling adults out on dates, and plates toppling over with comfort food. (By the way, that populist brand of chow is executed here better than you'd expect from either a bowling alley or a place this seemingly chaotic and definitely massive.)

Let's get right to the World Tour of Fries. Rule 3's menu - which is loaded with wacky first-person testimonials ("I am devoted to deep-fried") and scrapbooky notebook pages offering diaristic paeans to leisure time and comfort food - proudly notes its usage of McCain's-brand frozen potatoes.

As is its wont, Rule 3 turns munching fries into a game. Here's how it works: you select three types of "McCain cuts" (there's a total of six that span from beer-battered waffle fries to X-treme Black Pepper) and three geographically linked ways to "load 'em" (there's 15 in all, running from the Reuben-esque "Irish All the Way" to the chili-and-cheese "Lonestar"), and then mix and match.

What you'll wind up with is an imposing platter ($9) holding three piles of fries, and each clump of spuds will be buried beneath its chosen topping. Yeah it's a silly mess and the fries lose their crispiness beneath their respective loads, but it's not without its go-for-broke, live-for-today, more-is-more fun and charm. And that basically describes Rule 3's hook, appeal and raison d'etre.

Now about the name. It's possibly a riff on the writing style advisement "Rule of three" (things grouped in trios are aesthetically pleasing), but also purposely mysterious (my waitress wasn't sure). Maybe it's connected to these words on the menu: "Play hard. Play happy. Play here."

If you like good sports-pub grub and a whirlwind of family-friendly simultaneous overstimulation, then I'd say that's pretty good advice.

Follow the Rules

An army of well-trained, tag-teaming, black-clad servers exert commendable quality control over Rule 3's voluminous food orders. Here's some bites:

Wings (one pound, about seven pieces, $6) Big, crispy and very solid. Best sauces: Buffalo and hot BBQ.

Guacamole ($5) Fresh tasting and spicy, served with crispy salted and peppered tortilla chips.

Scratch Chili ($4) Dark, hearty, zesty and recommended.

Phreads ($8) Like a small fried calzone, with a soft, forgettable shell but good-quality innards.

Pizza ($15/large) Its golden-brown crust was flabby and unremarkable, but the toppings were better-than-average.

Yankee Pot Roast ($10) One of the better things I tried; three door-stopper-sized slabs of beef (more tender than stringy) glazed in a believably homey au jus/gravy.

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