When the new Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati opened yesterday, Bobby's Burger Palace opened with it.
The Bobby of the restaurant's name is Bobby Flay, a mainstay on the Food Network and owner of a whole bunch of restaurants. He is a personable and passionate incarnation of the celebrity chef.
Also in the new casino is Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, a chain restaurant owned by the popular singer and built around the theme of his huge hit song about a depressive potential alcoholic who is using a recent break-up as an excuse to drink himself into oblivion. Fans of the song, though, might not look at it that way.
Bobby's Burger Palace will offer 10 signature burgers, including a Buffalo-Style Burger (hot sauce, blue cheese dressing, and watercress) and a Dallas Burger (crusted with spices and topped with coleslaw, Monterrey Jack cheese, barbecue sauce, and pickles), all served on a sesame-seed bun. It's a big space, 3,500 square feet, with enough seating for 90 people at a time.
So the lingering question is: Why do they get these well-known restaurants in their casino, and we don't in ours?
Ohio's first casino, the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland offers a standard casino buffet and three restaurants in a food court. You might be tempted to say the food court is just a food court, but the restaurants are presumably (or potentially) all worth visiting. Cleveland's own celebrity chef Michael Symon has opened a B-Spot Burgers there, which is joined by Cleveland restaurateur Rocco Whalen's Rosie & Rocco's, and an outlet of the legendary Cleveland deli Corky & Lennie's.
They may be in a food court, but each one is a destination restaurant.
Here at our own Hollywood Casino, we have a buffet, a limited-menu 24-hour place, a sports bar, and a no-celebrity-attached steakhouse. The Hollywood Casino in Columbus has the same four options and even the same names, except for the sports bar (theirs is the O.H. Sports Grill, and ours is called Scene).
But let us not cry in our steak sauce. The other casinos may have the names, but we have the food — especially at the high-end Final Cut Steak & Seafood. Last week, it became the only restaurant in Ohio to receive four stars from the Forbes Travel Guide.
For many years, casinos have been attracting celebrity chefs and their celebrity restaurants as a way to grab a bigger share of the gamblers' dollars. Any chef who is anyone has at least one restaurant in a casino somewhere. The Venetian in Las Vegas alone has restaurants by Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, and David Burke.
But are any of them any good? These restaurants are all much larger than average, and they churn out a lot more food than most. It can be difficult to maintain the very highest standards when working at a volume such as these.
The famous owners do little or none of the actual cooking, and they may not even set foot inside any of the restaurants more than once a year. They hire the best people they can, of course, and pay them well, but the owners are rarely there to lend their personal cachet.
Last year, I had the occasion to try the restaurants owned by Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina in the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit. Mina's seafood restaurant was quite good, but not spectacular. Puck's was a raging disappointment; they were out of the dish I most wanted to try, the dish I had instead was no more than adequate, and my wife's pizza — Puck made his name by inventing the gourmet pizza — was merely acceptable.
One week later, Puck's restaurant closed. Six months later, Mina's restaurants closed — only to be replaced by restaurants owned by Puck.
Certainly, some of the casino restaurants owned by famous chefs must produce food that is every bit as spectacular as you would guess. If you ever find yourself in the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, you will certainly want to try the Pyrenean baby lamb seasoned with Espelette pepper and roasted in a fireplace that is served at Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse. You might even wash it down with wine from its cellar of 400,000 bottles.
But big names do not guarantee big food. Ohio's other casinos may have landed the celebrities, but with our four-star Final Cut we may have hit the jackpot.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.