Toledo's four newest restaurants open today, all under the same roof.
The roof happens to be enormous -- 125,000 square feet or so, covering Hollywood Casino Toledo. With an estimated average of 7,600 gamblers expected to come through the doors each day, that means a lot of hungry people looking for a lot of food.
Overseeing a busy staff that makes sure they all get fed is Brian Hein, the casino's new executive chef. At 42, he has been in restaurants for 20 years, since graduating from the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Culinary Institute. He began working in restaurants in his native Kansas City, Kan., and worked his way up in a couple of national chains. When Ameristar Casinos came calling 10 years ago, he gladly made the jump to the small but satisfying world of casino food service.
"The great thing is we have resources," he said of casinos. "It's not just a money thing. It's a passion. It's when you wake up and say, 'I get to go to work today.'"
The office Mr. Hein goes to now consists of the four restaurants, a lounge, and the seven kitchens that serve them. Along with his many administrative duties and his frequent solicitation of feedback to see what is working well and what needs to be improved, he will also take his place on the line in the kitchen, cooking with the staff as a way of leading by example.
The four restaurants and one lounge that he oversees vary greatly in style, ambience, and food selection. The variety is a way to appeal to everyone and every budget -- provided the customers are over 21, of course. No one under 21 will be admitted to the casino.
The biggest and likely to be most popular of the restaurants is the Epic Buffet, a Las Vegas-style buffet that represents the something-for-everyone philosophy in microcosm.
Don't like the pizza and pasta at the Italian station? Try the fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and brisket at the American station. Feeling more European? Sample some of the chicken paprikas, spaetzel, and sausages at the continental station. Looking for something a little meatier? Hit the protein station for salmon en croute, perhaps, or maybe a steamship round of pork ("It still has the brontosaurus bone in it," Mr. Hein said). The Asian station has stir-fried Chinese dishes from a wok as well as fresh-rolled sushi, bowls of pho, and steamed and fried dim sum. The grill station makes everything from fresh-grilled vegetables to pork chops.
And that doesn't even include the extensive salad bar, the two freshly-made soups each day, the selection of bread and rolls, and the huge selection of desserts. Oh, those desserts: cold (pies, tarts), hot (bread pudding, cobblers), room temperature (cookies, brownies), even sugar-free (mousse). Try the cheesecake. Trust me on this.
The desserts all come from a single kitchen devoted to nothing else. "We're the sweetest place in the casino -- no hype," said bake-shop worker Kathleen Corggens.
The buffet is all-you-can-eat, and it costs $15.99 for lunch and $21.99 for a more expansive selection at dinner. Most of the items offered rotate each day -- the Italian station may have chicken Parmesan one day, osso buco the next. "If you dine here five days a week, you will see five different menus," Mr. Hein said.
Perhaps the restaurant that is generating the most buzz is the upscale Final Cut Steak and Seafood. Set in a gorgeous room decorated with movie star memorabilia -- a suit worn by Elvis Presley, a dress worn by Halle Berry in the television movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Gary Oldman's suit from Bram Stoker's Dracula -- it is intended to be an oasis of fine dining.
Lobster tail, Chilean sea bass, crab legs, ahi tuna -- they're all on the menu, and they have all been chosen by Mr. Hein because they are sustainable and not in danger of being overfished. But the restaurant hopes to make its biggest reputation with steaks.
Customers will be able to get two different kinds of beef. One is corn-fed USDA prime, the top grade of well-marbled steak that makes up less than 2 percent of all the beef in this country; among other cuts, it will be served in a 14-ounce bone-in filet mignon, a 16-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip, and an impressive 28-ounce bone-in tomahawk rib-eye. It is the largest and most expensive steak on the menu at $62.
The other type of beef to be served is Black Angus, which will be served in a 30-ounce porterhouse, a 10-ounce filet, and a sirloin cap steak, which comes from the very top part of the sirloin.
"In my personal opinion, the [sirloin cap] is the best steak on the menu," Mr. Hein said, comparing it to filet mignon in tenderness, but with the big flavor of sirloin. It is also the least expensive steak offered, at $32.
All of the steaks will be cooked first on a grill over charcoal and soaked hickory chips for a bit of a smoky flavor, and then finished in a 1,400-degree broiler.
The steak house has its own, equally gorgeous, attached bar featuring a number of top-shelf liquors, including the very top of the top: Louis XIII cognac, by Remy Martin. A blend of more than 1,000 brandies as much as 100 years old, it is considered by many to be the finest cognac in the world. It is also perhaps the most expensive; a 1-ounce pour at Final Cut will cost $200. Mr. Hein expects some patrons will want to give it a try.
"We didn't buy it as a prop," he said.
The fare at the Scene sports bar is more in keeping with what you would find at any bar: burgers, chicken wings, and sandwiches. But the room itself, Mr. Hein said, "is the most beautiful sports bar you've ever seen. The only thing that makes it a sports bar is the TV."
And there are plenty of TVs, nearly 30 of them, some of them huge and all of them tuned to sports channels. But between and around the televisions can be seen the flashing lights and energy of the gaming room. Yet the bar itself is sophisticated, lit by a series of quietly stunning light fixtures.
Next to the sports bar is the H Lounge, a comfortably upholstered open room with a stage which will feature live performances, often by local musicians, seven nights a week. Food and drink will be available there, too, though the selection and range are small.
Because the Hollywood Casino Toledo will be open 24 hours a day, the Take 2 Grill will also always be open. The limited menu changes from breakfast to lunch to dinner, and all the food is cooked to order. Burgers, wings, and Philly cheesesteaks will be served, along with the "Dawg," a half-pound all-beef hot dog made especially for the casino by Tank's Meats in Elmore.
The partnership with Tank's is part of Mr. Hein's desire to use local and regional farms and producers who are passionate about what they make. Although nearly all of the casino's desserts are made in their own kitchens, for instance, the pies at the Epic Buffet come from the Gardiner Pie Co., in Akron. And some of the produce is being grown by the Chef's Garden, in Milan, Ohio. He has been using their produce for years, he said, but he has never been close enough to the farm to be able to feature it in large amounts.
Late-night gamblers looking to stay awake or daytime gamblers just looking for a coffee fix will also head to the Take 2 Grill, which Mr. Hein described as "a Starbucks on steroids." He is particularly proud of the Swiss-made coffee machines that grind the beans, press them, steep the coffee, add chocolate if desired, and froth the milk for a cappuccino.
"The rumor is there are 15 of these machines in America, and we have 12 of them," he said.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.