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Posted by on Mar 11, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 2 comments

More Great Comfort Meals in Las Vegas — for Under $20

 

 

Taste is subjective.

Especially when it comes to food and eating out.

I love classic French cooking but hate nouveau cuisine.  I love cheap local eateries but loathe fast food.  I adore butter bombs, spices, onions, and garlic and garlic and more garlic, but won’t touch a green pea or a mushroom.  I drink wine daily but never order wine in restaurants.  I demand everything to be fresh and try to avoid frozen or processed foods, but I can devour a half gallon of ice cream in a single sitting.  I go through spells where I eat strict vegetarian and then turn into a werewolf the next week.

I’m willing to spend good money on fine food.  But I’m always cost-conscious.  In fact, every culinary decision I make is based on value.  Is this worth the money?  Do I feel like I got the best end of the bargain?  If so, that’s a restaurant I’ll return to many times.  You can always find a good meal for $50.  You can always find a great meal for $100.  But find me a fantastic meal for $20.  That’s where I want to go.

Yesterday in PART 1, I listed five great comfort meals in Las Vegas — priced at less than $20. Continuing on with PART 2 here are five more recommended lunches and dinners….and then some:

 

Sliced Smoked Beef Brisket at Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue

Wherever I go, I’ve discovered great barbecue joints are often located in the shittiest areas of town.  Las Vegas is no exception.

Rollin’ Smoke is off Industrial Road, on Highland Drive, two arteries in the bowels the casino district.  Nestled in dingy strip mall beneath a busy expressway, Rollin’ Smoke opened for business about ten years ago and has since become one of those hidden food havens everyone seeks out.  It’s now a locals’ favorite.  This isn’t a hangout where you’ll find tourists.

Instead, expect to see casino executives and construction workers lining up faithfully at a busy lunch counter to place their orders.  Rollin’ Smoke offers the standard barbecue options — consisting of pork, beef, chicken, sausage.  Drinks are serve-yourself, with the added southern charm of pre-sweetened ice tea.  Lunch/dinner platters are served on metal trays with wax paper.  Seating is mostly picnic tables, with thick rolls of paper towels at the centerpiece.  The floors are concrete.  Not a great place for a first date, unless you’re from Little Rock.  But what great barbecue.

Rollin’ Smoke serves meats cooked up Texas-style, although ownership would bristle at the slanderous classification.  Indeed, restaurant walls are saturated with Arkansas memorabilia, including a giant state flag and trophies of real (dead) Razorbacks.  A Razorback is a feral pig and the proud nickname of the University of Arkansas football team.

I’ve sung the “pig sooie” battle cry many times after eating at Rollin’ Smoke.  My favorite entre is the Sliced Smoked Beef Brisket, priced at $10.99 for a half pound of heaven.  The full pound costs $18.99.  Each entre includes a side dish and the baked beans make for the perfect kicker.  Rollin’ Smoke’s brisket is unique in taste because it’s given a dry rub of peppery spices before many hours of slow heat and smoke.  After it’s been sliced and served, the peppery edges make a merely good barbecue divine.  It’s one of the best beef briskets I’ve ever enjoyed.  You’ll be picking peppercorns out of your teeth two hours later.  Ah, the memories.

The rest of the menu (including ribs) is a very good show, but not quite at the pinnacle of the brisket, which is the undeniable superstar.

Overall, this a joint where you go to eat and expect nothing else.  A deliciously-satisfying meal with a drink plus tax rounds up to about $17, and that’s with a buck tip to the nice young man who takes away your tray and wipes down the picnic table for the next hungry customer.

[Note:  Rollin’ Smoke took over Billy’s Barbecue on West Tropicana, which was also very good.  I have not had the chance to try this location since Rollin’ Smoke bought them out, but I presume it’s equal to what’s served at the flagship location next to The Strip]

 

Kibbi Platter at Khoury’s Mediterranean

Khoury’s Mediterranean is a popular Lebanese restaurant in Village Square, at the corner of West Sahara and Fort Apache.  This location has been open slightly more than a year after spending a decade hidden away in the far southwest corner of Las Vegas.  This is another local gem, virtually unknown by tourists.

Khoury is one of the most popular surnames in Lebanon.  The Khoury’s are a local Las Vegas family and can often be seen them working side by side in the kitchen or running the floor.  Pictures of the smiling Khoury family decorate the walls.  This isn’t just a restaurant.  It is a display of pride.

Marieta and I have dined at Khoury’s 60-70 times over the past decade, including celebratory New Years Eve dinners.  We’ve enjoyed just about everything listed on the menu.  For those unfamiliar with Lebanese cooking, two highly-recommended dishes are the Kafta Kabob and/or the Kafta sandwich served with fresh cut fries.

My favorite dish is the Kibbi platter.  This classic recipe consists of spiced ground beef rolled into a golf ball-sized clump sprinkled with fresh pine nuts.  Next, an outer cask of bulger wheat engulfs the tasty treat inside and then the entire fist-sized ball is deep fried.  The wheat, pine nuts, beef, and spices blend to absolute perfection.  If that’s not enough flavor, then a house-made yogurt side sauce makes for dipping.

Kibbi platters are served with a side of whole grain rice, with a tinge of olive oil and a fresh salad of your choice.  The Tabbouleh is marvelous here, but I usually opt instead for the house Khoury’s salad, which is ecstasy for garlic lovers.  This is a tongue-burning joy.  All entrees also include a generous pie-dough sized portion of Lebanese pita, which is freshly-baked in a brick oven.  The bread always comes out piping hot and is puffed out like a balloon.  Khoury’s even serves fresh butter (no cheap margarine).  Add a tall glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade as the perfect topper.

Incredibly, the Kibbi platter with all the accompaniments is priced at a marvelously affordable $13 for lunch and $18 for dinner (which consists of a much larger portion).  Either option is a slam dunk bargain and a great meal.  You will become a regular, for sure.  Give Khoury’s a try.

Here’s my write-up, “The Best (and Worst) Mediterranean Restaurants in Las Vegas,” published in 2015.

 

Trout Almondine at Kings Fish House (Green Valley Ranch)

Trout Almondine is my favorite dish.  I’ve had it hundreds of times in far too many restaurants to count.  The best Trout Almondine is served in the very finest restaurants in New Orleans, and I’ve been to every one of them (some multiple time).  If I have a foodie fetish, you can probably tell — it’s for Trout Almondine.

[Note: Almondine is also commonly spelled “Amandine” or “Almandine”]

The classic French-Louisiana recipe calls for fresh rainbow trout (commonly shipped from Idaho in this part of the country).  The fish is seasoned, then doused in flour (or cornmeal), and then pan seared in olive oil and sprinkled with toasted almonds (sometimes it’s fried).  Finally, the fully cooked boneless trout filet is basted in a Beurre Blanc sauce, which means “white butter.”

The downside to being a hopeless food snob Trout Almondine aficionado is maturing into a spoiled-rotten brat.  Guilty as charged.  There are many unacceptable Trout Almondine options around the country, and Las Vegas offers only a few choices which I grade as passable.  Put this way, I can count them on one hand.

The very best Trout Almondine priced at less than $20 is served at King’s Fish House, in the Green Vally Ranch retail district, next to the casino in Henderson.  Large and often noisy, with optional outdoor patio seating, King’s appeals to just about everyone.

Coastal dwellers won’t be impressed, perhaps.  But given we’re in the middle of the desert, it’s tough to find fresh fish and decent seafood, unless you’re willing to shell out $100 someplace on The Strip.  King’s is the far more accessible and affordable option, which includes the widest variety of foods from the sea.

King’s does Trout Almondine right.  It’s the best recipe (for the money) I’ve tasted outside of New Orleans.  For $18 (lunch), a nice portion of fresh fish is served, along with the two side dishes (no ala carte here — nice to see a restaurant refusing to nickel and dime guests for the extras).  My favorite accompaniments include the buttered corn, which is sliced right off the cob and then seasoned, along with garlic spinach served in a small iron ramekin.  That way, I can order the spinach and brag that I tried to eat a healthy meal.

King’s also offers the best San Francisco-style sourdough bread in the city, which is airy fresh and served with real butter.  I’m also quite fond of their house specialty drinks, best of all the Agave Sting — silver tequila, fresh lime, Jalapeño, basil, and pineapple….poured on the rocks with a chili salt rim.  It’s amazing.

Read more about my obsession with Rainbow Trout here:  “Who’s Been Pilfering my Rainbow Trouts?”

 

Enchiladas (or Tacos) at El Segundo Sol

El Segundo Sol is the creative brainchild of master chef Terry Lynch, responsible for making Mon Ami Gabi  (Paris Casino) one of the most popular restaurants in Las  Vegas.  Lynch’s attention to the slightest detail is self-evident in every drink or bite or taste.  I’ve listened to Lynch talk affectionately about food for hours, going into painstaking detail as to why he selected a specific type of rice to accompany a dish.  His cooking classes aren’t just fun foodie events. They are spiritually-infused sermons, transformational experiences filled with culinary and cultural enrichment.

Lynch departed Las Vegas about a year ago to launch a new restaurant in Japan, but his mark remains indelible.  El Segundo Sol is a Mexican restaurant located right underneath Maggiono’s, at Fashion Show Mall across the street from the Wynn/Encore. But don’t look for Tex-Mex and margaritas made with an industrial powder mixer.  Instead, El Segundo Sol uses classic recipes and natural ingredients popular in Jalisco and Yucatan.

I remember Lynch once ranting about the depreciated peppers grown in the United States and served in most traditional Mexican restaurants.  So, his kitchen insisted on the far zestier peppers imported from central Mexico shipped to flag-plant authenticity.  Homemade cheeses and sauces served here don’t rely on the cheapest local dairy.  This restaurant relies on a fresh supply of superior products from the great Straus Dairy in Sonoma (California).  Yes, you can taste the difference.

Everything on the menu is excellent.  For $7.95, two homemade corn tamales with a creme fraiche sauce nearly lifts the bar of expectation to an impossible height.  However, if forced to pick and chose, I’d go with any enchilada dish (cheese, chicken breast, or slow-braised beef), which offers a spectacular combination of flavors at a reasonable cost of $17.95.

Enchiladas are served on an oval-shaped platter and come with an original black bean recipe combined with their signature cilantro rice — which is the best rice I’ve ever tasted.  Thanks again, Terry Lynch for sampling 40 different rice varieties first before settling on this gem of a taste.  What really pushes this dish over the top are the two sauces, one red and one green.  They are served in small tin cups and can be applied sparingly or generously, according to taste.  It’s a waltz for the taste buds.

If enchiladas aren’t your thing, then go for the tacos instead, which are served roll-your-own style.  It’s just about as good.

El Segundo Sol is the best Mexican-themed restaurant in Las Vegas and a definite reason to drive down to The Strip.  Parking beneath the mall is free and just steps away from the front entrance.  Moreover, the restaurant continues its tradition of monthly cooking classes (Saturday mornings) and special dinners, which are a bargain since a four-course meal and multiple margaritas are always included.

One more helpful hint:  Request a table inside, since the music can be loud on the terrace and it gets hot in the summer.  It’s much nicer in the back.

Addendum:  This dish would be my favorite, but it’s not regularly on the menu.  It’s shrimp basted in achiote, with rice, beans, and homemade corn tortillas.   Read more about El Segundo Sol in my review with lots more photos I took, published in 2014:  Restaurant Review:  El Segundo Sol

 

 

 

Andre’s Burger (Hamburger) at Andre’s Bistro and Bar 

I can hear the laughter now.  I’m recommending a visit to famed chef André Rochat’s restaurant — and suggesting a hamburger?

Yes, I am.

The trick is to visit Andre’s between 3 pm and 6 pm on Monday through Friday, which is the Happy Hour.  Many outstanding dinner items are discounted, some as low as half price.  Specialty cocktails are also discounted.

We’ve enjoyed Andre’s only a handful of times (it’s still relatively new) and came away on each occasion with the satisfaction we received first-class food and service at economy prices.  It’s like dining at one of the snooty rip-off restaurants on The Strip at a fraction of the price, and with smiling waiters sans all the attitude.

The Cheese & Charcuterie Board normally priced at $22 is discounted to $15 during Happy Hour and is an exceptional appetizer to share.  This is a smorgasbord of tastes to be experienced.  In fact, everything we tasted here was either very good or great.  Presumably, excellence is consistent throughout.

Oh, but back the hamburger.  We ordered two burgers on the shiny brioche bun, topped with imported swiss cheese, red onion marmalade, and truffle mayonnaise.  We each inhaled our own small basket of duck fat fries (a house salad can be substituted instead).  The burgers were delicious.  Especially after scarfing down everything on the Cheese & Charcuterie Board.

The price of the Andre’s Burger, as shown in the photograph above?  Try this:  $7

Seven bucks.

It’s half-priced from the usual dinner cost — which is $14.  I asked the waiter what’s the difference between the $7 burger and fries and the $14 burger and fries.  He replied:  “Nothing — except $7.”

Obviously, Chef Andre makes almost no money on this deal.  But one expects that we loyal guests will order something else with a higher profit margin.  I’m certainly willing to oblige the generosity, by trying out and ordering more menu items, visiting repeatedly, and giving this new establishment my highest recommendation.

Also worth trying — for dessert, I strongly recommend the Chocolate Walnut Gateau which is a chocolate-glazed caramel walnut torte, with crème anglaise for $8.

I have some concerns about Andre’s due to its far-out location, in the same mall area where Khoury’s Mediterranean used to be.  This is a drive for most of us, even for those living in the southwest area of Las Vegas.  That said, Andre’s Bistro and Bar is worth driving the extra mile.

Note to Self:  In a future series of articles, make a list of the best Happy Hour bargains in Las Vegas. 

  _____

Foodie Lovers Encore:  Five More Great Comfort Meals in Las Vegas worth trying at least once:

 

Gumbo or Jambalaya at Lola’s — A Louisiana Kitchen (Arts District location)

Lola’s is the most authentic Creole-Cajon restaurant in Las Vegas (don’t be fooled by Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM-Grand, which is twice as expensive and not nearly as good).  A big bowl of hearty Gumbo ($12) with a side of hot Leidenheimer’s Garlic Bread ($2.50) is the very definition of the perfect comfort meal.  If you want to go a little spicier, then the Jambalaya will certainly make you return for more.  Top of the experience with Lola’s homemade banana pudding, which is made fresh daily ($5).  The perfect way to spend $20.  Note: Lola’s opened a second location a few years ago, on Town Center in Summerlin.  I’ve been there once and the menu appeared to be identical.

 

Chicken Francese (Northern Italian Style) at Pasta Mia

One of my favorite dishes is Chicken Francese which is served widely around the country and in most traditional Italian restaurants.  What most places miss, however, is the ideal pairing for the breaded chicken cutlet, which is atop capellini (angel hair) pasta.  Do not order this dish any other way!  It must be served “Northen Italian Style.”  I’m spending myself broke trying to educate America on how to make this dish correctly.  The unique blend of flavor and texture comes from the egg batter around the cutlet, which absorbs the tangy lemon and butter sauce.   When the cutlet is layered across the angel hair as the base, the cutlet remains firm (not soggy).  Moreover, the nest of angel hair absorbs all the flavors of the sauce and becomes a symphonic culmination of aroma, texture, and taste.  Pasta Mia, in the corner of a strip mall on Flamingo across from the Rio gets it right.  But give the waiter strict instructions so no mistakes are made.  The house salad with a thick garlic dressing is fabulous.  When I die, I want to be embalmed in that dressing.

 

Kubideh Kabob at Zaytoon’s

I wanted to include at least one restaurant which is ideal for carryout.  Zaytoon’s is a market and deli with a small restaurant attached, consisting of about ten tables.  The interior is pleasant, but it’s better suited for to go orders.  It’s located in the middle of a strip mall near the corner of Durango and Spring Mountain.

Zaytoon’s is Persian/Iranian.  Even though the kitchen is small, the menu is quite extensive, consisting of most classic Persian dishes.  Non-Middle Easterners are likely to opt for the beef kabob, known as Kubideh.  This popular specialty is served with two 10-inch ribbons of pressed and seasoned ground beef with parsley, after being skewered on metal rods over an open flame.  The kabobs are blanketed across a heaping pile of rice, with is slightly buttered and texturally ideal.  The charcoal-colored Persian seasoning sprinkled over the beef is highly recommended.  A  half grilled tomato and a quarter onion are served on the side.  All meals come with pita bread.  Kubideh costs $10.99.  Also recommended to order a Shirazi Salad, which is a delicious mix of cold cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, and parsley marinated in lemon and olive oil.  One of the best take-out meals in the city for around $15.

 

Clam Chowder at The Chart House (Golden Nugget)

Where should you go when you’re not really hungry, but still want something good to eat?  So far, I’ve tried to avoid chains and casino restaurants because they’re usually unoriginal and pricey.  One notable exception is The Chart House, an ideal Downtown Las Vegas seafood destination inside the Golden Nugget Casino.  Take a seat at the bar and order a big bowl of New England Clam Chowder, especially if you’re not too hungry but still want something filling.  The chowder is priced at just $7 at lunch — and $9 at dinner.  It’s a delight.  For me, great chowders are all about the three “T’s” — taste, temperature, and texture.  This classic New England specialty fires on all cylinders.  The diced potatoes are slightly firm.  The clam count is generous.  The broth isn’t too thick (often the sign of a cheap chowder).  It’s also slightly peppery.  I have no idea of this is by design, but each time I’ve ordered the chowder here, it seemed to contain tiny specs of sand, as if to subliminally suggest to diners — this is fresh right out of the sea!  It’s also a generous portion served steamy hot.  This is the best clam chowder in a city not known for many affordable seafood options.

 

?????

That leaves just one more restaurant meal to chose, and I’m having a tough time making a decision because there are still quite a few great places to enjoy.  Maybe I’ll do a follow-up article later.

So, what did I miss?  What do you recommend?  Post your comments below or join the lively discussion on Facebook.

Bon Apetit! 

 

_____

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Posted by on Mar 9, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 2 comments

My Ten Best Comfort Meals in Las Vegas — for Under $20

 

 

If I ever get elected to anything important, and there’s no chance of me ever getting elected to anything important, my downfall won’t be because of sex or money — it will be due to my addiction to Reuben sandwiches.

And steak.  And pizza.  And lasagna.  And just about anything else containing the culinary holy trinity of sugar, salt, and fat.

I do love my comfort food.

Resistance is futile.  I tried going on a diet once.  The diet might have lasted more than a week and perhaps even succeeded.  That’s if Maggiono’s Little Italy hadn’t fish-hooked me with a 2-for-1 free dinner mailer.  My daily calorie count shot to hell by a heaping family-style portion of manicotti with extra cheese, it was off to the races.  After devouring their housemade cheesecake for dessert, I felt like a bloated junkie.

Ever poked an extra hole in your belt with a steak knife?  Every guy reading this who carries a few extra pounds knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Some guys dream of having a threesome.  Yeah, me too.  My three-way fantasy is a giant platter of beef brisket, smoked sausage, and a slab of ribs.

I’m lucky, not in gambling, but when it comes to food and drink.  Hell, I’m the Phil Ivey of local restaurants and cheap wine.  Las Vegas is a fantastic city for comfort foods, which are both delicious and affordable.  My favorite meals aren’t always the healthiest fare, but two out of three are certainly results I can have a heart attack live with.

Just about every restaurant I frequent regularly is located off the Las Vegas Strip.  Sure, more than a few casino restaurants in this city offer world-class food and service.  But I don’t venture much anymore to Strip casinos to eat out.  That’s because I’d rather not fork over half a day’s pay for a couple of sprigs of asparagus doused in peanut sauce invented by some “celebrity chef” pimping his name.  Fuck overpriced snail food.  Besides, who wants to pay $15 for parking and walk three miles to wait 45 minutes for a table?  No one goes to The Strip anymore.  It’s way too crowded.

Most of my favorite hangouts are on the west side of Las Vegas.  That’s not meant to imply restaurants here on the west side of town are superior to what’s over on the east side.  But hey, I do live over here for a reason.  Certainly, Green Valley, Henderson, and the reinvented Downtown area have some really interesting places I enjoy.  Since I reside in what’s known as “The Lakes” area of the city, I’m more familiar surroundings on the west side of Las Vegas, which includes ritzy Summerlin where just about everything has been built within the past 20 years.  So, what you’re about to read is admittedly biased.

Hey, it’s an opinion.  And, if you don’t like it be sure and hit the ATM machine before you order the fresh asparagus with the peanut sauce and pay 12 bucks for a bottle of tap water at the Cosmopolitan.

I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite comfort meals here in Las Vegas with the caveat that they’re priced at less than $20.  This was a tough list to compile because there are so many excellent options and it’s all a matter of personal taste.  I could easily expand my list to 50 meals all over town which are great.  However, this concise list should give readers some idea of what’s great versus merely good on a consistent basis.

In no particular order, here are my most highly-recommend lunches and dinners:

 

Chicken Tikka Masala at Curry Leaf (Flavors of India)

Here’s a short story.  I’ve known 2004 world poker champion Greg Raymer for 25 years.  Sometime around 2000 before he was rich and I was infamous, Raymer and his wife Cheryl dragged invited Marieta and me to an Indian restaurant for the very first time.  I’d never tied Indian cuisine before and expected to hate it.  But instantly, we became hooked.  Since that eye-opening experience, we’ve probably visited close to 100 Indian restaurants in the U.S. and in Europe.  Las Vegas has about 20 or so decent Indian places, and most are pretty good.  However, Curry Leaf on Fort Apache and Tropicana stands out above the rest.

Curry Leaf opened about five years ago.  The decor is spartan.  One doesn’t come here for the atmosphere, or the service, which can be spotty.  What makes Curry Leaf a stand out is the outstanding quality of the food, and especially one of Indian’s most popular international dishes (especially with non-natives) — Chicken Tikka.

Chicken Tikka is cubes of chicken in a spicy orange-colored paste which is unique.  It’s poured over white rice, like a stroganoff.  Buttered nan, the fresh in-house bread baked on the spot, comes as the ideal accompaniment.  The Chicken Tikka at Curry Leaf is superior to any other recipe I have tasted, including some far more expensive places in Las Vegas and London (known for outstanding Indian cuisine because of the large immigrant community).  Best of all, the price is ridiculously cheap.  Marieta and I dine here frequently, and with double rice, extra nan, and two iced teas, the total bill (minus tip) rarely hits $30 at lunchtime.  That’s for two portions.  With tax and tip, we’re usually out the door for $37.

I’ve recommended Curry Leaf to at least a dozen people, and every one of them have become regulars.  Note that lunch is the same quality, but cheaper.  So, try to go before the menu changes over at 3 pm.

Here’s my more detailed review of Curry Leaf, published in 2015.

 

Cashew Chicken or Drunken Noodles with Ground Beef at Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen

Nittaya is a Thai-born chef and restaurateur who opened up her own place about ten years ago.  From day one, it’s been my local “go to” destination for tasty Thai cuisine, in some respects surpassing the undisputed Las Vegas landmark institution for this type of fare, rival Lotus of Siam located much closer to The Strip.  Nittaya gets everything right, down to the slightest detail.  Many Thai places kinda’ taste the same.  Nittaya’s has flavors all their own that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

The best values are at lunch, every bit as amazing as dinners, but at a lesser price.  A three-course salad, a small appetizer, and main dish will cost about $12.  My two favorite dishes are Cashew Chicken and Drunken Noodles.  The Cashew Chicken basks in an amazing brown sauce, which is mouth-watering enough to enjoy alone over white rice.  The generous mix of fresh vegetables, chicken, and cashews transforms the merely satisfying into the spectacular.  A wonderful alternative, Drunken Noodles are best enjoyed with minced ground beef (or minced ground chicken), which blends perfectly with the eye-watering chilis.  I love spicy food, but not too hot.  Go with a 2 on the 5 hot scale if you’re somewhere in the middle.  Rice noodles are rolled together with a magical mix with beef, fried egg, carrots, and chilis — and makes for an extraordinary taste.

A special bonus at Nittaya’s if you want the total experience is her signature dish — the Fried Spinach appetizer.  This is a stunning recipe, best shared by two.  The dipping sauce is essential, consisting of a taste so unique, it defies description.  It’s heavenly.

We’ve dined at Nittaya’s perhaps 75 times.  The average lunch for two, with tax/tip rounds up to about $35.  An amazing bargain.  Nittaya’s is small and the tables are positioned closely together.  The small restaurant became so popular that Nittaya took over next door, knocked out a wall, and installed 12 more tables.  At dinner, that’s still not big enough to accommodate what’s become a devoted clientele of Nittaya lovers.

Here’s my list of Top Ten Thai Restaurants in Las Vegas, published in 2014.

 

Reuben Sandwich (with a bowl of Cincinnati Chili) at Egg Works

Las Vegas offers quite a few solid breakfast spots, which must be competitive to match what’s available at the casinos.  The three best “egg” themed restaurants include — Egg and I, Egg Works, and Eggslut (yes, that’s really the name).

I’m partial to Egg Works, which has multiple locations.  Just about everything on the menu is priced between $10-12.  This diner/greasy spoon (not meant as an insult) is very informal.  No one comes here for the atmosphere.  Just the food, which is homestyle.  Let me put it this way — Fox News is constantly on multiple televisions at Egg Works where I frequent, and I’m still willing to overlook the abomination.  I do sometimes wear a wide-brimmed ballcap, which is akin to fitting a racehorse with blinders so as not to lose my lunch listening to Hannity.

The menu is pretty standard.  As advertised, Egg Works is an omelet place, but they have a marvelous selection of sandwiches, as well.  The portions are generous.  The standout for me is the classic grilled Reuben Sandwich, on toasted rye.  Sliced pastrami is infused with sauerkraut and melted cheese.  This will become an addiction.  Reubens can be hit or miss, and there are many marginal options just about everywhere.  I didn’t expect a breakfast place to get this so right.  Everything blends perfectly and is of top quality.  Perhaps there’s a great $22 Reuben on The Strip somewhere, but for my money, this is the best in town (that I’ve experienced so far — I continue to explore).

A nice accompaniment to the sandwich is the house-made Cincinnati Chili.  It’s hard to find a good varietal with just the right mix of spices (cinnamon and nutmeg are often included in the recipe).  They get this right, and for $3.95 a cup and $5.95 a bowl, you can’t go wrong.  Diced onions and cheddar cheese are served on the side.  The Reuben/Chil pairing is a carnivore’s delight and clocks in at about $17.  Come with an appetite.  You will leave stuffed.

 

Capellini Primavara at Roma Deli (Spring Mountain location)

When I first heard some poker pro friends — Todd Brunson (pictured above), Max Pescatori, and Fabio Coppola — had pooled their Lira together and bought out Roma Deli, I was both happy — and mortified.  I was happy that Todd, Max, and Fabio were now restauranteurs.  I was mortified that one of my favorite Italian “go to” spots was being hijacked by people who (I thought) had no clue on how to run a kitchen.

To my shock, No surprise, Todd & Company took over Roma and not only maintained both the high quality and Roman authenticity, they improved upon it — something I thought unimaginable.  Roma is no bargain.  You won’t find Heinz Tomato Paste-infested $7 spaghetti and cheap filler meatballs here.  But you will get enjoy an extraordinary East-Coast style experience (tile floors, deli counter, rickety chairs, live music), with all the ingredients of what you’d expect to find in Palazzo Manfredi.

My favorite dish isn’t listed on the menu, but they always make it for me — al dente.  That because I’m special.  Well, not really.  I just go there a lot.  Always eager to please, I presume they will make it for you, too, upon request.  Or anything else you want.

My favored dish is capellini (angel hair) tossed with extra virgin olive oil, punched with garlic, and topped with broccoli.  It a vegetarian dish.  The caveat is demanding the chef punches the hell out of the garlic.  When I taste the dish, I want my tongue to fall off.  That’s how much garlic I want.  My tongue should burn like a match.  This is my special entre, and they make it to perfection every time.  Garlic lovers rejoice, we have discovered the promised land.  Garlic hammers primavara dishes, and should be used generously (assuming you share my affection for the vampire-repellant).

Add a tasty house salad with their zesty house dressing, combined with a jumbo bottle of Pellegrino mineral water, and you are out the door for a $20 bill.  This is a marvelous meal that has no meat whatsoever but still leaves me completely satisfied.  Order it my way, because this recipe hammers the senses into submission without all the guilt of devouring animals.

Here’s a detailed write up of my fabulous dinner with Fabio Coppola last year, shortly after he took over Roma Deli I with his business partners.  Note that Roma Deli II (on W. Sahara) is not the same ownership.

 

Make-Your-Pizza at Pieology Pizzaria or Blaze Pizza

I’m no fan of corporate chain restaurants, but the new make-your-own pizza kitchens popping up all over are amazingly tasty and a great bargain.  The primary two pizzerias that do this here in Las Vegas are Pieology and Blaze.  They are identical in concept and charge about the same price.  Hence, my comments to follow are interchangeable.

You walk in and go to the counter.  Select your own pizza dough, which is a 12-inch crust.  Then, you can pile on as many fresh ingredients as you want, all done by the chef standing in front of you.  Let me write that again — you can pile on as many fresh ingredients as you want.

The price is the same.  $8.95 for a pizza that’s baked in a brick oven, on the spot, with everything you want on top (none of the 50-cents an extra topping bullshit).  I have requested triple portions of garlic, olives, various cheeses, sausages, pepperoni, and just about everything except the kitchen sink, and they don’t blink an eye.

It’s still $8.95.

And, the pizzas are fantastic.

I usually opt for the white pizza, flooded with all the cheeses, then layered with meat and other toppings.  The pie is an inch-and-a-half thick, despite the thin crust.  It takes about five minutes and is sliced into six portions.  You can be out the door in 25 minutes for less than $13 with a large drink.

Why anyone would ever eat fast food again, or order one of those miserable soggy pizzas from other places that nickel and dime you to death for every extra topping is baffling.  These new places should put the old shitty mass-production pizzerias like Dominos and Papa Johns out of business.  If you ever order from Papa Johns again after eating at either Pieology or Blaze, please unfriend me immediately.

 

READ PART 2 HERE

 

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Posted by on Feb 7, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 4 comments

Not So Well Done — My Review of Heritage Steakhouse (The Mirage)

 

 

Dining out on the Las Vegas Strip used to be a common experience.  This isn’t so true anymore, especially since “celebrity chefs” crashed the restaurant scene, jacked up prices to ridiculous heights, and casinos started charging for parking.  Now, most Las Vegas locals like myself avoid driving to The Strip at all costs.  It isn’t worth the time, the hassle, or the price when so many more alluring options and better values exist much closer to home.

So, when the rare opportunity to dine at an upscale casino steakhouse does come along, it’s anticipated as a special treat.  Such was case this past Monday evening when a longtime friend from out of town decided he wanted to dine at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steakhouse located on the casino floor beneath the atrium at The Mirage.

Book the the reservation.  Make it a table for two.

HERITAGE STEAKHOUSE DINNER MENU

The evening began on a sour note.  Reservations were made well in advance promptly for 7 pm.  Since this was a Monday, typically the slowest night of the week for casino restaurants, less tourist traffic would seem to bring about more efficient hands-on service and a more enjoyable overall dining experience.  Sadly, this was not the case.

At Heritage Steakhouse, the host stand is positioned outside the restaurant directly on the casino floor.  For those forced to wait for a table, there’s no comfortable place to stand, let alone sit, since the aisles are jammed with casino traffic.  And even though we arrived precisely at 7 pm, just in time for our reservation, we were instructed our table would be “just a few minutes.”

[Side Note:  This has become a somewhat underhanded tactic used by fancy restaurants to shovel diners into the bar area, so they will order a drink while waiting for what always seems to be about 20 minutes longer than necessary.]

No problem.

So, we stood off to the side, trying as best we could to dodge the hustle and bustle of casino action.  From afar, we could peak inside and see plenty of empty tables were available.  Staffing also seemed up to par.  This wait seemed unnecessary.

7:05 came….and passed.

7:10 came….and passed.

What in the hell was going on?  What’s taking so long?  We were trying to get a couple of seats in a restaurant, not fly stand-by to LaGuardia.  After 15 minutes of standing around, at 7:15 we approached the host stand a second time to “check in” or get some update on the status of our future.

“May I help you, Sir?”

Huh?

It was like we’d just walked in for the first time.  We didn’t exist.  Apparently, the host totally forgot about us and let us wait aimlessly for 15 minutes in the aisle like a couple of broke losers.  Gee, it’s really a good idea we got impatient and checked in a second time, or we might still be standing out there getting trampled by tourists lugging suitcases.

Okay, fine.  So, they dropped the ball while seating us.  No big deal.  Let’s forget about it and enjoy our dinner.

Heritage Steakhouse touts itself as “casual and stylish vibe, elegant and cool without pretense.  Perfect for a date, dining with colleagues, or a night out with old friends.”  I’ll go along with this official description, cut and pasted from the restaurant’s website.  Trouble is, the tables are positioned so uncomfortably close together that all conversations and intimacies might as well be broadcast to a room full of strangers.

On multiple occasions, I could hear every word spoken at the next table, estimated to be about three feet away, the distance of a quarterback sneak on 4th down and 1.  Unfortunately, this also meant the other party could hear every word I said the entire night.  At one point during our dinner, while ranting about the wicked ignorance of the current President, a portly Republican-looking man at the adjacent table cold-cocked his jowl-framed giant head and peered over at me, obviously annoyed, then frowned his displeasure.

Game on.

I must say that I took particular delight just short time later when the annoyed portly Republican man’s steak was served and (according to his tastes) had been hopelessly overcooked.  This caused a stir and a scene.  The singed piece of meat was sent back to the kitchen and after some arguing, the manager finally came over and spent what seemed like five minutes apologizing.  Aside from the joyous occasion of dining with my friend and enjoying his riveting conversation, the portly Republican’s misery was the highlight of my evening.

Then, things went downhill from there.  We’d been seated directly next to the kitchen at a corner table with our backs to a common breezeway used by a busy staff.  Midway through the meal, a waiter took a terrible tumble and crashed onto the floor.  Shaken up and laying flat on his back on a slick, over-varnished faux-paneled aisle, several waiters rushed over to help the unfortunate server who had fallen, and at least for a short time, couldn’t get up.

Finally, the dazed waiter rose slowly to his feet, appeared somewhat confused as though he didn’t know what century he was living in, and then wobbled back into the kitchen, presumably trying to save face.  Like an injured footballer being carted off to the locker room, I wasn’t sure if we spectators should have applauded, or not.

Dinners were a disappointment and a rip off.  My friend ordered what was alleged to have been a precooked 10-ounce filet — priced at $58.  Nothing else was included in the hefty price.  No extras.  That $58 was just for the steak, which cooked down was reduced to about the size of a well-worn hockey puck.  One abomination which has become customary in fancy casino steakhouses is up-charging for every single addition.  Every sauce costs extra.  Nothing comes with the meal.  The cheapest salad is priced $14.  So, we passed.  The least expensive side dish (mashed potatoes) is $11.  We agreed to share one side dish and it could have fit into a can of Purina Cat Chow.  Typically, I might have ordered more extras.  But I’m not fishing $14 out of pocket for a couple of sprigs of asparagus.

To be both fair and accurate, overcharging captive customers has become standard practice just about everywhere on The Strip.  Heritage Steakhouse isn’t the exception but the rule by simply adhering to the tendencies and trends that have transformed Las Vegas dining from what was once a relative bargain to a assembly line of constant greed.  Sure, restaurants need to generate a profit.  I just think for 58 bucks, I should be entitled to a salad or a vegetable.

My main course was swordfish, which tasted okay, but was a pittance given the lofty price.  Cut into about four bites, it was devoured within minutes, coming out to about $10 a bite, or 75 cents a chomp.  The swordfish was served with a boring sauce inside a tiny ramekin.  Good thing the sauce was so bland and I didn’t want any extra, or I might have been pissed.  Comparatively, for what I paid for the single sliver of swordfish at Heritage, I could have ordered TWO complete dinners of fresh Idaho rainbow trout at King’s Fish House, along with two vegetables with each dinner, plus a heaping basket of piping hot sourdough bread and real butter, and still have $5 to spare (I did the math).  Oh, and the rainbow trout at King’s tastes far better.

Speaking of feeling short-changed, we did receive a “basket of bread” which was complimentary.  Hooray!  The basket consisted of one small roll each about the size of a golf ball.  I think it was cheese bread, though I can’t really be sure.  Two grown hungry men were reduced to scrambling for what amounted to bread rations.   Again, using a comparative value scale — even Cracker Barrel supplies a generous basket of rolls and cornbread (which tastes much better).

Service was mediocre.  Though it’s not proper to judge any restaurant’s service staff based on a single visit (I won’t be going back), there were at least two miscues.  The first was simply trying to get re-fills on ice water.  We had to ask multiple times.  Perhaps this is a tactic to keep diners moving along so they can re-seat the table as quickly as possible.  The second miscue was less forgivable.  My friend asked for a second soda, which was totally forgotten by the waiter.  When I summoned over the busboy to beg for a re-fill of the water glass, my colleague made a second request for a soda.

“I’ll let the waiter know,” the busboy said.

Let the waiter know?  We’ve already done that once — and he forgot.  Hey, we’re not trying to get a re-fill on Xanax here.  Just bring us another goddamned Coke!

Given the overall mediocrity, high prices, and substandard service, we skipped on coffee and dessert.

The bill came:  $152 for one steak, one swordfish, one side dish of mashed potatoes, one bottle of Pellegrino mineral water, and two Cokes.  Add a somewhat undeserved $30 tip, and the damage amounted to $182 — or $91 a person.  No alcohol.  With a few drinks or wine, the cost would have been substantially higher.

I left hungry.

The two key metrics of my restaurant reviews are satisfaction and value.  [1] Was I satisfied?  [2] Was the meal a decent value for the price?  No and no.  On both counts Heritage Steakhouse failed the test.  In fact, I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about the meal or the experience.

After exchanging a few pleasantries and saying our goodbyes, I walked to the parking garage and dutifully paid another $12 at the kiosk to park my car for what amounted to about three hours.  A few weeks ago, MGM-Mirage properties announced they will increase the parking fees.  The maximum parking price soon will be raised to $18.

One more reason to dine elsewhere around town and one less reason to visit the Las Vegas Strip.

 

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Posted by on Nov 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Sports Betting | 5 comments

My Dinner with Fabio Coppola (Restaurant Review: Roma Deli)

 

 

Roma Deli has been a centerpiece for traditional Italian food for as long as I’ve lived in Las Vegas.

Roma has also weathered some significant changes during this past year.  It was recently purchased by new ownership.  When a restaurant is doing just fine, as was the case before with Roma, making changes is not necessarily a good thing.  An “Under New Management”  sign is often a red flag that something’s wrong, or things are about to go downhill soon.  Sadly, when most decent restaurants are sold off as prey, new owners step-in and reduce quality in order to cut costs.  Then, they wonder why they’re empty a few months later.

I’d visited Roma perhaps 60-70 times over the past decade (ten years multiplied by an average of one visit about every two months = 60).  Every previous meal either met or exceeded my expectations.  Four dozen visits — not once did I ever leave disappointed.  Sure, the old-world decor, with tile floors and rickety chairs, was spartan.  The inside looked more like a local market than a full-fledged restaurant.  But service was always reliable and the food consistently delivered on quality, taste, value, and authenticity.

Why mess with success?  The reset button wasn’t necessary.

The identity of Roma’s new ownership wasn’t exactly a mystery.  In fact, I know the three primary investors quite well.  Fabio Coppola, Max Pescatori, and Todd Brunson (all well-known Las Vegas poker pros) combined their bankrolls and purchased a controlling interest in the flagship store located a few blocks east of the Jones-Spring Mountain intersection, on the edge of what’s known loosely as Chinatown.  There’s another Roma Deli, at Sahara and Durango which remains under old management (Note:  It’s also very good).

I have an equal dose affection and respect for Coppola, Pescatori, and Brunson.  But running a successful restaurant isn’t like pulling off a $10,000 bluff at the poker table.  It requires a completely different skill set so rarefied that about 85 percent of all new restaurants close within three years.  To be frank, I wasn’t sure what to expect the next time I visited “Roma Deli 2.0.”

Intentionally, I skipped numerous invitations to dine at Roma Deli over the past six months, offered by more than a dozen friends and associates.  I preferred to re-acquaint myself with this old culinary friend at the right time, with the proper host.  Fabio Coppola’s dinner invitation to join him on a Friday night became the perfect storm of excitement and expectation.

__________

 

If you want to really know someone, take them out to dinner.

Better yet, have them take you to dinner.  It’s cheaper.  Especially when your gracious host is the owner of the place.

The first major difference I noticed about Roma Deli from previous visits was the decor had been vastly updated.  A wooden floor had replaced the dingy old tile.  Tabletops were now glass.  The garden room had expanded, and for the first time, outdoor seating was available.  Buzzing refrigerators along the walls had been replaced by half booths and tasteful Italian-themed artwork.  RTV playing non-stop on televisions blasting Italian programming that only the staff watched was tuned to ESPN.  The new Roma looked much classier and cozier.  Roma also expanded from serving only wine and beer to a full-service bar.

Fabio reserved the best table in the house for us, located next to a well-illuminated deli counter steps away from a busy kitchen.  Dinner began with a hearty Barbaresco wine, from Italy.  Always one to display some fanfare, Fabio insisted the wine be decanted first, so as to breath and release the full bouquet of flavors.

My disdain for Italian reds is widely known.  Even Fabio knew this, as a regular reader.  But a proper dinner guest always shackles his personal biases and respects the host and his wishes.  When in Roma, err make that “when in Roma” deference to authority is the norm.  Well, what a marvelous discovery the Barbaresco turned out to be (particularly after about 30 minutes decanted).

Over the course of three hours of conversation, I learned the following things about my host, Fabio:

(1)  Fabio was born in Rimini on Italy’s east coast.  But he has three Italian hometowns — Rimini, Rome, and Naples.  He lived in all three cities as a child before immigrating to the United States.

(2)  Fabio has never considered himself a full-time poker pro with lofty aspirations of fame and fortune.  Rather, he’s used poker to earn extra money and meet lots of interesting people.  Some of those people, including Max and Todd, became business associates.

(3)  Fabio conveyed that voted for Donald Trump, but also expressed objections to many of his actions and policies.  Oddly enough, this past year Fabio’s first choice for president was Bernie Sanders.  Reflecting a paternalistic view of politics which is quite common among native-born Italians (based on my experiences), Fabio declared, “What America really needs right now is a grandfather everyone can look up to….someone to take care of a large family with a lot of internal arguments and conflict.  That’s the way I see it.”

(4)  Sometime soon, Fabio expects to open up a chain of Italian coffee shops around Las Vegas, serving genuine pastries and lunch fare.  He’s already picked out a few locations.

(5)  One of the most interesting topics of our detailed discussion was a debate about having children.  Most manly conversations don’t include this topic (I don’t recall ever discussing this subject before).  However, given that I’m now age 55 and Fabio is 42, he was innately curious to know from someone older and who’s been married many years about having children.  He wanted to know if I/we had regrets about deciding not to do this.  I shared my perspectives with him (which will remain private for now).  He noted that when he asked people the same question about having kids — when they were able to speak honestly — the majority stated they would have chosen instead NOT to have children.  This was perhaps the most interesting topic of the night, aside from the wine and dinner.

Update:  Oh one more thing, I almost forgot!  Fabio is a distant relative of famed movie director Francis Ford Coppola, who shares the same last name.

__________

 

One of the many delights of my dining experience was meeting Leo, now the head chef at Roma.  Leo came out of the kitchen and spent considerable time with us.  I learned that Leo had previously been the chef at the famed “1212” restaurant in Santa Monica (Los Angeles).  Fabio and the Roma Deli ownership team coaxed him into moving to Las Vegas and trying a new culinary venture.

Smart move.

The staple of all Italian cooking is the house sauce.  It’s the foundation.  Without a good sauce, everything else crumbles.  If the house tomato sauce misses, nothing else can make up for the disappointment.  Every Italian restaurant (and chef’s) sauce is different.  In a sense, a sauce is like wine.  No two are the same.

I’m outraged by how bad (and mostly bland) most house sauces are at many Italian restaurants, not just in Las Vegas but all over the country.  It’s like these fake Italian places open up a giant can of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce and presto!  That’s it.  I can’t fathom how some Italian restaurants take any pride in what they’re doing.  This is an abominable culinary crisis and gives Italian cooking a bad name.  By the way, don’t even get me started on how many lousy overrated Italian restaurants serving bland sauce exist in the phony meccas of Italian cooking like New York and Philadelphia.  I won’t go there.  A different topic and rant for another day.

Roma gets it right.  It serves a house sauce that’s almost blood orange in color, with the perfect consistency and taste.  Not too acidy (the sure sign of a cheap sauce) but rather filled with a progression of savory tastes depending on the pairing.

In the past, I’ve tried about two-thirds of Roma’s menu choices, which are quite extensive.  On this night, I enjoyed two appetizers (antipasti plate — with sauteed red peppers, fresh eggplant, black olives, sliced prosciutto, and an assortment of cheeses) and some delicious arancini (best described as stuffed rice balls with ground beef).

Determined to continue my flirtation with trying to go vegetarian (I eat meat only a few times a week — trying slowly to phase out animal products from my diet), I ordered a specialty primavera item that was custom made just for me.  I’d had this garlic/broccoli/olive oil/capellini dish made al dente by the cook many times previously, and Leo was happy to tackle the latest challenge of pleasing Las Vegas’ most demanding amateur reviewer.

My custom dish was outstanding.  Roma is willing to make any dish upon request.  Try that next time you dine at Olive Garden.  Carnevino sure won’t do that.  This is why I love places like Roma.

My “going vegetarian” aspirations were sabotaged when Fabio totally surprised me with our main course, which I learned was to be shared.  A heaping stack of fresh lamb chops, perfectly seasoned and scrumptious, were put on display in the center of our table.  I temporarily ditched the vegan experiment and morphed into a caveman beast, clutching the rib of a dead animal in my right hand as I licked juicy meat like a starving wolf in the wild.

The lamb chops were accompanied by a platter of sliced whole potatoes, perfectly sauteed in butter.  Snappy carrots braised in olive oil topped with a dash of parsley minimally redeemed my good standing as a pseudo-vegetarian.  Question:  If I eat double the carrots, is all forgiven about me devouring the lamb?

Speaking of butter, this is another of my odd proclivities.  Any (northern) Italian restaurant that doesn’t serve real butter with bread should be shut down and burned to the ground.  I’m all for the faux-olive oil and vinegar thing you now see so frequently.  But any real Italian place serving primarily American clientele must make butter an easy option.  Real butter.  Not shit margarine.  And not olive oil pouring college students with accents from Indiana.

Without asking, Roma served up piping hot bread, topped with a dusting of flour, like it had come out of the oven five minutes earlier.  Bread was served in a basket wrapped in a white tablecloth.  And the butter.  La vita e bella.  Life is beautiful.

Dinner was topped off with a slice of fresh homemade ricotta cheesecake, accompanied by shots of double expresso.  Boring predictable cheesecake is a plentiful dime a dozen in this town, but fresh ricotta is much a rarer find.  Consistent with an extensive in-house bakery that displays an assortment of pastries, cakes, and cookies (the house specialty), Roma nailed the dessert to perfection.

__________

 

Fabio told me one of the things he respects most about my writings is the brutal honesty I usually deliver.

He’s about to get more of that now.

If there’s one serious concern I have with Roma, it’s the pricing which is slightly higher than most off-the-Strip Italian-themed restaurants.  Yes, I know better-quality ingredients and talented kitchen staff costs money.  The prices must be higher.  But I worry this could inhibit growing a successful business in a fickle city that’s highly-competitive when it comes to restaurants, especially with so many ex-pat Italians and their resident descendants.

Then again, Roma is not going for the crowd that thinks Olive Garden is real Italian food.  At Roma, most pasta dishes are priced close to $20.  The higher-end steaks and cuts range from $30-40.  Formal dining joints with white tablecloths can get away with charging high prices.  But Roma remains a neighborhood deli, and despite all the upgrades and best intentions remains a deli, and so one minor criticism some could have upon a quick inspection of the menu are the prices.  A decent meal here for two, when done right, will run about $100.  To be fair, Roma also offers lunch specials which are much cheaper and still just as good.

Judging by the crowds I witnessed, Roma is doing just fine though — and for the time being perhaps my concerns with the pricing are in the minority  I’m thrilled to be wrong about this.  Fabio stated he’s trying to expand his night business and might soon introduce a late-night happy hour (reverse happy hour) with specials after a certain hour.  This is all in the works.  Las Vegas could certainly use a great late-night restaurant that isn’t Chinese or a coffee shop.

Roma appears to be trying to compete with Nora’s which is nearby and probably the best-known upscale Italian restaurant on the west side.  Nora’s offers a much fancier atmosphere.  But the service is far better at Roma.  Based on my visits to both, Roma’s food is better, also.

When making comparisons, Roma is far superior in value than any of the outrageously expensive and overrated so-called “Italian restaurants” tempting tourists on The Strip, most notably the abomination known as Carnevino anchored at the Venetian.  Why anyone would subject themselves to snooty servers, bastardized Italian fare, crowds of conventioneers, and double the rip-off prices is totally beyond me.  Some advice:  Skip the likes of Carnevino, and try out a real authentic family-owned business run by hands-on people who care about their food — and that’s Roma Deli.

My conclusion:  Roma Deli is one of the very few Italian restaurants I’ve visited which successfully bridges both northern and traditional southern fare, blended into the farm-to-table techniques of Tuscany, combined with the culinary sophistication of Rome.  Add a market with ample desserts, meats, and cheeses, with a full bar, and that makes for the perfect refuge.

Thanks, Fabio.  The food was surpassed only by the host and company.

A final word:  At dinner, we both did many movie impersonations.  This is me doing my best/worst Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs.”

“Ah, Clarice….a census taker once tried to test me.  I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.  Sssss….ssssss…..sssssss.”

 

 

VISIT ROMA DELI’S WEBSITE HERE

 

Writer’s Note:  During this visit, I did not take notes.  Fabio was not expecting me to write a restaurant review.  I think most of the details here are correct and will update any errors pointed out to me.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article used the word “vegan.”  This has been corrected to “vegetarian.”

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Posted by on Sep 15, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Keller’s Drive-In (Dallas) — The Most Wonderfully Disgusting Burger Joint in the Universe

 

 

My unplanned detour off Northwest Highway onto the oil-stained parking slick fronting Keller’s Drive-In prompted a most peculiar of culinary quandaries.  Namely — should I risk my life for a hamburger?  

From the rusty dangling carports taunting wide-eyed anxiety of an imminent collapse….to the dreary landscape beguiling a knife fight between rival gangs….a pit stop at this East Dallas hamburger haven demands a divine leap of gargantuan faith, garnished with an intriguing sense of unease.

Keller’s Drive-In has been around since before I was born — which is to say when all the Kennedys were still alive.  Growing up in Dallas, I fondly remember Keller’s Drive-In as that last great American hamburger joint before the microwaved abomination of corporate fast-food chains conspired to destroy the world and all but obliterated these genuine small-time monuments to food art and guilty decadence.

All I can say is — thank fucking god this awful place is still around and remains so marvelously defiant.

While we’re now in the midst of a trendy faux-renaissance of the good old-fashioned era of the greasy burger, unfortunately, most of the forgers financed by quinoa-nibbling waifs charge at least quadruple the price of the most expensive menu item at Keller’s — and still aren’t even half as tasty.  Fuck them.  Fuck them with triple patty sideways.

See, Keller’s is the raw real deal.  Taste buds never lie.  Where else in this compromised day and age of mass copy-cat conformity can you wolf down a piping hot guilty pleasure and guzzle a cold beer in the front seat of your car (ALL LEGALLY!) for less than ten bucks?  Indeed, Keller’s isn’t just a teary throwback to bygone authenticity given that its days are probably numbered, memories destined to be bulldozed into an Applebee’s next to Chevron.  It’s a cenotaph to anti-political correctness.  Let me put it this way:  If Jesus ever did return and was an auto mechanic instead of a carpenter, and he wanted to re-do The Last Supper, he’d host it at Keller’s.

On this day, I didn’t plan on eating at Keller’s.  Hell, I wasn’t even hungry.  I was full, even.  But you only live once according to my spiritual leanings and if my time has indeed come to keel over from a heart attack or a switchblade thrust into the abdomen by the newest inductee into the Banditos — then so be it.  My friends, this is precisely how I want to go out — with a scrumptiously sinful artery blocker in one fist and some kind of alcoholic beverage in the other palm, all while mutinously singing The Internationale.

Here.  Check out the menu.  Look at these prices!  “The Best” Hamburger clocks in at $2.35.  Throw in some greasy fresh-cut fries for a buck fifty-five.  Then, kill those intestines with a hearty milkshake for $2.25 (not the corn syrup garbage served elsewhere, but the real dairy product where you can taste the cream).  You can also add a cold beer for $1.75.  Holy shit!  I need to rent an apartment next to this joint!  Or, be buried here.

The best burger, plus fries, plus a milkshake, plus a cold beer comes to — cha -ding! — a grand total of $8.90!

 

 

Allow me to become a bit philosophical.

Food is the most obvious revelation and the ultimate confirmation, that above all else, egalitarianism rules.  Screw everything else.  Fact:  We all want to eat well.  Food is the magnet that makes snooty rich people drive into shitty neighborhoods for no other pursuit than that uniquely scrumptious meal you simply can’t get anyplace else in the city, or the universe for that matter.  Food is the epicenter our most inherent of social and commercial bonds, often between the most disparate tribes.

My rental car pulled up next to a Tesla.  Across the breezeway was a lowrider, which looked to be a ’66 Chevy Impala, though I’m not a car guy (thanks Google).  To my left was a soccer mom with her too many kids in a Toyota SUV.  Behind me was an old paintless pickup truck with a bunch of lawnmowers in the back — presumably all “rapists and murderers” doing their part of keep Dallas green and beautiful.  See, lots more cunts live in Highland Park than Oak Cliff.

Where else but Keller’s Drive-In would I witness a solo visitor from Las Vegas parked right next to an asshole driving a $100,000 car, next to suburban soccer mom, next to a Cheech and Chong wannabee, next to illegal aliens on lunchbreak — all eating pretty much exactly the same incredible meal for the same price?  If that’s not egalitarian awesomeness, then nothing is.

Note, however.  Badass bikers have recently been banned.  [READ “EATER DALLAS” STORY HERE]

 

 

Not often does one accurately describe a popular eating establishment as a total shithole, yet also give it a glowing recommendation.  Well, here you go.  Keller’s Drive-In is a total shithole with fabulous food at ridiculously cheap prices.

Which now brings me to the close.  The culinary encore of this review can be expressed in either one word or perhaps two words.  I’m not sure which.  That word or those words are — POPPYSEEDS.  Ersatz POPPY SEEDS.  I’d crawl over broken glass to devour those poppy seeds.  They’re sewn into every bun at Keller’s Drive-In.  My new sick fetish is poppy seeds.

I’m not sure what exactly is the best thing about Keller’s Drive-In, but the poppy seeds in the bun are right there next to the free knife fight.  Then, there’s the burger.  The burger is so messy, napkins aren’t adequate.  More like you need a beach towel, and perhaps a shower.

Keller’s Drive-In reminds us all of what we once used to be and what can still be, given the will of taste over convenience, the popular demands of quality over quantity, and the indubitable love of great food over mass production.

This is badass greatness on a poppyseed bun slathered in a special sauce.  Blow your dick off perfection with a heart attack in your hand all washed down with a cold brew.

Keller’s Drive-In is absolute magnificence.

 

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