Monday, December 08, 2014

The Restaurants at Horseshoe Casino

In August, Maryland's newest casino opened a bit south of the Ravens' ballpark, bringing several new dining establishments to an area not exactly teeming with good places to eat. The Horseshoe Baltimore, on Russell Street, offers the usual iniquitous pursuits--slots, poker, craps--but even if you're not a gambler, you may want to stop in for the food.

Several of the Horseshoe's restaurants have local roots. In the Baltimore Marketplace area of the casino you'll find Heavy Seas Burgers, Tark’s at the ‘Shoe, Lenny’s Deli, The Mallow Bar, and Piezzetta (a Mama Ilardo's concept). Upstairs, Ruby 8 Noodles and Sushi features flavors from China, Vietnam, and Korea. There are also three larger restaurants, Johnny Sanchez, Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar, and Jack Binion's Steak. I was able to sample items from these three during a media tasting last month.

We started at Johnny Sanchez, a joint effort by chefs and old friends John Besh and Aaron Sanchez. Besh is a James Beard Award winner and owner of several New Orleans restaurants including August and Luke. Sanchez, son of famed Mexican food authority Zarela Martinez, is probably best-known for his appearances on various Food Network shows, like Chopped and Chefs vs City (he battled Gypsy Queen food truck owners Annmarie Langton and Tom Looney in one episode); he's also a restaurateur. Together, they've combined names--but not cooking styles--in a restaurant concept that borrows heavily from Sanchez' Mexican heritage.

Because we were going to eat at two more restaurants, we started light at Johnny Sanchez. Or, that was the idea. Platters of tacos and tostadas, along with helpings of freshly fried tortilla chips, salsas, and two huge bowls of guacamole, were offered for our delectation. Drinks, too, as we were encouraged to sample items from the restaurants neat list of margaritas, tequilas, beers, and wines. I chose the roasted jalapeno margarita and enjoyed the smooth combination of tequila and lime juice, accented with a hint of jalapeno heat.

We tried four each of the tacos and tostadas. The tacos, above, made with tender corn tortillas made in-house, were filled with carne asada, chicken, fried red snapper, and fried shrimp, each with its own accompaniments and a wedge of lime for an added pop of acid. The tostadas were topped with roast pumpkin, lobster ceviche with mango, raw tuna and caviar, and blue crab. My favorite of the lot were the surprising pumpkin tostadas, which were lightly sweet and flavored with pumpkin seed pesto, pomegranate, and grilled queso fresco.

More images of our meal at Johnny Sanchez can be found in the slide show.

Our next stop was at Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar. To be honest, I am no fan of Mr Fieri and his personal brand of excess. I am still not, but I must admit that I did enjoy a couple of things at his casino restaurant.

I definitely was enamored of my cocktail, the "Lemon Drop...Not," a fresh and lightly herbal concoction of Ketel One Citroen vodka, St-Germain, fresh rosemary, fresh lemon sour, and rock candy syrup. (I even took it with me to the next restaurant on the list because I didn't want to give up a drop of it. One of the benefits of drinking at a casino--potables are portable.) My generous dining companions also let me have sips of their drinks, and I can tell you that the Austin Sweet Tea, Rattlesnake, and Crazy Hagar are all worth ordering.

We also sampled some food, including the won ton tacos, onion rings, a selection of wings, and the "B-More fries," an obscene pile of waffle-cut potatoes topped with crab dip and sprinkles of Old Bay and scallions. My favorites were the wings, which had cleverly been converted into lollipops, so fingers stay (mostly) tidy. The tuna filling in the "won-tacos" was generous, as was the amount and size of the onion rings. (Their sweetness comes from Frosted Flakes in the breading.) You definitely get a lot of food at Guy's; you might want to bring a friend or two to help you eat all of it.

More images of our meal at Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar can be found in the slide show.

Our final stop on the tour was Jack Binion's Steak. The casino's signature restaurant, Binion's is named after the son of casino magnate and original Las Vegas Horseshoe owner, Benny Binion. More elegant and low-key than either of the other two restaurants we visited, Binion's offers traditional steakhouse fare to high-rollers and newly-minted paupers alike.

First there were the sizzling oysters, the bivalves coated with a garlic and herb butter before being dropped back into their shells, which had just emerged from a 1800° radiant broiler. Then came the enormous 40-oz Porterhouse "for 2," garnished with a large marrow bone topped with caramelized onions, the roasted cauliflower and spinach "carbonara" sides, and a couple of crab cake appetizers. Not just a crab cake, the servings also sport an entire blue crab, marinated crab claws, and a little pile of crab cocktail. There's lots of meat and very little filler in these babies. But when you come to a steak house, that's exactly what you expect - meat. Jack Binion's delivers on that front.

They also serve Charm City Cakes by the slice. We tried two, the bananas foster and the red velvet. At this point in the evening, I was so full, I couldn't fully appreciate the jumbo servings of cake. They did, however, taste like cake.

More images of our meal at Jack Binion's can be found in the slide show.

I'm definitely not a gambler. I put $10 of my own money into the slot machines, and as soon as I came out $20 ahead, I cashed out. Just not a risk-taker, I suppose. But, I would definitely go back to the casino for more pumpkin tostadas, tacos, and a couple three rounds of drinks. Yes, even drinks at Guy's. Speaking of alcoholic beverages, it seems that the casino's Happier Hours (Monday–Friday from 4–7 p.m.) is the perfect time to make a return visit, what with 2-for-1 drinks and half-priced appetizers at all of the casino's bars and restaurants. (There's also $10 blackjack until 10 p.m. and free self-parking in their garage all day.) Jack Binion's is also offering a swell-sounding Jazz Brunch for the holidays that just might tempt me back downtown early on a Sunday (but I'm more likely to hit that Happier Hour).

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