Turning up the A.C.: 2 new casinos
June 28 brings two new casinos to Atlantic City, and I dropped by for a look-see at the dining options. Also this week, I tip you to an intriguing bar-restaurant newcomer near Rittenhouse Square, a new breakfast-lunch option near Jewelers Row, and a comfortable French destination in Bella Vista. Speaking of A.C., Craig LaBan offers his sandwich favorites. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email your tips, suggestions, and questions here.
Not one but two Atlantic City casinos are opening Thursday, June 28, about three blocks apart. I headed down to scope 'em out. Ocean offered me a preview tour. Hard Rock did not, but its doors were open, so …
Here's a rundown of the food options:
Ocean Casino Resort, the former Revel, includes a reprise of two Jose Garces restaurants — Amada (Spanish, ocean views) and Distrito (Mexican, plus a taco truck) — plus a redo of the steak house American Cut and a new Italian seafooder called Dolce Mare (replacing Azure from the Revel days). Garces' former Village Whiskey space will give way in about a month to a Wahlburgers. Rounding out the dining options: Villain & Saint, a rock-theme bar-restaurant (replacing Mussel Bar & Grille across from Distrito); Cafe 500, a 24-hour restaurant; SkyCafe, a bar-restaurant; Harper's, a bruncherie near hotel check-in; Zhen Bang Noodle & Sushi, replacing a spot called Plate across from Village Whiskey; and Pit Boss BBQ, replacing Garces' noodle house Yuboka next to Amada. Coming up this winter will be a buffet. Note that a few weeks away is Cereal Town, specializing in bowls of cereal. (You know those gamblers: Always after me lucky charms.) Here are photos of Ocean.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the former Trump Taj Mahal across from Steel Pier, has — naturally — a Hard Rock Cafe, complete with 400 seats and indoor-outdoor stages. Back from the Taj days — but revamped — are the plush Robert's Steakhouse and Il Mulino (plus a casual Trattoria Il Mulino). New options include Sugar Factory, a sweets-focused 300-seater with plenty of savory options; Council Oak Fish, a plush white-tablecloth seafooder; Kuro, a Japanese restaurant; Song, a Chinese restaurant; and Youyu Noodle Bar. Here are my photos of Hard Rock.
Inside the Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 W. Rittenhouse Square, 4-7 p.m. Sunday-Friday
The Italian destination draws suits after work to its plush bar on the ground floor. No Center City Sips crowd (though there's a DJ on Wednesdays). Scarpetta goes its own way with $6 menu selections (including gnocchetti topped with prosciutto) and half-priced drinks from the menu and drink list, including $7.50 Negronis and old-fashioneds.
Walnut Street as it approaches the Schuylkill has become a hot destination, what with Vernick (2031 Walnut) and Res Ipsa (2218 Walnut). Smack in the middle is the brand-new TALK, which Marigold Kitchen partners Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza opened last weekend at 2121 Walnut St. (215-515-3608). It's a moody, Art Deco fantasy with imaginative food and cocktails, open for happy hour and dinner Tuesday to Sunday, starting at 4 p.m. Kitchen closes at 11 p.m. Brunch and lunch are on the way.
The Jefferson Hospital area needed a breakfast-through-late-night option, thought Palm Restaurant veteran Paul Sandler. He's newly set up in the Franklin at Ninth and Chestnut Streets with the coolly tasteful Sandler's on 9th (834 Chestnut St., 215-634-9800). It's open from 7 a.m. till about 8 p.m. daily, and hours will expand when the liquor license arrives in July. Sandler also is planning a to-go counter with its own entrance on Ninth Street, next to Di Bruno's. Highlights of chef Robert Schoell's huge, dinerlike menu: poutine (brisket, lobster, or bacon and cheese); chicken tenders crusted in Snyder's honey mustard and onion pretzels; soft-shell crab sandwich; assorted burgers; and breakfast served all day.
That sweet French bar with a stellar wine list and spot-on food? That's Good King Tavern (614 S. Seventh St., 215-625-3700), where Chloe Grigri and crew pack a lot into a small space: buck-a-shuck oysters and $6 coupés of bubbly from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; a patio for drinks Thursday-Sunday; sidewalk dining; and Aaron Bennawit's kitchen, which closes at midnight and keeps things fresh with various duck preparations. It also turns out one of my favorite snacks: socca, a chickpea pancake, served with ratatouille. Insider tip: Hale & True, a new cidery across the street, serves a few GKT snacks.
Flow State | Kensington
Community-focused cafe featuring coffee, house-made pastries and gelati, and reservable tables is due to open June 28 at 2413 Frankford Ave.
Hên Vietnamese Eatery | Cherry Hill
Boldly decorated Viet strip-maller, dispensing pho, banh mi, and other staples, is new at 2087 Marlton Pike East.
Kurant Cider | Fishtown
The Lansdale-based cidery has flung open the garage doors at its Philly tasting room (436 E. Girard Ave.), serving its own ciders, plus local drafts and Pennsylvania-sourced cocktails. Open Wednesday-Sunday.
L'anima | Southwest Center City
Rosemarie Tran and chef Gianluca Demontis of Melograno and Fraschetta head into Graduate Hospital with a Roman BYOB at 17th and Carpenter Streets. Opens June 28 for dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Sandler's on 9th | Washington Square West
Former Palm Restaurant general manager Paul Sandler is behind this easygoing American specializing in burgers and all-day breakfast (opens at 7 a.m. daily) at the Franklin (Ninth and Chestnut Streets). Liquor license is expected in mid-July, and he plans a to-go counter with its own door down the road.
TALK | Rittenhouse Square
Andrew Kochan and chef Tim Lanza of Marigold Kitchen are mere days into this Art Deco bar-restaurant fantasy at 2121 Walnut St.
Wiki Poke | Rittenhouse
Yet another fast-casual poke restaurant, opening June 28 next to SoBol (and across the street from the Ritz-Carlton) at 44 S. 17th St.
Hikaru | Queen Village
Stash Yoshida wraps a 35-year career at his Japanese restaurant at 607 S. Second St. Last day is Saturday, June 30.
Toast | Washington Square West
The bruncherie at 12th and Spruce Streets is toast.
Whetstone Tavern | Queen Village
Sunday, July 1 is the final service at this three-year-old American bar-restaurant at Fifth and Bainbridge Streets. Owner Doug Hager wants to focus on Brauhaus Schmitz, his nearby Teutonic tap.
Question: I'm heading down the Shore this weekend, and I'm thinking about lunch. Do you have any favorite sandwiches at the beach we can't miss?
Craig LaBan: The Jersey Shore is one of my favorite places to eat sandwiches in the entire region. It's the unique character, not simply because Shore places tend to call their hoagies "subs" (like most of the rest of America, in fact). It's also because of that stellar bread from Atlantic City's two legendary old Italian bakeries, A. Rando and Formica, which produce flavorful, long rolls with an unvarnished crust and one long cut that rides the length of the loaf like a cresting wave.
Old-timers rightfully praise the sandwiches at the 72-year-old White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City), where the rolls are delivered warm multiple times a day from Formica across the street, and the cooks stuff their sandwiches with all the meats and cheese curled into a distinctive "S" that adds pockets of air for flavor. The White House's steak sandwich is also as good as you'll get at the Shore. (Even so, good luck detouring me from Pancho's Mexican Taqueria right next door, which happens to make one of the best tacos al pastor at the Shore. But I digress … there's time for them both.)
As a regular summer vacationer to Ocean City, I'm just as partial to the subs from the classic Italian takeout shop Voltaco's (957 West Ave., Ocean City), which uses bread from the 109-year-old A. Rando bakery and lots of oregano and pepper spread for its classic Italians. When I'm feeling "healthy," I go for the vegetarian Uncle Charlie hot hoagie stuffed with garlicky greens, peppers, and sharp provolone at the Sandwich Bar farther south down the Ocean City beach at 3255 Asbury Ave., where the lobster rolls are also legit.
For more retro comfort, the Sloppy Joe at Brown's Restaurant (110 Boardwalk) at the northern end of the beach has a secret seasoning we always try — but fail — to replicate when we go home.
The same could be said for the seemingly simple pleasure of the famous tuna at Dino's Sub & Pizza Shop (8016 Ventnor Ave.) in Margate. There is something so elusively good about the whipped tuna salad there that it's shipped to fans around the country. The real secret to the sub, though, is the crushed potato chips that line the bottom channel of the roll, just below the lettuce and tomato, resulting in crunchy, creamy tuna perfection.
Classics elsewhere at the Shore? Pop by the Holiday Snack Bar in Beach Haven (401 Centre St.) on LBI for the house-pattied burgers spread with freshly made Russian dressing and topped with crispy onion rings, but also a BLT so fresh that the bacon is still warm. (Dessert from their center shelf shrine to pies and cakes cannot be denied, so order a towering slice of the Lady Lord Baltimore.)
For something completely modern, yet still steeped in a genuine Shore swagger, visit Tony Baloney's in Atlantic City (300 Oriental Ave.). Tony's offers dozens of creative riffs that take old familiar flavors to the unexpected with scratch-cooked ingredients and a sense of humor — like the mezcal-marinated Olé steak sandwich, or the "Shoobie" fried chicken cutlet with buttermilk ranch, bacon and mozzarella that's hand-pulled in house, or the fresh sausage sandwiches, the multiple vegan options, the "Indian Club," or Mexican-inspired brisket that roasts for eight hours in mole.
Lunch at the Shore — with these sandwich options — should never, ever be boring.