Chef Marti Mongiello is listed in the top 50 writers in the United States for the Examiner system of newspapers and top 100 most visited websites of America with over 51 million page views per month and 92,000 Facebook fans.
If you’ve been watching Harrah’s Cherokee Casino grow up to stand tall and begin speaking and writing – then plan a new visit. When our Chefs first visited here we barely could find a parking spot in the rain outside, valeted our car and enjoyed slots only. The dining choices were pretty slim as well and that made any trips to Cherokee limited to a one day – or one night visit. I mean really. We would supplement with visits to the Cherokee Museum and live dancing on the streets by real Cherokee Indians.
This time around, we were treated to a four day stay complimentary of Harrah’s and let me tell you, it’s worth it to enjoy the new covered parking garage with protected skywalk to the 1100+ room hotel and suites, private lounges for relaxation and conversation around a fire, the wonderful interior design, several new shops to visit and spend in, a brand new “Sweets” shop on the promenade (watch out), expanded gaming of cards and poker tables, craps and roulette as well as VIP areas and high roller sections (my favorite even though I’m far from a high-roller – be on the lookout for the $100.00 slot machines).
First off: I very much enjoyed the more mature team members working at the front desk. All too often the entire front desk of a resort or hotel is staffed with 18 to 22 year olds. Are they trying to send us a signal that this is all young folks are good for? Imagine how intimidated more mature folks feel and how the young folks feel. At Harrah’s Cherokee, the staff is a good mix of mature and young as soon as you walk in.
We also arrived early as we were driven out of the mountains by the deep snows earlier this week. Having a Bell Service is excellent! We pulled up in our huge Chrysler 300 boat loaded with all types of riff-raff looking plastic bags filled with Total cereal, baby food, blueberry cider, milk for the baby, luggage, shirts not in a leather garment bag (how low-class of us, should I go out and buy a $400.00 leather garment bag?), a gym bag loaded with books to read, etc…
The valet meets you and calls for a bellman if you like. The poor guy loaded up so much crap it was embarrassing for him to push that golden cart! Me? No, I wasn’t embarrassed, I just walked right into the hotel and checked in while the bellman disappeared with our junk load of Dollar Tree plastic bags and everything (okay, actually we do own two nice bags, so there). Ha ha!
You head up to your room and then after getting settled with mommy and baby, you call them and state, “we’re ready now, bro.” Okay, so you don’t use the word, “bro,” alright, alright…but anyway, you just call and they deliver. Presto, what a bonus for a family.
For our family, Harrah’s has become a destination visit for the family. We enjoy Paula Deen’s Kitchen immensely and are so proud of her. We have enjoyed her menu and her buffet every time we visit. Paula’s creamy hash brown casserole is the best ever!!! Chef Johnsie’s grits are better than Paula’s (Chef Johnsie is part of our team at The Presidential Culinary Museum) so she’ll be glad to hear that. The quiche was fluffier than anything I have ever made and boy was I jealous. But I hoped every crust – on every quiche – was not broken off (crusts made too thin). I wish the team would offer higher priced, optional up-charge, extra-thick honkerin’ bacon. All they seem to have is the standard bacon. Why not offer expensive bacon as well? Made in the real traditions of the South. How about offering the upgrade of thick, slab cut, hickory smoked, peppered bacon? I’d pay through the nose for it. We thoroughly enjoyed the fresh Florentine nature of the omelet station and Chef Stormy is still talking about it. We go to Paula’s every single visit.
Naturally, we also love all of the Chef Paula and Captain Michael items in the massive gift shop. Again, we are so proud of our Southern Chef from the coast! Get on out here.
We did get a chance to enjoy the all new Ruth Chris Steakhouse and have eaten in this style before in Charlotte. On Tuesday night, we decided to explore their all new bar and size up the Mixologist’s works and alchemy (Kriss and Alex working this week). Is it as good as Charlotte’s Master Alchemist ruling over the masses at Halcyon Restaurant (Maggie Ruppert) brewing, stirring and roiling incantations?
I ordered a, “Derby Peach Tea,” since I love bourbon. Kriss opened her spell book and mixed Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Monin Peach Puree, freshly brewed iced tea, hand squeezed lemon juice and a sprig of mint leaves. OMG, if you love bourbon, you might want to call the local pharmacy to have them deliver a wheelchair before even going in to this bar.
For Chef Stormy, she was talking on the phone with Chef JT in Tennessee while Kriss made her, “Broad Street Hurricane.” Here parts of Zacapa Centenario 23 year old aged rum were poured into the cauldron with POM Pomegranate juice, fresh wrenched lemon and lime juices, Monin yellow passionfruit (passiflora edulis) and then paddled well. After a quick shakennotstirredpleasethankyou, Kriss strained it into a yellow, sugar-rimmed martini glass. WOWZUH!
Ed Weiss is the Executive Chef at Ruth Chris and we enjoy Ruth Chris anytime we dine at one. They sure have steak perfected right.
Halcyon still rules.
On Wednesday night, we enjoyed the all newly renovated Chef’s Stage and it is a true, international delight. The hot woks were sizzling in the Asian section and my Key Lime pie was refreshing. The hand shucked oysters were wonderful with horseradish and lemon or make them anyway you like! I whip up my own lil’ sauce each time. The smoked and tasty flank steak was dead on delicious (thank you lady Chef I did not catch your name) and be on the lookout for the free Chef’s Recipe Cards on the top of some stations. What a cool take home gift!
Chef Tony’s Cream Cheese Creamy Corn, Chef Jeremy’s Buckeye BBQ chicken legs and wings, Chef Tony’s 36 Hour Whiskey Binge Beef Brisket are faves here.
We also frequented the new BRIO Tuscan Grille and had the opportunity to dine at “the outside street area under white columns, Italian large, string-bulbed lights and the open air questions of folks walking by, “You can dine out here? I’m sitting here tomorrow night and having a Martini,” one gentleman smilingly exclaimed to us. The Calamari Fritto Misto was excellent and be mindful of that first whole, big bite – there’s pepper rings in there!
Brio also has an excellent bar inside the columns and table-side dining right next to the kitchen (actually looking inside the entire kitchen). We thoroughly enjoyed our dinners of:
Veal Milanese: a lightly breaded Strauss veal scaloppine with tomatoes and a white wine lemon caper sauce. Served with roasted vegetables and herb spaghettini $23.95 I’ve spoiled myself with hand-hammered thin, baby milk fed veal sauteed for seconds in EVO so found this veal to be too thick to my preference, but thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ravioli di Bello: Portobello ravioli with Cremini mushrooms, tomatoes, Reggiano and fresh thyme in a light champagne brown butter sauce $14.95 Chef Stormy enjoyed the fresh grated cheese on top. We truly enjoyed our meals at BRIO Tuscan Grille.
Now Harrah’s Cherokee Casino truly is beginning to ramp up the odds of folks staying more than one night and increasing repeat business with the new offerings of BRIO Tuscan Grille, Chefs Stage Buffet, Dunkin Donuts Express, Johnny Rockets, The Lobby Cafe (this is the only place that I found selling newspapers and could not find the WSJ, Washington Times, NY Times, Barron’s, Financial Times or much), The Noodle Bar, Paula Deen’s Kitchen, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, UNO Pizza and Winning Streaks Deli.
For those of you that feel casino dining is low-end or poor you will be happy to see the realistic, enjoyable manner of decorating at Cherokee instead of the fake looking Venice and gondolas at the Venetian (a poor attempt at realism and authenticity of replicating any era or genre) in Las Vegas. Cherokee does it quite classy, very clean and decoratively well. My first-life dream for them while on earth is to bring the water, wind, fire and earth of the exterior, real Cherokee world from outside – inside – into the casino with authentic Cherokee food. It would be a life’s dream of vision and heritage to embrace the Cherokee people – to enjoy their true food at their tables. For me, this is the last stop in being invited back to Cherokee some year- the day when we dine at their family table and all of the food is precise and accurately, locally grown and made. I remember well the only Native American restaurant (then) in the United States and eating there in New Mexico with the Code Talkers. Their food was blue corn and chorizo and other famed items I will never forget…
It’s obvious that the additions of name brand, world known establishments have truly enriched the casino with increased profits, enjoyment of the guests and excellent and wonderful food choices. Our Chef’s hat is off to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and Harrah’s. However the path towards the truth for this nation lies only in their past history and food. To move forward one must always move backward first. Sometimes the way out is deeper in. The nation can continue to embrace the worlds favorite flavors as they build towards presenting their own.
Tonight we are off to the Noodle Shop – man, after all the years I lived in Japan, I’m excited to say the least. After three days and three nights here we have been able to dine somewhere different every day.
Pack you bags for a longer stay at Harrah’s Cherokee!