Harrah’s Resort hasn’t been happy with offering your typical casino café for the masses for a very long time. That shift from the norm began with Sammy D’s, an excellent concept at first that strayed away from its original, fun, cutting-edge concept after loyal customers and players resisted.
Now that Sammy D’s is gone — along with its sister concepts Bill’s Bar & Burger and Dos Caminos — the Harrah’s food and beverage team led by Vice President of Food and Beverage Lee Sanchez is insistent that their new offering, Coastal Craft Kitchen + Bar, will remain true to its opening spirit. If it does, it will not just redefine the former café spot but it will be one of the best casual restaurant experiences in Atlantic City.
Harrah’s Resort’s culinary renaissance — it has opened six new concepts in less than six months – may have reached its pinnacle with Coastal Craft. There’s something for everyone: the regular casino player; the convention center visitor; late-night partiers at The Pool; and, most importantly, foodies.
This is not your grandmother’s casino coffee shop. In fact, it’s not a coffee shop at all. Since the main dining room still has a casino café feel, the staff is doing its best to push people into its bar area, where guests will find pool tables, plenty of beers on tap, lots of great cocktails and even regular live music from bands and DJs.
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But the reason to go to Coastal Craft is the food, whether it’s their everyday brunch — they don’t serve “breakfast” — or creative bar food and intriguing dinners.
The regular menu — large and creative — will force you to make some tough choices. Start at the raw bar and mix up some oysters — Cape May Salts ($3), Blue Points ($3) and West Coast ($4) – or even a whole Maine lobster ($45) before diving into the small plates, which offers enough inventive choices that you might not get to the other parts of the menu.
Deviled Eggs A La Pa ($8) are creamy and contain a scrapple surprise; lollipop chicken wings ($16) are served with three sauces — a kick-ass buffalo, a sweet yet savory chipotle maple (our favorite) and the not-so-compelling Hawaiian pineapple – and three matching dipping sauces, including a perfect blue cheese. Mussels are piled high and a bargain at $12 thanks to a coconut red curry sauce that was so good we wanted a container to take home to make our own; and Jalapeno Poppers Revisited ($16), perhaps Coastal Craft’s most-talked-about appetizer, feature oven-roasted jalapeno peppers stuffed with mushrooms, eggplant, caramelized onions and goat cheese all wrapped in Nueske’s bacon and finished with sun-dried tomato crème fraiche. No one can eat just one.
There are some great chowders and salads — check out the Lobster Cobb Salad ($18) with white balsamic vinaigrette for a great version of a classic — but the sandwiches and entrees are worth forgoing that salad for.
The Coastal “Crabby” Patty ($14) apparently took plenty of research from Restaurant Chef Nick Faucher, who watched hours of SpongeBob SquarePants to get the perfect recipe. And, get this, it’s made with fresh shrimp – no crab – lemon zest, Old Bay, pressed into a patty then seared, finished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and placed on a brioche bun with cocktail and tartar sauces. We liked the more dense texture and flavor but think we would just prefer a play on a crab cake.
The must-eat sandwich at Coastal Craft is the Rum Point Burger ($16), which brings the funk in a 28-day aged beef patty specially blended and hand-formed by master butcher Pat LaFrieda, then topped with Tillamook cheddar, Neuske’s bacon, a perfectly cooked, runny, sunny side-up egg, lettuce and tomato on a soft, butter brioche. No one in town uses meat aged this long that tastes this funky. It now rivals Wingcraft as the best burger in town.
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Dinner entrees were quite good but didn’t rise to the rest of the menu. We liked the Chilean sea bass ($30) infused with fennel and chili tomato water, blistered cherry tomatoes and sautéed spinach, but thought it was missing something to take it to the next level. But The Coastal Bake ($45) with a whole Maine lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp, potatoes and corn in a lobster sauce with crusty bread is everything someone visiting the shore should want.
As good as dinner is, we enjoyed brunch just as much on a separate visit. Start with some ricotta toast ($9), a light beginning with multi-grain toast points, Calabro ricotta cheese, drizzled local honey and Hammonton blueberries. Also under the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Brunch Alone” section of the menu, the shrimp and grits ($12) scream cheesy and creamy yet slightly spicy jalapeno grits with blackened shrimp; and the broiled oysters ($11) are fresh-shucked Cape May sea salts stuffed with pecorino herb butter and broiled to perfection.
But if you’re only going to get two things, get the Tamarindo Breakfast Burrito ($14), a tortilla loaded with scrambled eggs, scrapple, gallo pinto (beans) and sriracha rolled up and deep fried. It’s the best breakfast burrito ever created. And the fried chicken Benedict ($14), which is exactly what it sounds like — eggs Benedict with buttermilk-brined chicken thighs fried and served on top of fresh buttermilk biscuits. Holy heart attack, Batman!
Since it recently opened, Coastal still has some service issues, but nothing that can’t be worked out. Our table wasn’t cleared as often as it should and drink glasses piled up. But their great demeanor overcame those messy moments.
Sanchez, Faucher & Co. promise constant innovation and seasonal changes. If they stick to their guns, keep to their plan and don’t cave for cranky players, Coastal Craft is destined for casual greatness.
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Beats, Booze + Brunch
It’s an afternoon party noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for a boozy brunch with live DJ, games and more. Specials include $5 mimosas and classic Bloody Marys, $5 Coastal Coffee, $5 B.A. Bonney’s old fashioned, $1 clams, $1 oysters and small plate specials.
Coastal’s version of happy hour is later than most — 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily — with $5 rum punch, $5 local drafts, $5 Miller High-Life bottles; $7 Jameson shots and $5 Pyrat Rum shots. Plus there’s live reggae music every Friday and Saturday from bands such as the Cheezy and the Crackers Duo and Sensacoustic.
Coastal’s giant, clever and awesome cocktail menu has plenty of great options, but our three favorites are Captain Kidd’s Barrel Aged Manhattan ($12) made with Harrah’s Resorts’ Russell’s Reserve Barrel Bourbon, Dolin Rouge vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, Absinthe, Angostura bitters and Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters; Barrel Aged Bonney’s Old Fashioned ($11), which switches bourbon for Pyrat Rum plus sugar in the raw and Free Brothers Cherry Bitters; and SB’s House ($16), which continues Coastal’s obsession with SpongeBob by coring a pineapple and filling it with crushed ice, a blend of Pyrat rum, pineapple and coconut water and serving it with a supersized straw and matching umbrella.