Something about casinos and buffets just go together. It’s been a pairing that has worked in Atlantic City since the first casino opened its doors here in 1978. And although its basic concept of reasonably priced all-you-can eat dining has remained the same over the last 40 years, customers have come to expect more for their money. Multiple stations, fancier décor, fresher ingredients. Gone are the days of crusty- looking stuffed shells and frozen fish sticks. These days for a buffet in Atlantic City to draw in customers they need to up their game. At Fresh Harvest Buffet, which calls Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City its home, that is exactly what they do every day.

“It’s called the Fresh Harvest, and we wanted to do exactly that — make it fresh. So we utilize from-scratch cooking whenever possible. We get all the freshest produce from around the area and beyond. The prime rib is roasted in batches so it continuously comes out fresh, the pastries are made in-house during the day and we also have action stations such as the crepes, which are made fresh right in front of you while you wait.” says David Spero, executive sous chef at Hard Rock.

Clearly keeping the product as fresh as possible is a priority at Fresh Harvest Buffet, but Spero wanted to go beyond simply using fresh ingredients and tap into what local ingredients really stand out.

“We really wanted to showcase everything that is ‘Jersey Shore.’ So at night we have the poached shrimp and the Old Bay shrimp and oysters and clams shucked fresh right on premises, every day,” says Spero.

The look

Back in the early days of the casino buffets it was all about brass and crystal — in other words, the gaudier the better. Luckily that time has passed and Fresh Harvest Buffet has opted for bold yet tasteful colors in shades of deep blue, burnt orange and butterscotch accented by simple yet modern lighting fixtures.

Lunch vs. dinner

Like any buffet worth its salt, Fresh Harvest Buffet offers different options and price points depending on whether you stop in for lunch or dinner. Lunch here is priced at $16.99 per person and runs daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Though it is technically “lunch,” the buffet during this time features some more breakfast-y items such as bagels with a variety of cream cheeses to choose from, as well as a myriad of heartier mid-day fare including pastas, pizzas, tamales and more.

Dinner is $29.99 and runs from 4-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with some unique “dinner-only” items, like freshly shucked oysters and Korean short ribs.

The stations

The buffets of yesteryear generally consisted of an endless line of unrelated entrees and side dishes with nothing to distinguish anything. These days a great buffet means multiple stations, and Fresh Harvest has a variety of them from the salad bar to Asian, Mexican and Italian stations, plus a seafood station and their very own pizza oven, which puts out miniature pies perfectly sized for one person.

The action

Much of Fresh Harvest Buffet is done in the traditional serve-yourself style, but for those seeking the freshest of the fresh, you can’t go wrong with one of their action stations. At both lunch and dinner you can enjoy fresh carved meats such as brisket and prime rib, but the real magic begins when you get to the dessert station, where crepes are made to order and can be topped with fluffy whipped cream and rich chocolate sauce.

“Once in a while someone will ask for a savory crepe instead, so that keeps our workers on their toes,” laughs Jameson Cesar, general manager at Fresh Harvest Buffet.

Of course there is much more to the dessert station than just crepes. A full gelato bar awaits each guest, as well as a lineup of pastries, cupcakes, whoopee pies, cookies and more. There is even a selection of sugar-free desserts.

“I like to grab a pair of chocolate chip cookies and some gelato and put them together. It’s like my own version of a chipwich — but fresh,” Cesar says.

Naturally.