Most restaurants treat dessert as an afterthought. From entrees to apps, the stars of the show on almost any restaurant menu are the savory items.
This is not the case at Sugar Factory, a temple of sweetness and a diabetic’s nightmare located inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Here, sugar itself is treated like a god to be worshiped. The message comes through loud and clear as you enter through a full-on candy store ripe with everything you could possibly imagine in your most Willy Wonka-esque childhood dreams. From there the room snakes around, with semi-circular studded red leather booths and louder-than-normal background music each matching the rock ’n’ roll theme of Hard Rock perfectly.
My colleague and Editor Pamela Dollak and I sat down and perused the giant 40-page menus that are loaded with everything from exotic and overly saccharined drinks to oddball trendy items like donut burgers and waffle sandwiches. It’s a candy-coated dream come true.
Except for one problem — Pamela doesn’t like sweets.
The solution? Divide and conquer. We decided we would both give everything a try, but I would focus on the sweet items while Pamela took on the savory.
Ryan: We started off with a few drinks. Being that Halloween is right around the corner, Sugar Factory has added a themed pair of its famous goblets ($36) to the menu for a limited time: the Lollipop Brew and the Toxic Zombie. The Lollipop Brew mixes cantaloupe, melon and fresh pineapple juice with grenadine and coconut rum and loads it up with various gummy snakes and spiders as well as massive unicorn lollipops and a candy necklace. The Toxic Zombie blends Voli vodka with pineapple juice, strawberries and lemon-lime soda with a variety of gummy body parts s, eyeballs, fingers and bones. Each of these cocktails is poured over dry ice to create a smoky, boozy treat. But take note — these are GIANT drinks (64 ounces to be exact). You could and probably should share one of these with three or four people. And yes, as the ingredient list suggests, they are really sweet.
Pamela: Artificial spider webs, skeletons and ghosts were strewn throughout the restaurant that only enhanced our sweets-themed experience at Sugar Factory. To begin our sugar-coated evening, we ordered three appetizers: Rainbow Sliders ($25), fried macaroni & cheese pops ($13) and bruschetta ($12). There are five sliders to a plate, each bun a different color of the rainbow (blue, pink, yellow, green, purple). I hesitantly took a bite out of the purple one (it’s my favorite color) thinking that the bun would be sugar sweet. I was relieved to discover that it’s just a regular-tasting, albeit, colorful, roll. I’m not a big fan of fried foods, but the mac and cheese that oozes out from the crispy cover is pretty outta of this world. The kitchen team worked for weeks trying to perfect the ideal taste of this rich and creamy treat and, let’s just say, it was worth the effort. The bruschetta I found to have an oddly sweet taste to it (too much balsamic?) with bread that was super soggy.
Ryan: Just for fun at the midpoint of the meal we decided to split a milkshake, and again went with the Halloween theme, ordering up the Monster Mash, which is essentially an orange-colored vanilla milkshake. The shake itself was tasty, but as with many of the treats at Sugar Factory it’s really about the visual wow factor, and this one was about as elaborate as you can get from that standpoint. The massive mug was coated in a green-colored white chocolate fondant with sprinkles, candy corn and candy eyeballs that are applied by hand and made-to-order. Half a Hersey bar and a full-sized Sugar Daddy rose from the brim like a candy flagpole.
Pamela: For dinner I ordered the Sugar Factory Signature Burger ($16), an 8-ounce Angus patty, with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, crispy onions, cheddar cheese and “Sugar Factory sauce.” A good amount for thin French fries accompanied it. It was a good burger with just the right amount of juice dripping down my chin, but I couldn’t finish it — my belly was too full with the purple slider version.
Ryan: I had some real food, too. For my entrée I went with the Buffalo chicken sandwich, which came with a strong thumbs-up from our waitress Jasmine. While the chicken and the buffalo sauce itself were fairly standard, it came topped with a blue cheese celery aioli which surprised the heck out of me by tasting mostly of celery. How a wimpy celery flavor can best that of the notoriously strong blue cheese beats me, but it happened.
Pamela: Every single table in the restaurant seemed to have a birthday girl (or guy) sitting there. This was evidenced by the group song performed by the waitstaff at each. A dimming of the lights and a blaring of the birthday person’s favorite song, along with the clanging silverware and hoots to the crowd alert everyone there that something is about to happen — that someone is gonna get feted. A thought started percolating … isn’t it Ryan’s birthday today? It wasn’t. But that didn’t deter me from getting him a big birthday surprise that included a group song led by Jasmine, half of a King Kong dessert and a special birthday request to play Madonna.
Ryan: Despite my best efforts to stop it in its tracks, the ol’ fake birthday prank was pulled on yours truly. This one came complete with the prerequisite shouting waiters and waitresses, and their own reworked version of a birthday song, this time with an enthusiastic “you go, boy!” in the middle of it. While this all seems fairly typical, what was NOT typical is what was served to me. Most restaurants would opt for a basic piece of cake, but Sugar Factory doesn’t do things without flair and opted to present me with the King Kong Sundae, well, half of it, which is still an astonishing portion of ice cream. A boat-shaped bowl the size of a modest horse trough was put in front of me. The regular King Kong ($99) consists of two-dozen scoops of ice cream topped with a load of toppings including hot fudge, caramel and strawberry sauces, bananas, toasted marshmallows, cookies, sprinkles, whipped cream, waffle cones, gummy bears and lollipops. We barely put a dent in our half-sized version and I can’t imagine how many people it would take to actually consume one of these full-sized behemoths.
Ryan: Overall, Sugar Factory made for an awesome experience. Over and over we kept saying how much fun the place was, which is a simple, yet perfect adjective to describe the experience here. Sugar Factory does its best to make sure you leave with a smile on your face. The food options are endless and the desserts and drinks are visually stunning. Their presentation comes with a wow factor that few spots in Atlantic City can match. Score another slam dunk for Hard Rock.
Pamela: I second Ryan. There’s a great energy here … It would be hard not to have a good time.