Full House: A tasty tour of all four casino restaurantsWritten by Timothy Fowler | | email@example.com
Final Cut raises the stakes for local steak houses
Of the four restaurants in Hollywood Casino Toledo, there is one that is a cut above the rest. There has been much said about Final Cut Steak & Seafood since the casino’s opening and it was the venue I most anticipated reviewing.
My dining companion and I arrived on a beautiful Saturday evening, and the casino itself was busy enough that we had to wait in line to catch an elevator to the main floor. Having reservations to keep, we hurried toward the restaurant’s entrance. Tucked away at the top of several steps, we almost got the feeling that we were entering an exclusive, private club. It turned out that calling ahead had been wise, as the two couples ahead of us were ushered into the beautiful bar area to the left of the hostess station, while we were able to be seated without any wait.
Final Cut is billed by the casino as “Toledo’s Premier Steakhouse.” Overseen by Executive Chef Brian Hein and helmed by Executive Chef Billy Coyle, the kitchen puts a great deal of care into living up to that claim. Decorated tastefully in polished wood with striking brushed steel and frosted glass light fixtures all around, the restaurant features custom glass displays of movie memorabilia worn by such stars as Gary Oldman, Halle Berry, Elvis Presley and Toledo’s Katie Holmes. However, the décor is less reminiscent of a kitschy museum than of a high-end Hollywood hot spot. Wraparound booths dot the perimeter of the circular restaurant and floor-to-ceiling windows line the North wall, affording a panoramic view of the Maumee River.
As we were shown our table, the level of service was immediately apparent when the hostess pulled the chair out for my date and, seeing that I was wearing black pants, asked if I would prefer a black napkin instead of the standard white one already waiting at my seat. Also impressive was the wine and drink list — extensive far beyond the scope of this review — which was presented on an iPad left at our table.
Final Cut boasts a wide array of sustainable fresh seafood, much of it on the appetizer and chilled seafood sections of the menu. You can choose from seasonal oysters on the halfshell, a cocktail of enormous Texas Gulf brown shrimp, crab cakes with aioli or a scallop BLT with bacon, citrus aioli and tomato jam, among other dishes. Especially enticing was a shellfish platter of Maine lobster, cold-smoked scallops, shrimp, shucked oysters and king crab that serves two. We settled on an appetizer of calamari, as it is a dish I often order at restaurants and I was interested to see Final Cut’s treatment of it.
As we were looking over the options for the remainder of our meal, a waiter brought out a bread plate and announced the three items: a raisin walnut roll, a sourdough roll and a crispy, black and white sesame flatbread. Alongside these we were given a softened butter pat, drizzled with truffle oil, which imparts the flavor and aroma of the mushroom delicacy. We shared all three breads, which were warm and bursting with rich flavor.
For dinner, I decided to hold the restaurant to its claim and chose the 18-ounce New York bone-in steak, which is charred over live hickory and finished in an 1,800 degree broiler. I was given the option of adding an accompaniment to my steak. Offered were: Hollywood steak sauce, béarnaise (similar to a rich hollandaise sauce), au poivre (a cracked peppercorn topping), blue cheese-peppercorn butter, or chimichurri (an Argentinian topping made from finely chopped parsely, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and white or red vinegar). I rarely order toppings for my steak, though, and opted to go without anything that might mask the flavor of the tender meat.
I typically order a vegetable to accompany my entrée, but I decided to stick with the steakhouse theme and sample the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. My companion ordered the bone-in veal chop and selected pan-roasted mushrooms to go with her dish. We also both ordered a chopped salad, which boasted red onions, chickpeas, provolone cheese, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower and roasted corn.
The calamari came first, and we were pleased with our selection. Often, restaurants have trouble finding the perfect balance between a crispy breading and leaving the calamari tender and sweet. Final Cut was able to achieve both while lightly coating the dish with a subtly tart lime sauce that perfectly complemented the bits of red pepper in the breading. When the salads arrived, they were tasty in their complexity and presented attractively on the plate. I was happy to see this attention to detail because presentation — despite many restaurants’ choice to neglect it — is an important aspect of the dining experience.
Throughout the entire meal, the service was exemplary (the staff did not know we were there to review the restaurant); our drinks were replenished periodically without our having to ask, used dishes and flatware were promptly removed and a server even stopped by at one point to quietly brush the crumbs from the table into a small dish before leaving. This type of service makes dining a true pleasure as it allows diners to enjoy meals without being interrupted, but not feel ignored, either.
When our entrées arrived, we were definitely taken aback. I knew that, in ordering an 18-ounce steak, I was in for a large portion. However, my date’s veal chop was nearly the same size and the side dishes we ordered were both very generous. As I cut into my steak, I knew immediately that it was cooked to perfection. The juices had been seared in properly and each bite was full of flavor; it practically melted in my mouth. I tried the veal and it, too, was cooked just as ordered, while the pan gravy that was gently drizzled over top just added to the rich, savory flavor of the meat. Likewise, my mashed potatoes were both creamy and firm, and the nutty flavor of the roasted garlic was present throughout but not overpowering. The pan-roasted mushrooms ordered by my companion were cooked fully, but still firm and seasoned perfectly.
With the portions being so large, we were sadly not looking to finish our meal with a dessert. I say “sadly,” because the server offered us a wide variety of decadent endings, including Grand Marnier cheesecake and a Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulée, both of which I will definitely have to try upon future visits to Final Cut.
In all, our meal at Final Cut Steak & Seafood was an absolutely amazing experience, and one I look forward to repeating as often as possible. It is likely, though, that my return will be limited to special occasions, as the entire meal with drinks and tip ended up running about $200. While we ordered several of the more expensive items on the menu, even the most frugal diners would be hard-pressed to spend less than $50 per person. However, the food, service and atmosphere are worth every penny. Final Cut is not just “Toledo’s Premier Steakhouse,” but possibly the best in all of Northwest Ohio.
Final Cut Steak & Seafood is located at 777 Hollywood Blvd., inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo. Hours are 5 -10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call (419) 661-5200 for reservations, and visit www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com to view the menu and make reservations online.
Epic choices available at buffet
Of the four very different restaurants inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo, Epic Buffet is easily the most accessible choice. With something to suit everyone’s tastes, the restaurant lives up to its name, rivaling even the “epic” buffets of Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos.
Located along the north edge of the gaming floor between Final Cut steakhouse and Take 2 Grill, the facade of the restaurant is designed to look like the outside of a grand, old theater. In the center of the main doorway sits the cash station, reminiscent of a ticket booth. However, this is where the Hollywood theme ends; the interior is decorated in a distinctly Asian theme featuring huge golden reliefs of unicorns on the walls along the ceiling, and the buffet itself takes center stage.
While the décor is impressive, the food choices are really the star of the show at Epic Buffet. To start off your meal, there are the same salad bar offerings that you might encounter at any other buffet, but as you round the corner you will notice several not-so-ordinary items. In addition to iceberg and romaine lettuce topped with various fruits, nuts and vegetables, you are afforded the choice of several premade salads such as Italian spinach salad, apple blue cheese salad or ambrosia salad. There were also chicken noodle and potato bacon soups available, and I was told that the soups change daily.
As you would expect, there are many different Asian offerings, including fried rice, lo mein, sweet and sour pork, sushi and even a “create-your-own” station where you can choose the ingredients and the chefs will make you a custom pho (a Vietnamese/Chinese beef soup with rice noodles and vegetables). I tried a bit of almost every dish offered and nearly forgot that this was food from a buffet; the quality was as good as or better than most of the Asian restaurants I have been to in Northwest Ohio. If this had been where the choices stopped, I would have already been impressed, but I still had plenty more to sample.
Next down the line were chicken breast, zucchini, squash and — an incredible find on a buffet — tender, delicious frog legs, all cooked on a unique, rotating, open-flame grill. For those who prefer their meat roasted, there were chicken and beef in various gravies, as well as a carving station with juicy broiled chicken and pot roast cut to order. Scattered among the meats were a variety of side dishes, including sautéed mushrooms, steamed broccoli, carrots, asparagus and sweet potato mash. As with the Asian fare, all were seasoned and cooked perfectly and could have stood alone on any restaurant’s menu.
Further along, I ran into a European/Mediterranean section featuring stuffed grape leaves, couscous and Greek red potatoes. Also in this area were two of my favorite dishes in the entire restaurant: Kielbasa sausage braised in a delicious, sweet beer sauce, and ratatouille, a simple yet classic French dish consisting of eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, onions and tomatoes in a light tomato broth. I have had both of these dishes before, and Epic Buffet did justice to the rich heritage that lies within each recipe.
A whole section of the buffet was devoted to Italian foods, with cheese ravioli, spicy Alfredo penne, bacon-stuffed Roma tomatoes, and a variety of different pizzas, made from scratch and baked fresh on a custom rotating oven. I tried the meat lovers’ pizza, and found it comparable to what you might find in your favorite, local mom-and-pop pizza shop.
Despite an amazing variety of dishes that should satisfy even the biggest appetite, you should heed your mother’s advice and “Save room for dessert.” Epic Buffet employs a full-time master baker who creates a virtual wonderland of beautiful pastries, pies, cakes and other sweets. I tried as many as possible, tasting the dense, rich carrot cake, fluffy chocolate éclairs, crunchy, cinnamon crème-filled cannoli, smooth, rich cherry parfait and decadent chocolate mousse. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to have it all, as there were also several types of cheesecake, pies and chocolate cake as well as an entire section of no-sugar-added desserts available to provide the perfect ending for your meal.
I am leaving out many items because there were just so many to choose from. In addition, I was informed that the selection will rotate from day to day, with special items available on Friday and Saturday evenings such as snow crab legs, Oysters Rockefeller and prime rib. So, you may experience an entirely different meal from mine, depending on when you visit Epic Buffet. And visit you should; given the high quality of the foods I encountered and the attention to detail apparent in every dish, I am sure that they won’t disappoint.
Epic Buffet is located at 777 Hollywood Blvd. inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Lunch buffet costs $15.99 daily, and Sunday through Thursday dinner buffet costs $23.99. Friday and Saturday dinner Buffet costs $29.99. All drinks are included.
Call Epic Buffet at (419) 661-5200 for more information, and visit www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com.
Sports take back seat to menu at Scene
Scene is arguably the centerpiece of the Hollywood Casino Toledo. Situated in the heart of the casino and surrounded by action on all sides, it is apparent that special care was put into making Scene stand out from the hustle and bustle.
As you make your way across the busy gaming floor and approach the restaurant’s main entrance, you are greeted by a 20-foot-tall doorway framing modern, artistic light fixtures (which evoke the glasswork of Dale Chihuly) hanging from the ceiling. To each side, you can see a variety of sports events playing on the 18 specially made, back-projected, glass television panels that enclose the dining area. Upon entering, the remainder of the décor doesn’t disappoint. Faux alligator-backed chairs sit around polished wood tables, wraparound crushed velvet booths line the wall and an additional 21 high-definition televisions hanging all around ensure that every seat in the house has a clear view of any given game.
In other words, this ain’t your average sports bar.
My companion and I visited Scene on the casino’s opening night and, although we arrived close to closing time, the restaurant was still nearly full. Nonetheless, we were seated almost immediately and our server was at the table to take our drink order less than a minute later. As far as drinks go, there is an impressive variety to choose from. The restaurant boasts 13 beers on tap, a wide selection of domestic, import and microbrew bottled beers and a small but varied wine list. You can even order a bottle of Moët in case you want to celebrate your team’s victory in style.
Once our drinks arrived, we placed our order. While there are some heartier options, the menu is heavy with what you might expect from a typical sports bar: burgers, sandwiches, wings, pizza and so on. Scene, however, offers unique twists on its fare. While my dining partner opted for a standard grilled chicken sandwich, I ordered the Early Bird Burger, a half-pound patty topped with bacon, cheese and a fried egg. Likewise, instead of the Hollywood Fries that generally accompany all of the restaurant’s sandwiches (thin-cut, crispy fries made from Idaho potatoes), I gladly accepted the offer to substitute sweet potato fries. Intrigued by the name of the Firecracker Shrimp and all that it implied, we added them to our order as an appetizer, then sat back to enjoy the game while we waited for our food to be prepared.
As we sat in anticipation of our meals, it was hard to ignore the upbeat, jazzy hip-hop and R&B being played by a live band on the H Lounge Stage. Visible from the bar and a cozy lounge area adjacent to the restaurant, the stage offers live entertainment seven nights a week. For those not afforded a direct line of sight, several of the restaurant’s hanging televisions feature a live video feed of the performance. Due to the placement of the stage and the special acoustic scoops installed above it, the music was neither annoyingly loud nor hard to hear; the volume was about what you would encounter in most sports bars or trendy restaurants.
When our food arrived, we were mildly disappointed to find our appetizer being delivered at the same time as our meals. It is possible that this was due to the late hour of our dining, but it is still disconcerting when this happens because it is hard to fully enjoy the appetizer when you can see your entrée sitting in front of you getting cold. The appetizer itself was also somewhat of a letdown. The jumbo shrimp were smothered in a spicy-sweet, earthy, Louisiana-style barbecue sauce and perched atop a generous portion of perfectly prepared grits. The dish was absolutely delicious; however, there were only three shrimp on the plate. Being one of the the most expensive appetizers on the menu, priced at $12, we felt a bit cheated.
In contrast, for the $11 spent on my burger, I felt like I absolutely got my money’s worth. Towering above my plate, my burger looked incredibly enticing and it didn’t disappoint. It was big enough that I felt the need to cut it in half before tackling the monstrosity, but I hesitated due to the fried egg. To my pleasant surprise, the egg was cooked perfectly, so the yolk gently drizzled down through the lettuce and tomatoes, but didn’t run off onto my plate or hands. Juicy and tender, the burger was seasoned well and even the bacon was fried just right — not too crispy but not soggy, either. I was excited by the generous portion of sweet potato fries the kitchen provided, and they, too, went beyond my expectations. Often, restaurants overcook sweet potato fries, making them soft and mushy. They still taste good, but the texture can be off-putting. Scene got it right, managing to make the fries perfectly crispy on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside.
I sampled my companion’s chicken sandwich, which turned out to be just slightly overcooked. Not so much as to make it inedible, or to bother with sending it back, but it just didn’t seem as if they had put as much care into making her sandwich as they had mine. The chicken breast was a healthy size, and the bun and condiments were the same quality as what my burger was served on, so it is possible that this was just a simple case of being overly cautious about undercooking chicken. Having worked in restaurants myself, I know that it’s an easy mistake to make, even if it translates to a less-than-favorable dining experience for the customer. Her Hollywood Fries were very tasty, though, and she had to fend me off from eating too many of hers once my plate was empty. When it comes to shoestring fries, the opposite issue arises as that of sweet potato fries; generally, restaurants make them too crispy. Once again, Scene did them justice, making the fries not too firm while maintaining just the right amount of crunch.
After we finished our meals, we ordered coffees and finished watching the game while waiting for our check. I was pleased to see that, despite the high-end atmosphere and ambitious menu items, a dinner at Scene cost around the same as if we had dined out at an average, casual chain restaurant. The only surprise was at the cost of our drinks: a soda costs $2.50 and we were charged $3 for each cup of coffee. So, I would suggest that if you order coffee after dinner, it may behoove you to choose the restaurant’s “Coffee and Doughnuts” dessert, which costs only $6 and gives you more (delicious) bang for your buck.
Overall, we had a good experience at Scene, and we will definitely return. This is a restaurant that stands on its own and would be a great place to catch the next game or just grab a delicious bite.
Scene is located at 777 Hollywood Blvd., inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo. Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Call (419) 661-5200, or visit www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com for more information.
Take 2 offers fast stop for quick bites
Of the four restaurants located inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo, Take 2 Grill is the only one that’s open 24 hours a day. Set up like a basic lunch counter, it is rather unassuming in appearance. Don’t think that small means limited, though — there are plenty of choices no matter what you’re looking for.
For a quick, late-night or midday snack, Take 2 offers a number of pastries, doughnuts and muffins, as well as fruit, candy bars, yogurt, soup and fries. There are a wide variety of bottled and canned beverages, a full selection of fountain drinks, two beers on tap, and a coffee bar featuring flavored cappuccinos, lattes and more.
If you need something heartier, you can pick up a burger, wings, a dinner salad, a hot sandwich or their signature all-beef, locally sourced “dawg” (with or without chili and cheese). In addition, they feature two baskets: chicken strips or seafood, served with fries. I ordered the seafood basket for $8.99, and was quickly served up a generous order of tasty, battered cod filets, fried clams and breaded, fried shrimp. While it wasn’t gourmet fare by any means, it was definitely worth the money both in serving size and quality.
Unlike the casino’s other restaurants, I wouldn’t make a special stop off the Rossford exit just to pick up a meal at Take 2 Grill. But the food is good, and it definitely hits the spot when you’re taking a break from the slots or stepping away from the poker tables. Although it may be the only option after hours, it’s still a fast, tasty choice at any time of the day.
Take 2 Grill is located at 777 Hollywood Blvd., inside the Hollywood Casino Toledo. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call (419) 661-5200 and visit www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com for more information.