Atlantic City Food and Wine recap

Well, here I am sitting at my desk trying not to think about all of the food I ate over the last few days at the amazing Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival put together by the Caesars Entertainment team. This annual summer bash, which features an eye-opening spread of foods and free-flowing drinks, always makes my annual summer to-do list.

To be honest, I headed to this year’s event slightly skeptical as the number of events (missing that cheesesteak battle) and personalities were downsized. But I must say, this year’s event might’ve been my favorite of them all. Why? Because the majority of the events that were put together for this year’s festival were done right.

My favorite of them all was Saturday night’s Beach Soiree, which also could’ve been called the Best Beach Party Ever. It should be added to the list of must-keep events. The event description read “gourmet passed appetizers.” Actually, there food tents spread all over the beach (taking full advantage of one of AC’s greatest treasures) with options ranging from bacon wrapped shrimp, fried green tomatoes, steak, a number of small desserts and much , much more. The Sugarhill Gang even crashed the party to do a very entertaining set on the stage. There was no pushing or shoving, as everybody was having a good time. I went up to my room at 1 a.m. and the party was still going strong.

My wife and I also had the unique opportunity to visit Masters Organic Farms Friday afternoon. The Straga family – also masters in the martial arts (hence the name) – grow produce such as grape tomatoes, basil and cucumbers exclusively for the Caesars Entertainment properties. The farm is located outside of AC, but all the items still arrive warm from the farm. The experience helped me to gain a new appreciation for the dishes I enjoy when dinning at one of the company’s four properties.

After all, this is the Garden State and the Farm to Table (in this case organic farm to table) concept is becoming more and more popular.

Sunday. we saw some of the freshly picked produce put to use at Sunday brunch, which provided the perfect closure to an amazing weekend. 

The only problem was the festivities were still going storing with an afternoon session of the Grand Market followed by the Island Luau at Harrah’s. The event was supposed to be on the pool deck as there was a threat of rain in the forecast. I felt like this one needed to be outside as the luau ambience in a ballroom setting seemed to lose something. We sampled some of the dishes and called it a weekend.

Sure enough, we ended up getting hit with the rain on our trip back north.

Kudos to the Caesars Entertainment planning team for putting together a fabulous four days of fun and food.  

ACFW has arrived

Every year, after the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival ends, the first question many seem to ask is “when is the next one?”

The answer is tonight through Sunday (the wait was much longer and slower when the 2012 event came to an end). Time just goes by way too quickly. But hey, I am looking forward to mingling with the like of Robert Irvine, the Neelys and Rocco DiSpirito over these next few days in a variety of different events starting with tonight’s Launch Party at the Pool at Harrah’s.

This weekend is Atlantic City’s golden opportunity to follow what seems to be the Jersey Shore’s on-TV-every-five-minutes summer slogan of “We are Stronger Than the Storm.” Sandy, we will never forget you, but you’re history. Besides all of the foodies gathering at all of the Caesars Entertainment properties, I expect the biggest crowd to hit town on Saturday as Beyoncé is playing at Boardwalk Hall (also hosted by Caesars).

I am also happy to see the Food and Wine planners taking advantage of one of Atlantic City’s greatest treasures: The Beach. All of the personalities will be present for what is being billed as a Beach Soiree with “refreshing appetizers and gourmet passed appetizers.” It should be a very nice change of pace from the Saturday night event of previous years, Sweet and Stylish. The dessert event/fashion show seemed to have one major flaw: The vendors ran out of product way too early in the event.

Let the final countdown begin!

For all of the details, including ticket information, visit acfoodandwine.com.

Bernard Hopkins returning to Boardwalk Hall

OK. Maybe it was a dream. There I was sitting ringside at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall in June 2006 for Bernard Hopkins “retirement” fight against Antonio Tarver. They even had his family in the ring for a retrospective look back at his hall-of-fame career. I find I keep reflecting back on this moment every time “The Executioner” announces that he is returning to the squared circle.
The word “retirement” in the world of boxing really means “I am stepping away from the sport for a year.”
Hopkins has fought 10 times since scoring a unanimous decision over Tarver, including an April ’12 bout at Boardwalk Hall against Chad Dawson which Hopkins lost by majority decision. But the 48-year-old IBF light heavyweight champion still isn’t thinking about the “R” word as he is returning to the Jersey Shore for an Oct. 19 title defense against Karo Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs). The fight was originally scheduled for earlier this month at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Now the Big Apple’s loss is Atlantic City’s gain.
Stay tuned for more details.

Tropicana grand opening

Hard to believe another Fourth of July has come and gone. It also means the Jersey Shore’s prime season is here!
Tropicana is bust putting the final touches on its huge summer plans as at 11 a.m. Thursday (July 11) the Downbeach property is hosting a grand-opening celebration being billed as “MORE RESTAURANTS. MORE FUN. ONE BIG CELEBRATION!”
How big, you ask?
Six new restaurants are being unveiled including new locations for South Philly favorites Tony Luke’s and Chickie’s and Pete’s. The festive fun begins with an 11 a.m. Pep Rally on the Boardwalk that will include the Eagles Pep Band, the Mummers and more. Other highlights include a ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Quarter’s newest eatery, Broadway Burger Bar (taking up residence in the former spot of Red Square)followed by a 12:30 sandwich-cutting ceremony – a 6-foot cheesesteak — at Tony Luke’s in The Marketplace.
All of the details can be found at http://tropicana.net/dining/grand-opening.

Atlantic City Food and Wine 2013

Hard to believe, but one from tomorrow foodies will once again reunite in Atlantic City for the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival taking place July 25 to 28. Familiar faces Robert Irvine and the Neelys are back and will be joined by Rocco Dispirito and Laurie Forster. Foodies will enjoy a variety of events ranging from the Kick Off Party at the Pool at Harrah’s, the always popular Grand Market, as well as the Chef’s in the Kitchen and Chef’s on stage events.

The complete breakdown with descriptions can be found at http://www.caesars.com/acfoodandwine/details.html#page=events.

I always look forward to seeing how the events change fro year to year, as well as what the personalities have to say about the event. It’s great for AC as the four-day gathering puts the still recovering from Sandy and declining revenue town on the national foodie map for a long weekend. 

The thing is, AC is not just a one-weekend-a year destination for great food as chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Booby Flay, Jose Garces and Chris Scarduzio are just a small sampling of the great dining destinations this town has to offer. While the Caesars Entertainment event may be the biggest and most popular foodie festival, during the year, properties like Borgata and Revel host their own multi-day feasts. 

But why wait for a special event? It’s prime season and time to enjoy the beach, ocean, boardwalk and a great meal! 

Summer in AC

If we go by the calendar, the first day of summer is June 21. Of course the prime “Shore” season is typically from July 4 to Labor Day. However, with several new and exciting projects coming on board this month, there is no reason to wait until the official start of summer.

Starting out in the Marina District, The Golden Nugget is ready to join the booming party scene with the Memorial Day weekend debut of 12,000-square-foot Haven Night Club. A gaming element also will be part of the mix via The Veranda, a covered outdoor space that will offer slots, blackjack and roulette. The setting will include two large fire pits and lounge seating.

The Revel club scene, along with the Angel Management Group, are preparing to unveil their newest joint venture with the opening of the HQ Beach Club. Scheduled to open 10 a.m. May 23,this ultra-luxe boardwalk level pool lounge will introduce the day club concept that has been very successful on the Las Vegas Strip.

Several blocks south, Resorts will be unveiling its major Magararitaville makeover, which will include the open year-round Landshark Bar & Grill along with the Magaritaville Restaurant and themed casino floor. Opening day is slated for May 24.

For the foodies out there, Revel is gearing up for its second annual taste of Revel event, which is taking place May 10-12. A complete list of events can be found at http://www.revelresorts.com/events/taste-revel.

Trump Plaza in limbo

There is no doubt in my mind that the only way Trump Plaza is going to survive in this tough market is a change in ownership capable of investing some serious cash to remodel and upgrade the property. Trump Plaza is the centerpiece of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, yet seems to be the most outdated.
Well, the California-based Meruelo Group, which owns another casino property in Reno, had negotiated a bargain basement purchase price of $20 million. The plans, according to published reports, include investing $100 million in upgrades. If the sale goes through at the current price, it would be the lowest price ever paid for an AC gaming hall.
However, the popular phrase “location, location, location,” seems to have everything in a holding pattern. According to a story in The Press of Atlantic City, Billionaire and Tropicana owner Carl Icahn, who also holds the mortgage for both the Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal, the $20 million price is not enough.
I still believe the sale will still go through, but at a higher price, maybe in the $35- to $40-million range (I am basing it on the most recent $38 million sale price for Trump Marina). With the prime summer season fast approaching, this is the time to complete the deal.