ACFW 2014 highlights

Ok, now that I have completely digested three-day frenzy known as the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, I must say this was one of the more memorable ones. I was a little hesitant when I saw the majority of the events were taking place on Saturday.

Could the Grand Market concept work outside in a park setting?

With all of the events taking place outside, would the weather hold up?

Well, to be honest, I believe the Grand Market flowed much better in the outdoor setting. I just feel bad for those who had to deal with the passing showers Saturday afternoon.

Yes, the rain did come, but only the two Sunday events were relocated indoors.

I had the opportunity to attend several gatherings, and here are my highlights in no particular order.

1) Telling our waitress at Martorano’s that she forgot to share how Steve Martorano started out by selling sandwiches out of his house (as the editor of the South Philly Review I am supposed to be on top of these things). Little did I know that she would take the bait and add additional details that I didn’t know. The meal at this upscale Italian eatery was probably the best of the weekend.

2) Learning that Martha Stewart is a Derek Jeter fan.

3) Watching Robert Irvine dangle a squid around the room prior to eating the opening course (Octopus Carpaccio) for lunch.

4) Digging into my bucket at the clam bake on Bally’s Beach, and pulling out a lobster, clams, corn on the cob and more. This was a new event, and I think it worked very well. Yes, some lobster parts went flying across the table as guests tried to unsuccessfully crack the shells.

5) Having the tough task of tasting the cupcake offerings of executive pastry chef Deborah Pellegrino (thanks for the welcome package), and enjoying them so much that we made a farewell stop at Boardwalk Cupcakes to purchase some for the rest of the family. Warning: the selection process requires some serious thought and it’s extremely difficult to leave with just ONE cupcake.

I want to extend a special thank you to the ACFW team for putting together another amazing weekend.

Atlantic City closings

I hate to say it, but I am not surprised by the news that three more Atlantic City casinos could be closing their respective doors by September. Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza could all soon join shuttered Atlantic Club on the casino chopping block.
Gaming aside, I see two major issues here. The first is way too many people are about to be out of work in a city that once produced more than $5 billion in annual gaming revenue. The other is Atlantic City is supposed to be a destination resort, and thousands of hotel rooms could be taken off of the market. This scenario is not going to do anything to increase the desired convention business.
Will all three casinos close? I don’t think so. It might take until the 11th hour, but I believe both Revel and Showboat will find new buyers. Both properties are equipped with solid now-gamining amenities (House of Blues, Ovation Hall, HQ Nightclub, HQ Beach Club and an impressive roster of dinning outlets) that this town so desperately needs. Do they both need gaming floors? Absolutely not.
I have never been a big Trump Plaza fan, but the property sits right in the middle of the historic Boardwalk. Having a vacant building in the heart of the Midtown section would be a disgrace. Somebody needs to transform it into a high-end destination resort.
Will any of this happen? For the sake of Atlantic City’s future, I hope so.

Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival heads to the beach

When I attended last summer’s Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight was the Beach Soiree on Caesars’ Beach. It seems the event planners at Caesars Entertainment agreed that the concept was a huge success as four events will be taking place on the beach when the annual gathering of foodies returns July 25 to 27.

Jeffrey Boorjian, the Regional Vice President of Marketing for Caesars Entertainment Atlantic City, took time to discuss the changes.

What is the reasoning/motivation for moving all of the events outdoors this year, and taking advantage of the beach?
Boorjian: “As a destination, our greatest asset should be at the forefront of our efforts and be the basis of attracting first-time visitors, as well as loyal supporters to spend their summer with us in Atlantic City. I am of course referring to our pristine beaches and welcoming oceanic waters. Guests and customers want to be transported from their ordinary lives to something extraordinary, and this was particularly evident last year when we concluded Food and Wine with a lavish beach soirée. The feedback we received that day was so overwhelmingly positive that we decided to change the setting for the 2014 offering. Food and Wine is all about great eats, drinks, and that celebrity element. We have an outstanding set of headliners this year, including Martha Stewart, Robert Irvine and Marcus Samuelsson, but I consider the Atlantic City beach and ocean to be the fourth headliner.”

Will there still be room for people to enjoy a beach day in front of Caesars and Bally’s?

Boorjian: “Absolutely. Our beaches are vast and plentiful. While a section will be devoted to our sixth annual Food and Wine Festival, most areas will still be available to sunbathers and sand castle creators. Amenities like the Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar will remain open-to-the-public and will still serve as an ideal accompaniment to the festival.”

The idea of compacting the events into a tighter schedule is another big change. What is the reasoning behind this?

“After receiving positive feedback from our guests who attended the 2013 beach soirée event, we brainstormed how else we could evolve the Food and Wine experience to make it more memorable and unique than any other festival. This is when we decided to host the entire set of events outside. We wanted to key-in on delivering an outstanding experience at every turn, and focus on the quality of that experience for our guests rather than the quantity of events. Customers will find this year’s offering to be truly remarkable and an unforgettable weekend at Bally’s and Caesars.”

What are the contingency plans if it rains?

Boorjian: “We’ll have tents and other overhead precautions in place for inclement weather to protect the integrity of each event.”

For a complete schedule of events and participating celebrities, visit http://www.caesars.com/acfoodandwine.

New in Atlantic City

After months of talking about the closure of the Atlantic Club, who wants to buy Revel, the potential closing of a Caesars Entertainment property and declining revenues at the remaining Atlantic City casinos, it’s time to change the conversation to a more upbeat tune. It’s summertime, so there is plenty of exciting news to share.

I am happy to report that the building once billed as the “Skyscraper by the Sea” and previously housed the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Al Capone, has reclaimed its spot at the center of The Boardwalk as a stand-alone hotel. The Claridge Hotel previously served Bally’s Atlantic City guests but was purchased by TJM Atlantic City, a subsidiary of the Florida-based TJM Properties. The new owners added a 1920′s era theming in time for its mid-May opening. The Edwards Twins are appearing six nights a week in the Celebrity Theater. New Restaurants for the property are expected to be announced in the near future.

Staying at the center of town, Bally’s is gearing up for the opening of two exciting additions to its culinary collection. The spot that previously housed The Reserve is in the process of receiving a celebrity chef makeover in the form of Guy Fieri’s Chophouse. The sixth-floor space is being described as ‘simple with a twist,’ not just a traditional steakhouse. Menu items are expected to include java rubbed rib-eye chop, filet with roasted garlic and brown butter, spicy bloody mary jumbo shrimp cocktail, Jersey Shore clams casino, Jersey tomato salad and Cape May fried flounder.

Others may prefer some family-style Italian, and the sixth floor of Bally’s is the place to find it. Buca di Beppo, which is owned by Planet Hollywood, Inc., is taking over the space that previously home to 6ix A Bistro. The eatery will offer breakfast. lunch and dinner.

“Steeped in authentic Italian tradition, Buca di Beppo not only delivers classic old-world flavors, but also serves each dish family-style, an inviting feature which we feel will resonate with our Bally’s customers,” Kevin Ortzman, president for Bally’s, Caesars, and Showboat Atlantic City, said. “Bally’s sixth floor has long been considered the casual gourmet leader, and now it will have an additional consideration as the gateway to true Italian cuisine.”

Moving over to the Marina District, Like Palladino is out at Harrah’s (he is gearing up for his fall Philadelphia debut on East Passyunk Avenue). But the second-floor setting will not remain vacant for long as South Philadelphia Steve Martorano native is preparing to open his fourth Martorano’s concept. His signature eggplant stack, South Philly cheesesteak, rigatoni Sunday pork gravy, bucatini carbonara and the world-famous homemade meatballs are expected on the bill of fare. Like his Florida and Las Vegas locations, the restaurant will include a nightclub-like atmosphere.

“People who know me well know that I do things only one way — and that’s big!” Steve Martorano joked. “With a vibrant nightlife scene in place and a little something for everyone, Harrah’s Resort is the ideal fit for the launch of my fourth restaurant.”

For those craving more foodie news, the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival is taking place July 25-27 at Caesars and Bally’s. The confirmed celebrity lineup includes Robert Irvine, Martha Stewart and Marcus Samuelsson. More details to come in another posting. For more information, visit acfoodandwine.caesars.com.

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.