People who gamble in a casino certainly hope to win, but they should be prepared to lose. I would argue that the same applies to people who eat in a casino. I hoped to discover edible — perhaps even enjoyable — food at the recently opened Horseshoe Casino. But I had every expectation of coming up craps.
Unlike casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City, the Horseshoe lacks any glitzy, celebrity chef-driven restaurants, instead aiming to efficiently feed those already on premises rather than lure in hungry non-gamblers. Guests here are dressed more for comfort than style.
With an assignment to review all dining options inside the downtown casino, I already considered myself a winner when I learned that only four eateries existed — and three of those were fast-casual spin-offs of local restaurants. In addition to the Spread, the regrettably named buffet, the casino sports a mini food court containing tiny outposts of Corky & Lenny's, B Spot, and Rosie & Rocco's, a pizza shop by Fahrenheit chef-owner Rocco Whalen.
For health and sanity's sake, I broke the mission up into two visits.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of one of the main gambling floors, the food court sounds more extensive than it really is. In actuality, it consists of three adjacent quick cafés, the sort you'd find at Quicken Loans Arena. Seating is pretty tight, limited to a handful of tables in two small areas.
What I didn't expect to find was food almost as good as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. My Lola Burger at B Spot was grilled to order over open flames and delivered a perfect medium. The egg was runny, the bacon crisp, the bun soft and fresh. The Lola fries were as thin, crisp, and fragrant with rosemary as any ordered on East Fourth Street.
Seeing a tower of a dozen or so pre-made pizzas next door at Rosie & Rocco's, I was less optimistic. But after ordering a few big slices — Breakfast (with sausage, spinach, and egg), and wild mushroom (with shrooms, rosemary and onion) — I was reassured. The counterperson popped them into a 475-degree oven for a few moments to freshen them up. They arrived crisp, fragrant, and appropriately melty, nearly indistinguishable from a fresh-baked pie. Momma's Meatballs ($5.75), made with veal, pork, and beef, were outstanding, though the marinara was a little watery.
We had less success at Corky's, where our "hot" corned beef sandwich was anything but. Still, it was tender, flavorful, and came with potato salad, pickle, and cookie. The same problem arose with a bowl of matzo ball soup: While its broth and airy ball conjured memories of the Chagrin Boulevard location, it just wasn't hot enough.
At $25.99, dinner at the Spread certainly isn't cheap. But with seven themed stations stretching for what seems like a football field in length, this all-you-can-eat smorgasbord is no Old Country Buffet. What it lacks in luxe touches like shrimp, crab legs, and lobster tails, it makes up for with a dizzying variety.
Working left to right, diners move through stations billed Salad, American, Italian, Dessert, Shuffle (a wild card that changes), Carvery, and Asian. Each possesses its own kitchen, which keeps the inventory at peak levels. A sample of what was on the lineup the night we dined includes pho, lo mein, chicken pad Thai, rolled sushi, braised short ribs, roast chicken, chicken paprikash, potato pierogi, prime rib, creamed spinach, sliced pizza, steamed mussels, risotto, meatloaf, mushroom ravioli, pasta salad, lentil salad, Caesar salad, and mini iceberg wedges.
Being a buffet, the ways in which dishes were presented had profound effects on quality. Saucy foods served in electric chafing pans fared the best, as did carved-to-order items like prime rib and turkey. Pre-plated dishes were easy to grab, but they often languished under heat lamps. Pizza was like cardboard; fried chicken was overcooked and dry; and chicken pot pie was cold throughout.
But dessert fans win big with a great assortment of fresh pies, cakes, mini cupcakes, and build-your-own sundaes.
You could certainly find more delightful dining experiences outside the casino. But for convenience, it's hard to beat.