Walk into a casino in, say, Las Vegas or Atlantic City and you'll find a wealth of first-rate dining options. In fact, at many properties the restaurants are as much of a draw as the draw poker. That's not the case at Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, where hungry guests are relegated to the buffet or a handful of (delicious) quick-serve joints.
That's not the case at the newly opened Hard Rock Rocksino. Though you won't find a blackjack, roulette or a craps table anywhere in the complex, you will discover a pretty nice restaurant – one that immediately elevates the dining scene in sleepy Northfield Township and provides area residents with an appealing date-night choice.
Cross the threshold into Kosar's Wood-Fired Grill and you leave behind the brash and gaudy gaming floor and enter a well-appointed white tablecloth steakhouse. A glitzy bar welcomes arrivals at the front of the restaurant, just steps from the open kitchen, where chefs toil over a wood-fire grill. A glass divider between the dining room and the casino allows guests to observe the frenzied wagering without having to listen to it.
While the namesake quarterback was nowhere to be found, his gridiron history is on full display. Various exhibits flaunt football memorabilia like helmets, pads, balls and pics – everything short of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The menu – a leather-bound digest – is swaddled in nubby pigskin, a nice touch. And while the tablecloths are downy white, the napkins are an official seal brown.
But like a team finishing with a 9-7 record, Kosar's still is a work in progress. There's a wine list, albeit an unexceptional one, but there is no cocktail list despite the fact that the restaurant has been open nearly two months. "They still haven't made one yet," admitted our server. And that wood-fired grill, while impressive and imposing, apparently takes some getting used to.
Meals begin with a wonderful, free bread basket, filled with warm pretzel rolls and paired with tangy mustard butter – likely the best deal in the casino. In place of prepared salads on the menu, Kosar's offers a self-serve salad bar for $6. For a dollar more you can sit still and dig into a hearty, cheese-capped crock of French onion soup, containing rich broth, sweet onions and deliciously soggy bread. A starter of beer-steamed clams ($11) with smoked sausage and fennel had everything going for it but the clams, which were on the small size, disrupting the work:bliss ratio. And I'm pretty sure the kitchen left out the promised potatoes.
Nothing imparts flavor to good beef like wood. Cooking over a live hardwood fire, as the cooks here do, gives everything that hits the grill a delightfully smoky, woodsy aroma. But judging by our meals, cooking over wood takes a little more finesse than cooking over gas or charcoal. My $49 "The 19" – a 19-ounce bone-in USDA Prime New York strip steak – came out medium-well instead of the desired medium-rare. (The 19, of course, refers to Bernie Kosar's jersey number.) Grilled swordfish ($26) suffered a similar, though less egregious, fate, being pushed well past the point of no return. Clearly in no rush, the kitchen managed to get me a tasty and perfectly cooked replacement steak in just under 20 minutes.
And that’s the kind of service you’ll find at Kosar’s. Counter-balancing any kitchen gaffes is a staff that bends over backward to make things right. Everybody we encountered was well trained, professional and courteous – and seemed generally happy to be there.
There are eight steak cuts overall, including USDA Prime, Choice and Wagyu, plus double-cut pork chops, double-cut lamb chops and Amish raised chicken. In addition to the swordfish, there's grilled salmon, shrimp scampi and twin lobster tails.
If the customary sautéed vegetable medley that accompanies most entrées doesn't thrill you, consider adding one of the dozen or so side dishes. The thin-sliced wood-fire Brussels sprouts ($8) had a unique flavor from the grill. The creamed spinach ($8) was more watery than creamy, more grey than bright green.
If Kosar's sounds a little too rich for your liking, you can test your luck at Fresh Harvest, the Hard Rock Rocksino buffet. For $19.99, diners can dig into a never-ending supply of pasta, pizza, potstickers, pierogies and prime rib. In this arena, the award goes to Horseshoe Casino, whose Spread buffet looks to be the clear winner. There's also a new Hard Rock Café on site, if that sounds like the safer bet.