Everybody knows, or should know by now, that Las Vegas is one of America’s greatest dining cities.
Long gone are the days of the cheap buffet. Today, palaces of gastronomic indulgence can be found in nearly every property up and down The Strip. More celebrity chefs have restaurants in Vegas than I could possibly name.
And, while you’ll have better luck winning a jackpot on a progressive slot machine in one of The Strip’s mega-casinos than having one of those chefs actually at their restaurant during your visit, the cuisine is almost across-the-board stellar.
I’ve had the chance to experience some truly extraordinary meals on The Strip — at Joel Robuchon, Crush, Sage and many, many other fine dining eateries inside The Strip’s casino-resorts. I’ll be writing about my take on some of those restaurants in the weeks ahead, but not today.
Today, I venture off The Strip where the restaurants and the names behind them are far less famous, but the cuisine is still top notch.
Let me start in downtown Vegas, which has experienced quite the renaissance in recent years. Downtown Vegas, most notably Fremont Street, has a very different vibe. It’s “old school,” a little weird and definitely a lot more local relative to both the folks running the restaurants and the customers frequenting them. I like Fremont Street, a lot. The fact that you can also find really good food there is a bonus.
I checked out a couple of downtown eateries on my previous trip to Vegas. But this time, I had time for only one — Park on Fremont. I’m glad I made the time because I really like this place.
Park has a nice, laid-back feel to it. The menu features a variety of small plates, specialty cocktails, and what the owner’s call “eclectic” décor. The weather was a little too cool to appreciate the front patio, which gives customers a wide open view of Fremont Street, but photographer Andrew Wegst and I certainly enjoyed our time inside at Park on Fremont.
The food is pretty much pub grub — from mac and cheese balls and garbage fries on the Pickings menu to a fried chicken and waffle sandwich and a fried egg burger under the Filling Meal selections. We nibbled some, drank a little and spent more time there than we intended. We enjoyed every moment.
My next stops bring me to the Las Vegas suburb or Henderson in The District in Green Valley Ranch. They can call it a “District” and a “Ranch” if they like, but it looks and feels like a mall to me. You won’t know it when you step inside either Whist or Due and Proper, though, as both restaurants feature an ambiance worthy of any restaurant on The Strip.
The two restaurants, owned by the same team, are right next door, so it’s easy enough to stumble out of one and into the other. Of course, I mean sample the fare at one before casually dropping by the other. Andy and I went first-thing on a Sunday morning, so there was no stumbling on our part. We did have mimosas at Whist and a pint at Due and Proper, but that was just to get into the spirit of the spaces.
Whist, which serves a very respectable Saturday/Sunday brunch, was our first stop. In fact, I think we may have been the restaurant’s first customers of the day. There wasn’t a lot shaking in Henderson on this Sunday morning.
Whist is the lighter and brighter of the two spaces, offering craft cocktails and classic American fare. The owners are creative when it comes to naming their restaurants.
Whist refers to a Victorian-era card game, though the cuisine is hardly old-fashioned. Along with the aforementioned mimosas, we noshed on brunch items, which range from “bubbles and squeak” — farm eggs, punched potatoes, and apple bacon — to “french toastowitz” — Challah bread, frangelico bourbon and maple syrup — to “lox stock, and two smoking bagels” — featuring bagels, red onion, crème, and dill. We liked it all, and I’d have no reservation partaking of another brunch or stopping by for lunch, dinner or late night dining.
You’ll find Due and Proper right next door, and as you can likely guess by the name, the owners were going after the look and feel of a classic British pub, which isn’t easy to do in Las Vegas, let alone Henderson.
They’ve managed to pull it off, though, with a dimly lit room, a long service bar and a grouping of oversized booths along with back wall. We stopped in after grabbing a bite at Whist, so we didn’t get the chance to sample the fare, but it looks like good ole’ fashioned “stick to your ribs” pub grub.
Think fish and chips and hot, salty, doughy pretzels, and you’ve got the idea. As for the name, I’m told it comes from a line in the film “Gangs of New York,” apparently a favorite of the owners. I told you they were creative in their name selection. I personally don’t remember the line, but the beer, including nice local and regional selections, was cold, and the room inviting.
So, there you have it — three choices, two locations, and some very different, but equally delicious, options.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.