A Winning Bet

From Steak to Sushi, Diners can Hit the Culinary Jackpot at Hollywood Casino

By Kate McDermott | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 06.06.13 – Dining, Food & Drink

WHEN YOU STEP INSIDE THE RICHLY APPOINTED FINAL CUT STEAKHOUSE, WITH ITS HIGH-BACK BOOTHS THAT SEEM TO WHISPER “PRIVACY PLEASE” and its display cases showcasing the glamorous garb of some of Hollywood’s biggest names, it’s hard to believe you are just steps away from the cacophony of ringing bells, clanging coins and winning sirens on the gaming floor at Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va.

If you haven’t been to Charles Town since Penn National took over the racetrack and turned it into a casino/entertainment complex, you’re in for quite a surprise. Forget the days of warmed-over buffets and dried-out burgers and fries. Dining at Hollywood has taken on a whole new flavor under the direction of executive chef Brian Collins, whose extensive resume covers 34 years. Collins graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in some of the most prestigious resorts around the country, including the Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa in Dana Point, Calif., where he served as general manager and executive chef.

A native of Bucks County, Pa., Collins returned to the East Coast and, after stints as the executive chef for the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Va., and the Westin Tyson’s Corner, he was ready for a new challenge.

He found it in Charles Town, where his assignment was to completely recast the casino’s dining image. He wasted no time in doing so. Over the course of the last three years, he and his culinary team have created several entirely distinct eateries. They developed new menus; reviewed all suppliers to ensure they use only the freshest ingredients; and required Hollywood’s 250 culinary employees to complete extensive training in everything from food safety to customer service. It would seem the only thing the team cut corners on was their own sleep, but the payout for guests has been huge.

HOLLYWOOD’S ‘A’ LIST

Perhaps nowhere is Collins’ culinary mastery on display more beautifully than at the Final Cut Steakhouse. As an all-prime beef steakhouse, Collins proudly believes the Final Cut can compete against some of the biggest names in the business, including Washington, D.C., institutions like The Palm and Charlie Palmer’s.

But is West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle ready for haute cuisine? “I worried about that myself,” Collins admits. “But there are different markets within West Virginia and we get customers who live or work in D.C. and they have expectations about food quality and service. And I’d put us up there with the best D.C. has to offer.”

Doubters need only try one of the Final Cut’s stunning appetizers—whether that be the sushi-grade seared Ahi tuna with an avocado puree, candied ginger and fried wontons or the giant shrimp cocktail served with microgreens and the eatery’s own Meyer lemon barbecue sauce and paper-thin black pepper tuile—to realize that Collins is not bluffing.

But the real money is on the restaurant’s steaks. A 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye with a simple dressing of sea salt and ground pepper is perfectly seared in a 1,600-degree radiant-heat broiler. “Why try to mask the flavor of the meat with a lot of other ingredients?” Collins asks. He’s right: The steak’s crispy and flavorful coating never steals the show from the succulent buttery texture of the meat within.

Working with the Final Cut’s Chef d’Cuisine John Harder and Hollywood’s Executive Sous Chef Christian Evans, Collins ensures that the entire dining experience at the Final Cut is an award-winning performance. An on-site garden provides fresh produce and everything else is sourced locally whenever seasonally possible. All items on the menu are made from scratch, including the restaurant’s breads and desserts, which are prepared twice daily by Hollywood’s on-site executive pastry chef Philippe Soulat.

EAST MEETS WEST

Furthering the remarkable transformation of dining at Hollywood Casino is the fact that guests can merely travel to the other side of the gaming floor to be transformed from the beef ranches of the West to the fresh seafood markets of the Far East.

9 Dragons gives visitors to Hollywood Casino the opportunity to enjoy some of the freshest sushi this side of Tokyo while also offering a menu of enticing traditional and fusion takes on Hong Kong cuisine. Collins spent time in some of the best Cantonese hot spots in Brooklyn to find the menu items he wanted to replicate at 9 Dragons. Then he found a chef to make it happen.

Kin Tsoi is a native of Hong Kong and in addition to serving as the restaurant’s chief translator for the Chinese chefs in the kitchen, is also the manager who is responsible for making sure guests’ dining expectations are exceeded. With an ever-present smile on his face, Tsoi’s exuberance is palpable. He wants you to taste his recipes and love them as much as he loves making them. And it’s not hard to do.

His chicken basil is a perfect example of the kind of lighter fusion fare that 9 Dragons offers. Prepared in a light chili sauce and served with fresh asparagus, red peppers—and of course, sprigs of basil—the dish is fresh, flavorful and served piping hot. All of the menu items at 9 Dragons are served on a “flow” basis, which means they come to your table as soon as they leave the wok. No waiting under a warming light until all other orders from the table are ready. “Our service is the more traditional way to serve food in our culture,” Tsoi explains.

Adding to the restaurant’s allure is its Zen-inducing interior. With a soft cascading water feature lining one wall, the eatery’s golden-hued tables are offset by pops of red and black throughout the space. “We really wanted to create an upscale dining experience,” Collins says. And although he is certainly pleased with the “front of the house” appearance at 9 Dragons, Collins really likes to show off the immaculate kitchen, where he and Tsoi worked hand-in-hand with architects and planners to ensure that the seven-wok cooking station was designed for flow and function and where a separate sushi prep kitchen ensures there is no crosscontamination between raw fish and other menu items.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

Those looking for a more casual dining experience at Hollywood Casino will be happy to find that Collins has spread his culinary love around equally to each of the facility’s 12 eateries. At the Skybox Sports Bar overlooking the casino floor and H Lounge (where they have hosted bands such as Everclear and the Sugar Hill Gang), diners can attempt to slay The Beast, a 20-ounce beef patty on focaccia bread and dressed out with six slices of cheese, a half-pound of smoke house bacon, a head of lettuce and at least one whole tomato.

If you’re in the mood for something a little lighter, consider the award-winning tequila lime wings that fall off the bone or a sampler plate that allows you to try the wings and other favorites, including the fried pickle slices.

Guests who plan on returning to the gaming floor should think twice, however, about ordering the Skybox Wild Berry Bathtub Gin or Granny Apple Moonshine. The latter is indeed made with genuine West Virginia moonshine (yes, there is such a thing and it is sold legally!) with just a little granny apple syrup, fresh apples and some Sprite thrown in for fun. The odds of making wise betting decisions after drinking one of those are definitely not in your favor.

The Final Cut is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; and from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Reservations are strongly recommended. 800-795-7001.

9 Dragons is open Thursday, Sunday and Monday from 5 p.m. to midnight; and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Skybox is open Monday- Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight; Saturday from noon to midnight; and Sunday from noon until 10 p.m.