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Atlantic City restaurants embrace the farm-to-table trend

Eat local down the shore

Chef Mitchell's fava bean sweet pea tortellini is worth the drive to the beach. Chef Mitchell's fava bean sweet pea tortellini is worth the drive to the beach.

You may not be able to order your favorite dish at one of the restaurants at Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat or Harrah’s at the beach this weekend — it depends what was caught that day. The four casino-hotels, part of Caesars Entertainment Corporation, are focusing on fresh, locally produced fare for Garden State to Plate, their Jersey-centric take on farm-to-table.

For executive chef Keith Mitchell, who oversees the restaurants at Caesars and Bally’s, it’s nothing new. “I’ve been doing locally sourced my whole career,” he told Metro last weekend, when we stopped by Atlantic Grill at Caesars to take in the panoramic views of the boards and beach and sample the chef’s fava bean sweet pea tortellini and house-made mozzarella with warmed sungold tomatoes.

The ingredients we gobbled up came from the 40-acre Masters Organic Farm in nearby Galloway. Masters provides produce exclusively for the Caesars properties, which means Mitchell gets to put in requests for what’s planted.

He has a similar relationship with fish and game suppliers.

“[The fisherman] will go out for clams, and I’ll get a message at 5 a.m. saying they also caught swordfish. And then we’ll design the menu around that,” he said.

With New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware offering gambling, Atlantic City has been making a big push to bring in money from restaurants and retail, not just slots and tables — and it seems to be working, Mitchell said. The majority of diners at Atlantic Grill and next-door Nero's Tuscan Steakhouse are not gamers. People are now coming just to eat, and Mitchell wants to make sure they eat well.

The city and the casinos used to just "throw money at everything," he said. “But people are paying more attention to what they eat and where it comes from. You have to be smart. You have to be thoughtful about what you’re putting on the menu.”

Celebrity chefs
Restaurateur extraordinaire Stephen Starr, of Morimoto, Continental, El Vez, Barclay Prime and others, is partially behind Atlantic City’s transformation into a foodie town, Chef Mitchell said. When Starr brought two of his chic Philadelphia restaurants, Buddakan (also in New York) and Continental, to the Pier Shops at Caesars, people started to realize there’s a market for that. Of course, bringing in celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Jose Garces, who have restaurants in the Borgata and Revel, doesn’t hurt either.

A few more “big name” celebrity chefs are planning to debut restaurants in AC, Mitchell said — but he’s “not at liberty” to give us the scoop on exactly who just yet.

 
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