Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photography by Manos Angelakis
With a nod to the Mark Twain quip: reports of Atlantic City’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
We recently visited Atlantic City, and though the crowds may be smaller compared to the crowds of fifteen years ago, the town is certainly still around and high kicking! Big plans are in place to re-brand the town away from a focus on high-roller gambling to a total entertainment venue with festivals, concerts and family-friendly events. In the immortal words of Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer “You ain’t seen nothing yet”.
We spent one evening at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall (the old convention center where as a child, Barbara watched Ice Capades performances) with a crowd of more than 12,000 spectators, mostly twenty- or thirty-something who were dancing on the seats and hysterically screaming during an Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull performance. Iglesias was excellent as usual; charming and high energy, but to us, Pitbull was more annoying than entertaining with each song sounding exactly like the one before. However the rest of the audience seemed to be delighted with his, and his troop of dancers’ performance… music, like wine, is in the eye of the beholder.
We also spent an afternoon doing the Boardwalk Wine Promenade, an event tasting a multitude of Italian, Spanish and California wines, a few Chilean, Argentinean, Australian and South African bottles and Champagne, and wines from 8 New Jersey wineries, together with hundreds of other visitors and locals. Some of the wineries I know and like were present, and even though I did not agree with every one of the selections presented, at least there were some iconic, high quality offerings. The event was well organized along the world famous Boardwalk with the Atlantic Ocean painting a backdrop of broad sand beach and white-capped waves. Each tent offered a different kind of wine selection and a tidbit of food to go with the wines for responsible drinking. We also enjoyed the Rolling Chairs which moved us from tent to tent in comfort… a must-do when walking the Boardwalk.
The gaming rooms in the casinos were not as jam-packed as in years past, but there was certainly no dearth of gamblers spending their money on slot-machines and tables at the places we visited.
We stayed at Caesars Atlantic City, one of the top hotel venues in a very attractive king-size bedded, ocean view room. Caesars Entertainment has become the predominant operator in town with Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s hotels and casinos in its roster. The hotels also offer some of the better restaurants, with different or additional venues opening constantly including Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, Planet Hollywood’s Buca di Beppo and, soon to open, a Gordon Ramsey restaurant at Caesars. Additionally, on the Boardwalk in front of Bally’s, Deborah Pelegrino has opened her “Boardwalk Cupcakes” a purveyor of drop-dead, absolutely decadent, iconic cupcakes. We had 2 each of these exotic, bold, colorful, toothsome creations and are still dreaming of these treats.
What was more exciting for me though was the discovery of a new, extremely high quality Atlantic City restaurant, outside the casinos.
With the exception of The Knife and Fork Inn, many of Atlantic City’s better restaurants have been located in the casinos. So, finding a high end kitchen that can provide exceptional food in a non-casino environment was quite unexpected.
The Iron Room is a small restaurant in the back of the Atlantic City Bottle Company near the bridge on Albany Avenue. It is billed as “Atlantic City’s First Speakeasy since Prohibition”.
The Atlantic City Bottle Company is a liquor and wine store run by Mr. Paul Tonacci, a very knowledgeable and passionate wine aficionado that understands very well the appeal of good wines and beers with good food, and the store is stocked accordingly. Actually, we found bottles on his shelves that I had not seen in any regular wine store in the tri-state area, except for perhaps such wine-world stalwarts as Astor Wines & Spirits, Sherry-Lehmann or Acker, Merrall and Condit, in Manhattan.
Our dining in the Iron Room was actually set as a Chef’s Table in the store, where shoppers in search of a good bottle of wine periodically came by.
Kevin Cronin, the top toque at the Iron Room is an exceptional chef de cuisine, and I would venture to say, eventually could become a Michelin-star candidate.
The first course was Charcoal Seared Belgian Endive, Romaine Hearts & Asparagus with Dijon & Toasted Herb Vinaigrette, Sumac, Croutons and Dates, and it was paired with Martin Nigl’s Gruner Veltliner Freiheit 2011; it was an exceptional starter and innovative variation on the salad theme.
The second course was Brioche French Toast Foie Gras, with Charred Peach Spiced Jam and Truffle Honey. The unique presentation could have been enhanced by removing one of the toast points to allow the foie gras more weight; as it was, the toast overwhelmed the delicate liver and heavenly peach jam. However, it was delightfully paired with Julia's Dazzle Pinot Grigio Rosé from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State. The wine is actually a blend of Pinot Grigio and a small amount of Sangiovese for color. I have to admit that, because I like a good foie gras – and this was buttery and delicious -- I did not pay as much attention to the wine as I should. My bad!
The third course was a choice of Tuna Au Poivre with Fried Fingerlings, Seared Asparagus and Beurre Blanc Sauce, paired with Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly 2012 or, as an alternative, Asian BBQ Hangar Steak with Sweet & Sour Brussels Sprouts and Bacon which was paired with Joel Gott's Shatter Grenache 2010. I, of course, selected the hangar steak and was very happy with it, until Barbara offered me a piece of her tuna. The fish was moist, spicy and beautifully cooked and the wine pairing, though a bit unusual was right-on-the-money!
Dessert was a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel & Vanilla Cream. It was paired with Unionville Vineyards Vat #18 Port. That was the only pairing for which I have a reservation. I love a good Portuguese port and, unfortunately, the Unionville port was nowhere near the quality of a Portuguese vintage. Good for a NJ sweet wine, but not as good as a real port. The chocolate cake was well done and the contrast of sweet and salty of the caramel was lovely.
Look to the bright young innovators at the Atlantic City Alliance for upbeat fun opportunities, just a short drive down the recently widened Garden State Parkway making the trip to Atlantic City easier then ever.
The Iron Room
648 N. Albany Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
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