Vegas baby! Vegas!!
There are a handful of cities whose bright flickering lights excites and entices the out of towner to do just about anything. Sure, you could throw New York in there and Los Angeles is a town built on dreams and dreamers. But Vegas, well that is a town that can chew you up and spit you out in a single weekend and still make you wanna come back. There are many stories of this of course, from the old days when the Mob ran Vegas to the latest installment of the Hangover series. But your boy came here on a budget and this time, I came to Vegas to win! You could dine big time in Vegas for sure but did you know how big time you can dine on dimes? Well, contrary to the old adage: what happened on Cheap Eats Las Vegas aint gonna stay in Vegas!! So let’s take a look back to the Cheap Eats in Sin City!!
the spot: Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast 6720 Skypointe Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89131
the eats: Banana Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast Bread Pudding
the bucks: $7
the full nelson: French Toast fit for the King of Rock n Roll
At first bite, you can’t fully appreciate what you are about to get into when you score the Banana Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast Bread Pudding at Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast. Of course at first bite you realize this is ain’t no diner style type of French Toast. By mouthfeel alone you will realize you are sinking your teeth into large pieces of buttery brioche that have been soaked in milk, cream, eggs and vanilla, overnight. The peanut butter buttercream indicates that there is some pastry chef level thinking happening here. And the bacon topping of course screams Elvis Presley, who was known for indulging in a sandwich called “Fool’s Gold” that consisted of a loaf of bread stuffed with peanut butter, jelly, banana and bacon. But in order to really appreciate this mouthful of a French Toast Bread Pudding, you need to chat a bit with Chef Chris Decker. You soon find out that Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast is an off shoot of Metro Pizza; a Las Vegas pizza operation started by a couple guys from Brooklyn that’s been going strong since the 1980s. Lulu’s was envisioned as a spot in Vegas where you could go get a breakfast egg and cheese sandwich like you were back in the neighborhood. Beyond bringing a taste of the East Coast to Las Vegas, I’m gonna drop a pro tip right here Cheap Eaters: if a pizza joint is making their own dough for pizza crust, then they can kill it in the bread game and that itself is a fine reason to seriously carb up. Plenty of restaurants in town get their bread from Lulu’s, no small statement when you consider how much of a food destination Vegas has become over the years. And after seeing their operation first hand, I can see why. While bread making is certainly an art; making a fun, creative yet complex and time consuming dish like this French Toast Bread Pudding takes a chef who can’t just make anything plain and simple. And here comes Chef Chris Decker who has been with Metro Pizza/Lulu’s Bread for more than a minute or two. Chris also comes from the fine dining world and let me in on a whole new dining scene beyond the strip in Las Vegas. In fact I’m chomping at the bit to go back to Vegas and hit the town with Chris, feasting on whole new side of the Vegas dining scene. My guess is we will meet in the AM at Lulu’s and discuss a game plan over a plate of the Banana Peanut Butter French Toast Bread Pudding. At $7 per order it’s an easy fit in my budget and knowing how rich that bread pudding gets with that combo of banana pudding and peanut butter buttercream, we may have to go and split it. Not quite up to the standard set by Elvis in the later years but I would like to think the King would understand.
the spot: Bomb Tacos 3655 S. Durango Dr #27 Las Vegas, NV 89147 + a location in downtown
the eats: Al Pastor Tacos
the bucks: $2.75 each
the full nelson: I used to think I had to go to LA get my Al Pastor fix. Then I discovered Bomb Tacos in LV.
I think Chef Robert Solano loves tacos as much as I do. He definitely loves making them. In fact I think he is on a mission to make his mark in the taco game; no small feat either. In a world where trucks and funky concepts are blazing new trails on a bed of tortillas, Robert hones in on what makes some classic tacos, like Al Pastor, great in the first place and then takes steps to emphasize what works. First some necessary background: Al Pastor tacos are derived from shawarma(shaved meat grilled on a vertical rotisserie) by way of Lebanese immigrants who came to Mexico and introduced shawarma in the 19th century. Typically shawarma is made with lamb, beef or chicken, but since pork is popular in Mexico, it was utilized along with a marinade to the tune of dried chiles and various spices common to Mexican cookery. These days I live in Austin, and while there are great tacos here, the Al Pastor offerings are few and never top tier. Back in my LA days, my home for almost 20 years, I couldn’t go to a single taco stand without finding it on the menu, sometimes being carved up by a true showman who could slice a piece of pineapple off the top of the rotisserie and catch it with a tortilla, placed behind their back! I have had Al Pastor down in Puerto Vallarta MX where the trompo(rotisserie) was fueled by hardwood charcoal. I guess you could say that I thought I had seen it all. Then I came to Bomb Tacos. Biggest difference here was that there was no trompo – no rotisserie. The pork was marinated and sliced thin, but rather than cook it on a vertical rotisserie, Robert cooks the pork on a conventional grill to about medium. The pork is then chopped and finished on a flat top grill. This makes for a juicy and well caramelized Al Pastor. The tortillas, two per taco, are street sized(small like you would find in LA or Mexico City) but Robert gives them a little heft by putting cheese in between the tortillas and even more important, he stuffs them with meat. His Arbol salsa is on point and topping guacamole along with cilantro and onion may not seem beyond what one would expect, but consider the fact that the price includes guacamole. And what places charge for guacamole is no joke – that side dish has the potential of becoming a Cheap Eats landmine. The only downside to getting Al Pastor tacos at Bomb Taco is that you are limiting yourself to just one type of taco because, well they are all bomb at Bomb Tacos. Robert hooks up the right balance of toppings, he accentuates the traditional flavors and stays true to street tacos by keeping ’em cheap. Which isn’t to say you couldn’t potentially break your budget here. In my experience when you have delicious and cheap street food, one tends to over order and overeat. But that’s just part of eating food that is legitimately . . . bomb.
the spot: Suzuya Patisserie 7225 S. Durango Dr ste 101 Las Vegas, NV 89113
the eats: Strawberry Millecrepe
the bucks: $4.50
the full nelson: The Lexus of Patisseries
I’m old enough to remember when the first Lexus came out. In fact what I remember most were the ads. A striking advertising campaign that became the symbol that a new era of car culture was coming, one where Japanese luxury brands would soon become household names like Bavarian Motor Works and Mercedes-Benz. Suzuya Patisserie doesn’t have the same striking ad campaign as Lexus in 1989 but upon first bite, heck once you walk into the patisserie, you will never question the ability of the Japanese in taking on another food culture and giving the OGs something to chew on. It might not surprise you that owner and pastry chef Misuzu Ibihara hails from Japan but you might be surprised that in her home country, the French Millecrepe is as beloved in Japan as it is in France. The Millecrepe is a classic French cake where 14 layers of paper thin crepes are separated by a pastry cream, in this case a strawberry cream and topped with a “medicine dropper” of strawberry balsamic sauce. The sauce alone is intriguing and not just the delivery system; balsamic vinegar in a dessert? This über delicate slice of cake might warrant a second slice, which at $4.50 a pop may get a little out of hand. But c’mon, outside of Japan, where else are you gonna find a Japanese Patisserie? And $4.50 a slice is lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Tokyo.
the spot: Pizza Rock 201 N 3rd st Las Vegas, NV 89101
the eats: Purple Potato Slice, Picante Slice
the bucks: $6 a slice
the full nelson: Tony Gemignani is a Pizza master. And he can rock your world at $6 a slice.
I have to say that this season of Cheap Eats really took me to school as far as pizza goes. I hail from the Midwest and have a soft spot for that cracker thin, cut into squares kind of pizza called Chicago Thin Crust in Chi-town. A similar version gets twisted with Provel cheese in my hometown of St. Louis and non Provel versions pop up here and there, throughout the Midwest. When I moved to LA way back when, I got to try that California pizza straight from the source. That style of pizza that CPK and Wolfgang Puck built an empire on. And I have definitely had some pie in NYC. Yet despite a fair amount of consumption of different pizza styles, I would never call myself a “pizza guy”. This changed after I went to New Haven and yes, that episode is coming up in the next few weeks. And if I hadn’t gone to New Haven first, I’m sure the pies that Tony Gemignani tosses would have converted me. Tony hails from Northern California and somehow, despite numerous excursions into the Bay Area, I have never come across his pizza before. Equally baffling is that the most decorated pizza maker in America ain’t in NYC. Tony has won the World Pizza Cup in Naples(and I ain’t talking Florida, kid). He is a three time winner of the International Pizza Competition in Lecce, Italy. He is one of only three US ambassadors of Neapolitan Pizza, designated by the City of Naples. Yeah, the cat can toss dough with the best of ’em, like literally. What I love about Pizza Rock is that they serve multiple styles of pizza: Neapolitan cooked in a 900 degree wood fired oven, New York/ New Haven style pizza cooked in 700 degree oven plus Sicilian, Roman, Chicago thin crust. All told he has four distinct pizza oven types, running on wood, gas and electric and a total of nine pizza decks. Now the slices I scored are almost a whole other story. I mean, pizza is a comfort food and so much of it depends on what kind of pizza style you grew up with. Well I didn’t grow up with potatoes on my pizza but good Lord I do know what delicious Italian food tastes like which is pretty much the inspiration behind the Purple Potato slice. The combo of thinly sliced potato, pesto, garlic and smoked pancetta pretty much delivers gnocchi in the form of pizza. Being from the Midwest and being of South Asian decent, I like meat and I like spice. If you feel similarly, look no further than the Picante which is pepperoni, Linguicia and Mexican Chorizo, hit with serrano peppers, banana peppers and Cholula sauce. I didn’t eat great pizza in college but biting into a slice of the Picante made me want to do college all over again so I could live off this pizza. The freshman 15 never sounded so appealing. Oh and the slices are HUGE. One is plenty but having two speaks to how good this pizza is. And when you try it, it shouldn’t surprise you. Because Tony Gemignani is a pizza master and he serves up epic slices on a Cheap Eats budget.
Boom! What happened in Cheap Eats Las Vegas sure didn’t stay in Vegas! The food was too good to keep to myself. And now you learned a valuable Vegas lesson too: there is more to LV than the strip. Not that I could have stayed away . . . I mean I had to make a run at the tables with my left over Cheap Eats change. But know this: there are two sides to Las Vegas. One being the lights that lure one to Sin City for a weekend of revelry. The other is a city that feeds off of the tremendous culinary talent that is as much the draw as gambling and entertainment. Add to that the fact that those people, who come from all over the world come to work in Vegas, gotta eat too. And many of them eat well and on the cheap. I’ll see you at the roulette tables . . .