by Ron Bernthal
EMERIL LAGASSE’S CHOP HOUSE
The Sands Casino Resort
77 Sands Boulevard
Bethlehem, PA 18015
tel 877 726 3777
When the Bethlehem Steel Company closed its plant doors in 1995, the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania did not spend a lot of time mourning the departure of its largest employer and benefactor. It put money and effort into restoring its lovely downtown historic district, heavily promoted its annual Bach Festival and popular Musikfest, and, in 2011, the National Museum of Industrial Heritage will open in a renovated steel plant. But the city is hoping that the new Sands Casino Resort (May, 2009), sitting on part of a 125-acre plot on the former Bethlehem Steel grounds, will draw more visitors that all of the above attractions combined.
During a recent visit to the city I dined at Emeril Lagasse’s Chop House, or Emeril’s as it is more informally known around Bethlehem, a fine dining venue located within the Sands Casino. Approaching the casino by car you are greeted by a huge, refurbished iron ore bridge that was once used to convey the ore during manufacturing. This iconic structure, now lit at night, towers over the casino entrance and is a remarkable historic sight from Bethlehem’s former life as an industrial city. Emeril’s Chop House is, as the name implies, a steak restaurant although the menu has a nice selection of fish, pasta, and poultry. It is Lagasse’s first and only fine dining restaurant in the Northeast, but lots of the entrees are fused with the chef’s well known Cajun and southern-style cuisine like collard greens, grits, lobster, crawfish, and various creole favorites.
Soft, brown carpeting, two curved, glass-enclosed wine racks, and a stainless steel (what else?) ceiling sculpture help create a rich interior design, a contrast to the noise and glaring lights of the 3,000 slot machines just beyond the glass windows of the restaurant. I ordered Chef Emeril’s New Orleans style barbeque shrimp as an appetizer because I once had them in Emeril’s New Orleans restaurant and they were terrific there. The large, perfectly seasoned Gulf shrimp I received, cooked with minced garlic, cayenne, crushed peppercorns, and bay leaves, were equally as good in Bethlehem.
My entrée, the 6-ounce petit filet mignon, worked out to $5 an ounce, but must have been closely watched in the kitchen as the medium rare order came out beautifully cooked and hot, covered with crisp onion straws. Placed next to the plate were three small cups of the house-made Worcestershire, creamy horseradish, and béarnaise sauces, but the steak flavor was so good I did not dilute it with any of the condiments. My salt roasted beet salad and crawfish mashed potatoes were good accompaniments. A 2005 Cote du Rhone Domaine de Pesquier was an excellent wine choice recommended by the restaurant’s general manager who, like several other Emeril’s Bethlehem’s employees, had been brought up from the New Orleans properties.
My dining companion had a dinner of “sides,” generous portions of grilled asparagus, roasted and glazed Pennsylvania button mushrooms, and Lyonnaise potatoes, all presented in separate metal dishes. For dessert we shared an order of chai ice cream and mango sorbet.
My dinner at Emeril’s Chop House was pricy but good, and the quiet, classy atmosphere in the restaurant was a nice break from the tumult of the casino floor. Emeril Lagasse has another venue in the casino, a casual place called Burgers and More by Emeril, and other choices include a Carnegie Deli, St. James Gate Irish Pub, and several bar/lounges.
With table games coming to the casino this spring, and the adjacent Sands Hotel opening in 2011, along with other cultural and entertainment options soon to open in the renovated former Bethlehem Steel Company plant buildings nearby, Emeril’s Chop House will become an even more popular place to eat for local residents and casino visitors. (Open for dinner only, reservations required).
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