Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dinner with Steve & Edie, Frank, Sammy, Dino...

... Mayor Oscar, Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, Natalie Cole, and a host of others...

Yep, I have found a new place to hang out.

Back in the day, my favorite after-work joint was Chilly Palmer's over in Henderson. But when I left the pit for the poker room and all of my friends moved on to other jobs or other shifts, we stopped going there. Once I made a bunch of new drinking buddies in the poker room, we started hanging out at Sierra Gold. But James went to day shift, A.C. took a new job, and me, well, I got kicked to the curb. Besides, Sierra Gold is just a little too proud of their prices, I think, and every time I go there, I end up feeling like I got shaken down Mandalay Bay style. (You Vegas veterans know what I'm talking about!)

Anyhow, now that I spend most of my time on The Strip (it only took five years!), I decided that I need a new place to go after work. All the joints out in Henderson are kind of depressing, seeing how the local economy is still in the shiatter, so I felt like I wanted to go somewhere a little more Vegas-y. And I certainly wasn't going to loiter around in my own casino after work, either.

Anyhow, after a month of commuting, I've discovered that the easiest and quickest way back to Hendertucky in the middle of the night is to make my way to Tropicana and take it east until the neon glow in the rear-view mirror disappears below the horizon. At that point, a few twists and turns aside, I am back home in the comfort of my occasionally gated community. And since the employee dining rooms I've been subject to have been less-than-stellar, I'm always starving when my shift finally ends. Besides, one can only live on Gatorade and granola bars so long... So I've been looking for a restaurant/coffee shop/bar/pub to visit a couple of times a week where I can take care of my hunger and my thirst.

Well, I need to look no longer--we have a winner. Ladies and Gentleman, a big round of applause for Casa di Amore on East Tropicana.

Oh, I've been there before. Angy and I talked about going a few times, but we never made it. I think Linda Lou and I had our pre-Thanksgiving dinner there last November. I remember it being pretty good, but I hadn't been there since.

But what got me in the door this time was the fact that somebody last week was sitting in the poker room eating some sort of damn-good-smelling Italian food from somewhere, and ever since then, I've been craving it. For days now, I've been thinking about fettucini alfredo and veal marsala, garlic bread and red wine... And every night I drive by Casa di Amore and I see that blue neon 'OPEN' sign beckoning me, yet I never stopped.

Until last night.

I had a long and busy 7-hour shift before getting cut loose, and yeah, besides being thirsty, I was pretty hungry, too. My first order of business was to stop and get a bottle of Gatorade and damn near shotgun the thing (I swear it's 110 degrees in our poker room every night, so we go through bottled water by the 55-gallon drums on swing shift), but then after that, I told myself that no matter what, I was stopping for a bite to eat at Casa di Amore on my way home.

I pulled in and parked in back (can't use the front door after midnight), and was surprised to see that they were pretty busy once I got inside. I took a seat at the bar (the exact same one the dude in the white t-shirt is sitting in in the picture) and ordered myself a Captain and Coke, with lime, of course.

For those of you that have never been there, the place just oozes that Old Vegas vibe. If it were in Jersey, you'd swear it was mobbed up. Seriously, the first time I had dinner there, I halfway expected Michael Corleone to come out of the bathroom and put a few bullets in Sollozo and McClusky at the next table. It's dark, it's got brick walls, red furniture, and lots of photos of old Vegas celebrities and casinos adorn the walls. You can almost feel the ghosts of good times past lurking around.

The bartender told me that the entire late-night bar menu was half-price from midnight until closing time at 5:00 am, so that's where I looked first--lots of appies, a selection of five or six sandwiches, and any pizza. Of course, the entire menu was available all night long, but at regular prices.

So I settled on some fried ravioli as an appetizer (and I should've stopped there). Of course, they ask you what else you want while you're sitting there hungry, so I ordered some veal parmigiana with a side of fettucini alfredo. Oh, and a glass of that MacMurray Ranch Pinot while you're at it...

The ravioli was excellent, and it came with a mild red sauce for dipping. And just as I was finishing off the last piece, thinking Man, I shouldn't have ordered dinner..., my dinner arrived. Sitting before me were three pieces of thin-pounded, breaded, pan-fried veal, covered in browned and bubbling mozzarella and a ladle full of that same house red sauce, accompanied by a too-large-by-half bowl of creamy pasta.

Of course I dove right in.

It was excellent, as expected, and a few minutes later the chef brought me out a basket of their straight-from-the-oven Italian bread, gratis, with butter.

I got about halfway through the meal when I realized that there was no way I'd ever finish. Seriously, I felt like that dude on Man Vs. Food, minus the camera crew and stupid jokes.

I gave it the ol' college effort, but gave up soon thereafter. I was so full that the idea of taking the rest home in a to-go box almost put me over the edge. So I just asked for my tab, instead. It came to almost fifty bucks (wine, plus ordering off the regular menu), but it was well worth it. And the crowd in there was a lot of fun, too. Lots of nice, friendly people sitting about the bar (not like that sketch crowd over at the Double Down), who also work the swing shift on the Strip, so it was nice to have a good conversation with strangers I could relate to.

So yeah, I'll be back. I'll stick to the late-night happy hour menu from now on (but I had to address my craving this time), and maybe have a drink or two while listening to some Rat Pack music and imagining, just for a second, that maybe Frank, Dino, and Sammy will come strolling in for a nightcap, fresh off the late show in the Copa Room.


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