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Issue Date: August 2012

All In! : Feast Forward

Jim Vickers

The first casino buffet was little more than an assortment of cold cuts and a handful of hot dishes thrown in for good measure. El Rancho Vegas, which opened in 1941, devised the humble smorgasboard, not as any sort of luxury, but as a way to keep hungry late-night gamblers fed without the expense of keeping a restaurant open. It served guests 24 hours a day and cost $1.

The fact that the UNLV Center for Gaming Research documents such corners of history (or that a Center for Gaming Research even exists) says something about the place casinos occupy in our cultural consciousness. And within the alternate reality that is any casino you've ever visited, the buffet holds a place of honor. It's an oasis from the noise and lights, built on one unspoken yet undeniable truth: Here, the guest always wins.

The Spread — a gleaming, gourmet buffet in the belly of the Horseshoe Casino — is no different. Executive chef Steven Varga, a Cleveland native, comes to the Horseshoe from Las Vegas, where he was chef de cuisine at The Henry inside the Cosmpolitan Hotel and Casino. His daily lineup of breakfast, lunch and dinner options balances quality seasonal ingredients with home-style favorites and fun surprises: tiny metal fry baskets packed with french fries and fried chicken, an array of pizzas and pastas, a half dozen salads, piles of ribs, mini Reuben and cubano sandwiches, and a station that will whip up a bowl of gourmet mac and cheese to your specifications.

Such meals tend to end up a blur. The choices available create an experience as exhilarating as it is overwhelming.

But that is the beauty of the buffet. It is a gastronomic Grand Canyon too deep and too wide for anyone to take in all at once.

Oh, you'll want to though, especially when you spot the spaceshiplike wheel of a dozen gelato flavors surrounded by a bakery of pies, cakes and cookies. But roll the dice and make your choice. Remember, there's always next time.

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