May 28, 2015
When celeb chef Gordon Ramsay of “Hell's Kitchen” announced plans last year to open a new restaurant in Atlantic City, some doubted whether he would find success in the recession-battered resort town. Now, his bet increasingly looks like a winner.
Atlantic City might have suffered particularly tough times during the financial crisis, but the city is making a comeback as one of the top destinations on the East Coast. The most recent Stockton tourism report confirmed a feeling that fortunes were rising: After accounting for the loss of four casinos, AC’s tourism receipts have climbed in many ways.
Atlantic City casinos are hiring. Last month, more than 1,400 job openings needed to be filled immediately. Looking to the future, the city is adjusting to this less crowded gambling market and diversifying its attractions. The efforts are paying off.
For example, the Atlantic City Convention Center, which sits at the center of a push to draw more corporate business, saw a 33 percent increase in bookings for the first half of 2015. Meanwhile, hunting and sporting goods retailer Bass Pro Shops opened to much fanfare in April and reported sales for the month that exceeded projections by 40 percent.
But it is perhaps Atlantic City’s vibrant food scene, led by visionaries like Ramsay, that will keep visitors coming back again and again.
AC has always been a unique place where one could find imaginative gustatory creations from star chefs alongside classics from the town’s storied dining institutions. And recent openings and renewed interest in the classics have increased its culinary caché.
Ramsay opened The Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars in February. Serving traditional British comfort food with a modern twist – washed down with innovative cocktails and craft beers – in a humming environment, the restaurant has wowed critics and diners alike.
Fellow star chef, The Food Network’s Guy Fieri, has also staked his own turf on the Jersey Shore. At his outpost, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, guests can take a trip to “Flavor Town” and feast on decadent cuts of premium meats with his signature “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” flair. Located at the Bally’s casino, Guy’s Chophouse offers a refreshing take on the traditional steakhouse that is sure to impress.
Against this glitzy backdrop, determined foodies can find hidden gems and rediscover establishments with roots extending back to the 19th century.
One of these, Dock’s Oyster House, has catered to patrons since 1897. The atmosphere is elegant but unintimidating. Diners at Dock’s can sing along with the house piano player as he or she (the musician rotates nightly) belts out American favorites while enjoying the freshest seafood in the area – including the namesake oysters. Dock’s is at 2405 Atlantic Ave.
It’s notoriously difficult to score a reservation at Chef Vola’s but is well worth the trouble. Though it won a prestigious James Beard award in 2011, the old-school Italian restaurant has been serving up classics like homemade veal chops and red snapper with pesto champagne cognac sauce for more than 30 years. Nestled in an unassuming house at 111 S. Albion Place, the tiny BYOB promises to delight even the most demanding palettes.
And for diners interested in more casual fare, Atlantic City institution The White House has been selling world-famous subs (hoagies!) for more than 65 years from a quaint storefront on the Boardwalk. Its cheesesteaks are a staple on countless “Best of” lists, making it a must-see stop on any food adventure.
In addition to these standouts, Atlantic City is home to many eateries, with even more on the horizon. Renowned Philly developer Bart Blatstein’s new project – The Playground – is slated to open at the Old Pier Shops adjacent to Caesars on July 4 and will feature several casual restaurants alongside premium shops and old favorites Buddakan and Continental.
With its darker days now a distant memory, AC is fast becoming a sure-to-please destination for gourmands looking to explore both the old and new amid lively surroundings. Indeed, food-minded travelers seeking to experience a true culinary and urban resurgence need only look east to the shores of New Jersey.