Reinaldo Delgado and his girlfriend Sadia Hasib haven’t been out much since the coronavirus pandemic began, but decided to venture out and visit Ocean Casino Resort for the day.
They expected the usual great customer service, but what they didn’t expect was the smoky smell of the oak wood luring them outside. Sky garden grid on the 11th floor.
“It smelled like when I was a kid on a lake, my dad used to cook these burgers, hot dogs and they were great,” Delgado said.
The Sky Garden Grille is the casino’s premier outdoor dining experience. Boasting full views of the ocean and Atlantic City’s famous boardwalk, the restaurant is located outside the HQ Nightclub.
Vince Turrano, vice president of catering, said that since this space was unused because the nightclub is temporarily closed, it was “impossible” to establish this area for an outdoor a la carte restaurant.
“We have amazing restaurants on this property, unfortunately we can’t use any of them,” Turrano said. Because indoor dining in New Jersey is still not permitted, the casino needed to meet demand from its customers and set up a space where they can offer full-service outdoor dining with arguably the best views of Atlantic City.
“Why wouldn’t you want to eat here,” he said, looking out over the three acres of the Sky Garden area, complete with a bar and fire pits.
Kathleen Njau, from Manville, her husband Joe and another Somerset County couple enjoyed the scenery and decided to have a few anniversary drinks and watch the ocean before exploring other places in Atlantic City. Both couples are regulars at Ocean Casino but haven’t visited the property since it reopened last month.
It’s the two couples’ first time out of their home county since the pandemic began, but they said they felt very comfortable at the restaurant and in the Sky Garden area where social distancing is not a problem.
Njau, sipping a spicy mango margarita, said there was definitely a New York feel to the rooftop.
“They’re taking the New York vibe and bringing it back to New Jersey,” said Pamela Christiansen, who along with husband Cheyne came to celebrate Njau’s special day.
Cheyne compared the way dining is now in New Jersey to how dining has been in Europe where eating out is the norm.
“We’re just stepping up our game as Americans,” Pamela said.
Ocean Casino’s first venture into gaming features two grids on which all the cooking is done. Steve Benzinger, who is one of the chefs who created the menu, said he wanted to focus on seafood, but since they can’t use traditional cooking, they had to find another way of cooking. dinners on the grill: seafood sachets.
Thai scallops, scampi with prawns, and steamed clams are all a dish made entirely inside a Carta Fata baking sheet. “We are able to cook it over the open flame of charcoal grills without damaging the seafood inside,” he explained.
Marinated skirt steak, with crispy onions and chili relish, is one of the most popular items, Benzinger said. The chicken sandwich, baby back ribs and two types of burgers, the Sky Burger and the Iberian burger with Iberian chorizo, manchego, Midnight Moon cheeses, pickled red onions and apricot mustard complete the grilled side of the menu .
Benzinger said one of the benefits of having the kitchen so close to the tables is that he can socialize better with guests, who will sometimes give their honest opinion on the dinner being served.
“A lot of people walk up to me and ask me questions and talk to me, so it’s nice to have that interaction.”
“It’s like having instant feedback on your food, it’s pretty cool,” he said.
The constantly changing weather and winds are not an advantage, which is another element that cooks, guests and management must all learn to manage.
The restaurant opens at 4 p.m., just in time for the sun to sneak behind the resort’s tower, providing guests with shade to dine.
For Benzinger, the hardest part of cooking outdoors is keeping the embers going with winds that seem to change from minute to minute while on the 11th floor. For Turrano, he’s become a staunch watcher of the weather, something in his 39 years working in the casino food and beverage business that he’s never paid so much attention to.
“Before it was how the traffic got to town, what entertainment do we have, now it’s the weather.”
Turrano said they did over 450 covers the first two nights they opened and people loved it.
Delgado and Hasib enjoyed the atmosphere, space and views the Sky Garden Grille had to offer while dining on a burger and steak. “Walking in here, it almost felt like there was no pandemic,” Delgado said.
When asked which was better, the food or the view, without hesitation, Benzinger replied, “Definitely the food, the view is just a plus.”
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