Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Bruno Morabito

Sid’s Cafe’s “Master of Brunch” is serious about the joys of casual dining…

Part Two in my series on the fabulous culinary family of Westgate Las Vegas

Sometimes you talk at length with someone whom you’ve previously encountered only in passing…and they blow your expectations away. That’s what happened during my recent morning sit-down with Chef de cuisine Bruno Morabito of Sid’s Cafe. And it was a surprise that made my day.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

Being a semi-regular diner at Westgate’s casual-dining restaurant, I’d seen Chef Bruno strolling by from time to time, greeting patrons at their table to check on their experience. This mild-mannered gentleman was personable, professional and seemed somewhat reserved. But give Chef Bruno the opportunity to relax for a bit of private conversation and this native of Rochester NY will light up the room.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

Perhaps it’s the dazzling white coat that keeps his bubbly personality in check. Maybe it’s the presence of dozens of diners enjoying his creations. Or the years of disciplined experience in world-class kitchens around the city. Whatever the reason, when this veteran of the Las Vegas dining scene gets a moment away from the focus of responsibility, an entirely different person shines through.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

The two of us got acquainted in a corner booth on the tail end of a Sid’s Cafe breakfast rush. Both of us had just returned from visits to Italy, so it was a nice ice-breaker. I confessed that I’d just watched one of his cooking segments about brunch on a local network affiliate page. “Oh, No! I can’t stand doing those!”, he chuckled with a mild flush. “I’m not a TV kind of guy. But I do like to talk about my food”.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

    Jennifer Jean Snyder of KTNV Morning Blend reacts to Chef Bruno’s creations… 

Indeed he does. As is the case with many artists, Chef Bruno beams when discussing how he began to create delicious dishes…and which inspirations set him on the path to success. For Chef Morabito, it was exposure to a combination of many different cultures.

During his culinary school days at Lougheed College in Kitchener Ontario, this descendant of Italian immigrants was affectionately known as “The Yank”. He was nicknamed that by program director Wolfgang Stutz (one could safely assume that Stutz was German). But it was years of experience at a famous French restaurant that secured his place on the Valley’s list of superb culinary masters.

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Visiting the Amalfi coastline of southern Italy with brother Phil…               

After coming to Las Vegas with his wife, Morabito began a 17-month stint as Sous Chef for renowned Charlie Palmer at Mandalay Bay‘s gorgeous Aureole. Then came his first really big opportunity – a position at Venetian‘s world-famous Bouchon Bistro. Tucked away inside an exclusive area of the resort’s Venezia Tower, Bouchon is where Westgate‘s “Master of Brunch” developed his reputation for morning-meal brilliance.

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Chef Bruno (fourth from right) with Chef Thomas Keller and the team at Bouchon…               

Challenged by Bouchon founder Chef Thomas Keller to create a pork-belly BLT from a sketch, Morabito went “off the menu” and took a detour to the unexpected. With free reign to create any special he wanted, Chef Bruno added a personal “why not” favorite of Chicken and Waffles as a special.

A succulent serving of roasted chicken atop a bacon and chive waffle, sauce chasseur (aka “Hunter’s Sauce”), Tahitian vanilla bean butter and maple syrup, Chicken and Waffles was a runaway hit…and continued to grow in popularity. It became the cornerstone for an entire brunch menu that Morabito urged Kelly to try.

Chef Bruno’s brunch menu remains his legacy there and is now served in every Bouchon Bistro nationwide. It was also Forbes Travel Magazine‘s pick for Best Brunch in Las Vegas.

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                  Chef Bruno flanked by his lovely 14-year-old daughters….

After a decade with Chef Thomas Keller, this thoroughbred horse-racing enthusiast (he’s attended the last eight Breeder’s Cups and owns several horses back in New York) was now the proud father of twin girls.

The increased responsibilities of being a parent and husband to wife Tracy didn’t deter Morabito from taking on a new challenge, though. In 2014 he was recruited by celebrity Giada De Laurentis to be her new Chef de Cuisine at Giada inside The Cromwell.

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Chef Morabito and Giada De Laurentis remain friends…                     

History repeated itself a bit at The Cromwell. Morabito’s reputation for success allowed him to create a brunch menu for De Laurentis at the trendy eatery. If you seem to recall Chicken and Waffles in the Giada line-up, you aren’t mistaken…although he gave the dish a new distinctive Italian twist. It came as no surprise when the new offerings were lauded by Las Vegas Review Journal readers as “Best Brunch”.

Nearly two and a half years later, the visionary “Master of Brunch” joined the ever-growing list of superlative chefs at Westgate Las Vegas. And now he’s serving his award-winning food at Sid’s Cafe.

Sid’s Cafe is named after Westgate founder David Siegel‘s father, who absolutely loved Las Vegas. Sid’s may be the most casual of Westgate‘s restaurant, but the home-style menu is meticulously prepared and served with pride. Chef Bruno runs the entire operation, from kitchen to staffing. He’s a hands-on kind of man when it comes to ensuring quality:

What goes out on that plate has my name on it. I personally answer Yelp! and other guest reviews, both positive and negative. Kindness is an easy way to build rapport with our guests. I want you to be satisfied with what we bring to your table.

Bringing things to the table is exactly what Chef Bruno had planned for me. Being a frequent visitor, I was already familiar with lunch and dinner offerings at the Cafe (Matzo Ball Soup, Free-Range Turkey Burger and Chopped Italian Salad are my personal favorites). So it was with a bit fortuitous that I’d be sampling his brunch creations for the first time during our meeting.

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 Mojito Fruit Bowl with lime juice, mint and toasted coconut…                    

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Smoked Salmon Platter…                 

My host could scarcely hide his enthusiasm when describing each dish that arrived at the table.That carefully-hidden smile of his surfaced frequently…and it continued to grow with each visit back.

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Grande Cinnamon Roll is big enough for the entire table…                   

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Cinnamon Roll French Toast and several hearty skillet breakfasts…                 

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As Chef Bruno promised, everything he creates is fresh, delicious, gorgeous to look at and downright satisfying. Brunch is available at Sid’s Cafe every Thursday through Sunday from 7 am until 2 pm. You can add unlimited mimosas for $10.

Echoing sentiments from other Chefs I’ve spoken to at Westgate, Sid’s chef de cuisine is thrilled with the opportunity to add, fine-tune and elevate his cafe’s line-up. And no doubt the resort is pleased to have attracted another major player to their team.

As with all members of the Westgate culinary family, Chef Bruno Morabito aims to bring happiness to your table and a smile to your face. Be sure to ask for him when you visit…and don’t you dare miss that Chicken and Waffles masterpiece.

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Sid’s Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hours are 7 am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, 7 am to 2 am Friday and Saturday. Call 702-732-5755 for more information. Dress code is casual, restaurant is non-smoking.

Photos: Sammasseur, Bruno Morabito via Facebook/Instagram, KTNV Morning Blend

 

 

 

 

I’m Too Sexy For My…Burger?


Award-winning hunks turned away from Palms poolside cafe…

Sin City. The name alone suggests wild, outrageous parties, outlandish behavior and sex galore. In most cases, the city delivers on that promise. Mobile billboards offer “Ladies Direct To Your Room”. Puppetry of the Penis is a runaway hit at Erotic Heritage Museum. Porno conventions take over entire resorts. But shirtless guys eating burgers at a poolside cafe? That’s apparently too graphic for one Las Vegas restaurant.

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You may be scratching your head and wondering “How could this even be an issue?”. That’s a legitimate question, but don’t get bogged down by the specifics. I’ll elaborate on the details in a moment. Instead, allow yourself to digest this fact: A private luncheon for shirtless Vegas celebs is considered “unacceptable” by Station Casinos…specifically Palms Place.

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If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve written many columns saluting the Hot Guys of Vegas. Performers, bartenders, a popular celebrity publicist…even a well-known lawyer. Respected, hard-working gentlemen, one and all. They are great sports and have had plenty of fun with my columns.

Out of gratitude, I thought it would be a wacky idea…and make another great article…if I gathered a few past and future recipients of that series for lunch. My group included performers from the likes of Absinthe, WOW – World of Wonder, DIVAS, Men of the Strip, Jubilee and Men of Sapphire. The idea was to allow them to network with one another, take some photographs and share an “only in Vegas” experience with you, the readers.

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I invited several guys to revel in gratuitous shirtlessness. They’d arrive sans tops and remain that way for a meal, drinks and laughs….a positive social experiment. Every invited guest agreed to join in on the fun and yours truly would pay the bill. The location would be my favorite casual-dining spot in the city: Cafe 6 at Palms Place.

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This awesome, secluded burger joint on the sixth floor of the Palms Place tower is serviced by a dedicated elevator (directly from the parking lot to the cafe entrance). It sits next to a lovely pool and hot tub with only walls of glass separating the swimmers and the diners. The effect is that of eating at the pool deck while remaining indoors.

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Another reason for choosing Cafe 6 is that they have a private meeting room immediately to the left of the entrance. My guests would be able to arrive discreetly with only an infinitesimal chance of being spotted by patrons in the main dining area. Nobody who could be potentially offended would be affected. Perfect, right?

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I then chose a weekday afternoon in the middle of December, historically the slowest week of the year in Vegas. It’s so slow that many shows shut down and restaurants send their staff on vacation. So you’d think that any restaurant would welcome hundreds of dollars of guaranteed business during those days.

With a plan in place, I emailed a known contact at Palms Casino Resort who is involved in food and beverage operations there. I described our gathering, the number of people in our party, our willingness to order from the regular menu and other assorted details along with a few possible dates. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t specifically name anyone involved here.

It never crossed my mind that our lunch party would be denied. After all, Palms was until recently home to the “World’s Largest Hooters”. Because, you know, female breasts sell chicken wings…

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Anyway, the person I wrote to copied another individual on their team when replying back. They informed me that they would discuss my request, then they passed it on to a third person in their public relations department for final disposition.

It should be noted that in the follow-up correspondence, our group promised to be respectful and behave discreetly. I even suggested the name of a particular server who is very outgoing and enjoys male eye-candy. Nevertheless, our party was refused with a curt denial:

“Hi Sam, thanks for considering us, at this time we are going to politely pass on the opportunity.”

That was it. No questions, no offer of alternate conditions., no mention of potential code violations..and most importantly, no explanation of any kind. While it’s safe to assume that bare chiseled torsos were the deciding issue here, how can we know for sure? And WHY is a sexy guy forbidden to show his abs in a poolside cafe?

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View from inside the main dining room of Cafe 6…                   

As you might imagine, I found this response to be quite ludicrous. Cafe 6, as I mentioned earlier, is my favorite lunch place in town. I gave it a stellar review in a previous column, chose Cafe 6 as my “Best Vegas Bargain of 2016” and even hosted my most recent birthday party there. So what gives? And should I have even bothered to describe our reason for gathering in the first place?

Luckily, Dave Wahlen, General Manager of Flair Nightclub and the soon-to-open Hamburger Mary’s on Flamingo Avenue, caught wind of this absurd situation and welcomed us with open arms…and shirts.

Sam, I’d love to have them…anytime you want! The city gave us the final approved plans a week ago Tuesday. We have been balls to the walls. We have a night and a day crew working on the kitchen. It has taken nearly 8 months to get this done. Come see us as we love these guys at Mary’s. I miss seeing you buddy. I hope you’re doing well!

And that, dear readers, is how you do good business and promote healthy public relations. I understand that Cafe 6 and Palms Place are undergoing a transition of ownership and management. But their response to a simple request has successfully alienated an entire group of Vegas influentials…and one beef-loving blogger.

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Thanks for being such a soggy pile of wet blankets, Palms. Let us know when you’ve removed that stick from up your _____. As for me and my guys, it’s “Next stop…Hamburger Mary’s”!

Photos: Sammasseur, CBS Daytime, KTNV.com, Hamburger Mary’s

 

 

Binion’s Cafe Gets a Menu Upgrade


Fremont’s struggling casino gives you new reasons to visit….

A few weeks back I wrote about the trend of casinos pushing their dining and retail operations to the very front of their properties. In many cases, they even go out onto the sidewalks themselves. Binion’s historic downtown property is one of those I mentioned in the piece.

Binion’s is the best example of how Downtown casinos shifted their focus from interior to the sidewalks. Exploring the property, you’ll find numerous examples of a time when guests stayed and played indoors. On the second floor, a buffet and the Gee Joon Asian restaurant are collecting dust. In the basement, a once-popular 24-hour Coffee Shop is abandoned as well.

As visitor habits changed, the once-popular Binion’s Gambling Hall shuttered their lodging operations along with my go-to favorite, the downstairs Coffee Shop. The casino-floor cafe, which was basically a lunch counter surrounded by slot machines, was best known for its fresh-ground Binion’s Burger and not much else.

Eventually the space was enclosed and converted into a full-service restaurant with improved seating and an expanded menu. That successful expansion was the springboard for another re-invention when Benny’s Bullpen (a cigar lounge/sports bar) became Benny’s Smokin’ BBQ and Brews.

While Binion’s has seen casino traffic dwindle with the closure of a short-lived bingo room and their historic Poker Room (original home to World Series of Poker), Binion’s Cafe continues to draw in long-time visitors and new guests.

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                                       Classic Pot Roast with corn bread…

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                                Linguine and all-beef meatballs…

This week, Binion’s Cafe rolled out an updated version of their menu with lots of new items to dive into. Added dishes include Classic Pot Roast ($14.99), Linguine with all-beef Meatballs ($12.99) and Poached Shrimp Alfredo over Linguine ($14.99). Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup.

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                                   Shrimp alfredo…

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                                       Mo’s Poutine…

If you’re looking for something smaller, try a plate of Mo’s Poutine ($5.99), crispy fries topped with molten cheese curds and gravy. Health nuts like myself will appreciate house-made Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Hummus ($5.99) served with warm pita bread, cucumber slices and celery sticks.

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                                                         No more chili….

I was shocked to see one of my favorite Vegas indulgences, Binion’s famous truckstop-style chili, missing from the new menu. That greasy-spoon bowl of tomatoes and beans had gotten this fellow through many a night of partying in the past. I later learned that it’s still available at nearby Binion’s Deli, but only from 12pm-8pm.

Of course, mainstay Binion’s Burger remains ($5.99) on the menu and comes with their delicious potato salad (fries and cheese are extra). Also, the Club Binion’s Player’s Card will get you special discounts on select items.

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          Ham Steak and Eggs is only $8.99 with your Binion’s Club Card….

It’s worth mentioning that meats and poultry at the Binion’s Cafe are cut daily at their own in-house butcher shop. Symbols identify these dishes, along with those designated as “heart healthy” and selections available only during limited hours.

Click here for a PDF copy of the full menu.

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Binion’s Cafe is open daily from 7am to 2am. Be sure to ask for Alicia when visiting…and tell her that Sam sent you.

Photos: Sammasseur, Alicia P., Binion’s, TripAdvisor

Westgate’s Superbook Lands a Slam Dunk at “The Court”


New dining outlet at world’s largest sportsbook is a hit with the fans…

In the past couple of years I’ve reported on the numerous improvements that have taken place in and around Westgate Las Vegas, best known as the former Las Vegas Hilton. Along with renovated rooms, modernized amenities and a new approach to customer service, a big focus of the current owners has been in food and beverage offerings.

Since the inception of VegasUnfiltered this summer, I’ve reviewed Fresco Italiano and Bar Sake, two immensely gratifying offerings along Westgate’s “restaurant row”. Last week I was invited back to experience the new, improved quick-bite outlet in Westgate’s enormous Race and Sports Superbook betting complex.

Westgate Superbook

Unlike those other two meals, The Court was anything but a formal experience…and that’s the idea. Focusing on tried-and-true favorites with elevated quality, moderate pricing and rapid service, the venues that make up The Court aim to satisfy by way of the food as much as the convenience.

Cordovano Joe’s NY-style Pizza, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill Express and Nacho Tacos Authentic Mexican are all created by Westgate’s own food and beverage team. The three share one main dining area and an additional space for overflow, which came in very handy on the Tuesday afternoon that I visited.

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The Court‘s trio of offerings are overseen by Jeffrey DiVito, Westgate’s new VP of Food and Beverage. DeVito came to Westgate Las Vegas by way of L’Auberge Lake Charles and Station Casinos (and was involved in the design and opening of both Red Rock and Alliante resorts). He joins a growing list of talented execs and chefs who have come to Westgate from other big-league Vegas properties.

Westgate Food Court

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            The previous incarnation invoked a truckstop/diner atmosphere…

The Court takes over an area previously known as Superbook Deli. Glaringly-bright diner decor has been toned down with softer lighting and mellower colors, bringing the Superbook atmosphere into the service and seating areas.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

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                  So long, stadium hot dog stand…hello, neighborhood pub…

To accentuate the tavern atmosphere, pool tables and dart games have been installed at one side of The Court, making it appealing for those who may want to hang out around the Superbook without actually betting.

The Superbook’s unique placement within the resort allows for direct access via the casino or a dedicated entrance and parking lot. Those looking to drop by for casual eats and brews should be pleased by the variety of selections that The Court now offers.

Westgate Food Court

Assistant Executive Chef Aaron Losch, who made a name for himself at both Red Rock and Wynn, invited me to sample some of the new menu items that he created for The Court. We mostly focused on Nacho Taco‘s menu, with an item or two from Draft’s (I’ll have to come back for pizza during my next visit).

Being a fitness buff who tries to eat cleanly, I was a bit shocked by my mouth-watering response to the items that the staff brought over. It’s actually hard to upload the photos into this article without the same thing happening again.

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                                             Carne Asada Street Tacos…

My tasting started with selections from the Nacho Tacos kitchen. I began with a trio of Carne Asada Street Tacos ($13), served with cotija cheese and salsa on warm corn tortillas with beans and rice. All main dishes on the Nacho Tacos menu start with the basics ($8 for vegetarian), then are priced upwards according to toppings/fillings.

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                   Quesadillas with a side of Philly Cheesesteak, eh?

Grilled Chicken Breast with paprika, cumin and lime adds $3 to your dish, Carnitas (braised pork with chili and cumin) or Al Pastor (pork marinated in orange and pineapple juices) add $4, and Carne Asada (marinated skirt steak with garlic and lime) adds $5 more.

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                         Taqueria Fries topped with braised pork carnitas…

Instead of tacos, you can design your plate with a Tortilla Salad, traditional Nachos or a Quesadilla. For really hearty appetites, I’d recommend indulging in Taqueria Fries, a layer of crispy string potatoes topped with queso, pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos. All entrees at Nacho Tacos are priced the same way as street tacos, each according to the filling.

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Sandwiches, Caesar salads and chicken wings/tenders are the main offerings at Drafts Sports Bar. My favorite was the Philly Cheesesteak ($14), smothered in melted provolone with grilled onions and peppers.

Drafts also has a NY Pastrami Reuben on Rye ($13), 1/3lb. Grilled Angus Burger ($13) and a Grilled Nathan’s Foot-long Dog on a poppy seed bun ($9). All sandwiches include fries or coleslaw. You can make your meal a combo by adding a 20-oz fountain drink for $4 or a 16-oz draft of Budweiser or Bud Light for $5.

Cordovano Joe’s has sandwiches as well, like an Italian Hoagie ($13), Shaved Italian Beef ($14), Sweet Sausage with roasted peppers and carmelized onions ($12) and Meatball with mozzarella and marinara ($13). Joe’s specialty is individual authentic New York-style pizza. Basic 8-inch cheese pies run $6, Veggie or Pepperoni for $7, Meat Lover for $8 and finally $9 for Supreme.

Losch stated that many of Superbook Deli‘s core customers were regulars, so many favorites have remained at The Court with room for continued tweaking. He recounted how one frequent customer complained when a favorite disappeared…and just like that, they brought it back. “We’re not going to turn away people who helped to keep us going all these years” he said.

Westgate Food Court

The Court‘s newfound popularity might keep sportsbook customers off the betting floor for extended periods, but there could be a simple fix. Chef Aaron told me that they’re looking into various methods for guests to order food from the Superbook seats. “We may be able to provide cocktail servers with electronic pads so you can place a request from your seat”. And there’s always those handy smartphone apps…

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The sooner that remote ordering can be set up, the better. It’s obvious from the long lines I witnessed that The Court is serving up just what Westgate Superbook guests want. “We’ve only been open for a few weeks” said Chef Losch, “but we’ve already had some of the busiest days this space has ever seen”.

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Photos: Sammasseur, Deli pics via TripAdvisor