Savor the Flavors of Our World at ‘SERVED GLOBAL DINING’

Chef Matt Meyer’s latest endeavor will surprise, excite and invigorate your love for eclectic cuisine…


The worst is over and Las Vegas is back. Tourists are flooding in and locals are venturing out to rejoin civilization. In the past few weeks, long-established restaurants have been operating at allowable capacity (and quite frequently, turning customers away). There’s never been a better time to discover new offerings, and one of the most exciting is SERVED GLOBAL DINING.

You might recall my visit to SERVED‘s original location, an intimate affair overseen by prolific Chef Matthew Meyer. Nestled in a small shopping center in the heart of Henderson, SERVED‘s kitchen doubled as a catering service, allowing the handsome chef to stretch his culinary wings while building an extremely loyal dine-in following.

Last month, Chef Meyer was able to expand to a nearby location at 1450 W. Horizon Parkway. The spacious (and carefully-spaced) spot has allowed SERVED to go “epic” with full bar service and a central Chef’s Table designed to feature guest presentations. There’s also a raw bar, gorgeously-appointed main dining room, private event facilities and even a space for live entertainment. Click here for their entertainment schedule.

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At Served Global Dining, we are creating an experience that pushes the boundaries and offers you a truly unique global experience in our local neighborhood. We strive to expand your palate with the freshest ingredients and flavors, while surprising each guest with outstanding service. 

Our mission is to give our customers a place to celebrate life’s special moments by offering unique global dishes in a relaxed atmosphere where thinking outside the box…and impeccable customer service…is as natural as breathing air. Never settle and always strive to surpass expectations. – SERVED GLOBAL DINING

Atmosphere and service are always important when it comes to fine dining, and the attentive staff here will make you feel like part of the family. But food is the primary element, that’s where SERVED Global Dining excels. A broad (and growing) menu features classic entrees with Meyer’s signature twists, and a number of daring selections to intrigue the adventurous in your party.

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Chef Meyer is known for his bold blending of colors, textures, and temperatures in unexpected ways. The result is a bevy of dishes that’ll capture your imagination as much as your palate. Even more conventional fare like Benedicts, burgers and salads receive a distinctive makeover that will have you craving more.

You must be willing to make mistakes and never settle for the status quo. Once you release all preconceived notions, only then can you start to truly go beyond what the imagination can realize. There are so many more combinations and ideas yet to be discovered, that’s what drives me every day. – Chef Matt Meyer

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Imagine a Caesar Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano ($9.50) in which the romaine has been grilled to a smoky flavor.  Or Short Rib Grilled Cheese with fermented mushrooms ($12.50). Perhaps a hand-made Miso Carbonara Pasta with Iberico pork belly ($27)? They’re all there, made to order and Instagram-ready to cause envy in your friends.

On my recent dinner visit, Chef Meyer suggested Beef Wellingon ($63), a six ounce British Baldy filet nestled inside a puffy crust. It’s served atop potato mash with a port wine reduction and accompanied by seared asparagus. “I’m pretty proud of it” Meyer told me.

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The taste was exquisite, and the portion was large enough for two, especially when adding a generous side like Sautéed Mushrooms, Truffle Herb Steak Fries or Creamed Spinach (all $9). Other entrées on the latest dinner menu included Seafood Pasta in white wine lobster reduction ($35), Short Rib Stroganoff with wild mushrooms ($33), and a Vegan Curry with celery root and black rice ($20).

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Meat lovers can dive into a 16 0z NY Strip with smashed potatoes and blistered tomato herb salad ($44), a very popular Pasture-raised Mushroom Chicken Breast with glazed carrots ($25), or Peruvian-style Lomo Saltado, a marinated sirloin filet with rice, plantains, steak fries and two sunny-side eggs ($25).

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If seafood is your craving, try Apple Sage Scallops (($35) or Wild Salmon with scratch-made Panang Curry (($32). There’s Lobster Borscht ($22), Matt’s California Roll ($13), Oysters (3 varieties/6 total, Market Price) and more selections from the Raw Bar.

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Breakfast and brunch have always been big draws at SERVED, and their new location has expanded hours to satisfy diners at every meal. Traditional Eggs Benedict has made way for some wild variations like Barbacoa Beef or Turkey ($16), Softshell Crab ($21), Manuka Honey Ham ($16) and King Crab ($28). Each comes with its own unique accompaniments and sauces.

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If Bennies aren’t on your short list, there are plenty of other egg dishes: Hawaiian-inspired Green Eggs and SPAM with garlic fried rice ($13), Corned-beef Hash Tacos topped with quail egg ($12), Crispy Chicken and Waffles with orange compound butter and real maple syrup ($18), and a Filipino Breakfast plate with your choice of three proteins, plain or garlic fried rice and three eggs ($14).

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Lunch choices are just as unique, with fresh, distinctive takes on burgers. But you won’t want to pass up a Rueben with house-made corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut ($15), Prime Rib Dip ($15) and a Triple-Decker Turkey Club ($14). Dive into a shrimp or soft-shell crab Tempura Po-boy with yum-yum sauce ($16), savor the Pastrami-Style Pork Belly sandwich with house coleslaw ($16), or choose from Banh-Mi‘s featuring Portobello Mushrooms ($16) or Roasted Iberico Pork Belly ($20).

As you might expect in today’s reality of limited supplies and market-available ingredients, daily menus are subject to change. Each meal can earn you points towards discounts via SERVED GLOBAL DINING REWARDS. Click here to enroll for free.

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Manager Leena Ter-Oganova, Chef Meyer and the fine team at SERVED GLOBAL DINING are setting a new bar for off-Strip, relaxed fine cuisine. Whatever time of day you stop by, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.

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SERVED GLOBAL DINING is located at 1450 W. Horizon Parkway in Henderson. Hours are Sun-Thurs 8am-9pm, Fri-Sat 8am-10pm. Click here to make reservations or call 702.272.0839.

Photos: Sam Novak, SERVED GLOBAL DINING

‘Unicus Manufactus’ – Muscle Up to the City’s Healthiest Food Truck


…or “What happens when two Las Vegas heroes launch a business during a pandemic”…

Once again, the challenges of 2020 have resulted in new, innovative and positive changes for our community. From daring music performances to the resurrection of old-school supper clubs and modern upgrades to the hospitality industry, Las Vegas has hit the “reset” button and is experiencing a fast-paced rebirth.

While some changes happened overnight, a pair of hometown heroes has been carefully curating a new approach to food trucks, those roadside food emporiums that soared in popularity during the “NO INDOOR DINING ALLOWED” madness of last year. But instead of the usual taco platters and BBQ’d ribs, this mobile kitchen promises an American-fusion menu with healthy flair.

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UNICUS MANUFACTUS aka U.M Trailer Bistro, is a curious name for an enterprise by first responders Daniel Sauls and Gunnar Walcavich. These two heroic friends protect the city’s citizens when the sun goes down and the bad guys come out. In the light of day, they’re whipping up creative new dishes to tickle the taste buds and build healthier bodies. That’s when they’re not hitting the gym to keep their own physiques in superhero condition.

The boys came up with the UNICUS MANUFACTUS moniker to acknowledge their mission statement, one that promises healthy, delicious dishes at the lowest possible price…all while never compromising quality. The Latin word Unicus means sole/unique/uncommon:

We didn’t pick the name “Unicus” because it sounded good. We picked it because Unicus is what we are. Our trailer looks different. Our food tastes different. Even our prices are different. We can guarantee there is nobody like us in the industry, that’s simply because we try harder. 

 You can tell that our nature is humanitarian, from the attention we give each customer to the prices across our menu. We ran through finance scenarios over and over to find the lowest numbers we could use on our menu BEFORE the pandemic. We want it to be apparent that we care.

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We are constantly thinking of ways, current and future, that we might be able to better Vegas with our existence. Our entire menu consists of items at $5 or less. We are (to my knowledge) the first mobile food business that provides not only caloric dietary information but MACROS as well!

We want to make ourselves available to those that need us most, as our mission is first and foremost to serve. We will diligently search for areas that service medical workers, first responders, and essential personnel during these trying times, in hopes to bring the most delicious food with a price that makes the most sense.

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The truth of that was most apparent recently when kitchen wizard Daniel had to undergo emergency surgery to save his life. Mere days later, he and Gunnar were back at that same hospital with UM Trailer Bistro to thank the hospital workers with their creations. They comped meals for anyone who wore scrubs:

We held a surprise service for the hospital that saved my life a little over a week ago. We always have so many hurdles to jump to try and accomplish things because of how new and small we are. We are a couple of persistent guys though, and yesterday was proof NOTHING CAN STOP US.

Persistence is a quality that Gunnar Walcavich exemplifies in spades. Vegas Unfiltered Blog readers first met this towering Russian boxer in my piece on ‘Quarantine Fitness‘, where I described his achievements and skills at getting people motivated.

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The formerly-overweight (and always-mugging) Gunnar recently earned a certification in Food Handling/Safety to accompany his personal training and nutritionist certifications. And his jacked physique makes the perfect canvas for Unicus Fitness Apparel that’s now available in the “Merch Market” section of their website.

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The menu at UM Trailer Bistro is a taste-tempting collection of recipes that Daniel has gathered from family members in Hawaii, along with others that he’s perfected through multiple trials. Pan-Asian influences are reflected in dishes like Agedashi Tofu, Ramen, Udon and Chashu bowl, and a Hawaiian Toast Breakfast plate.

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Daniel is especially proud of his freshly-made Shrimp and Grits and Fresh Pour-over Hot Chicory, a nutty, cajun-influenced alternative to traditional coffee beverages. And every item is served with style and a smile, accompanied by fun music from their vintage-style Victrola sound system.

We care about your enjoyment down to each bite and sip, and you can taste it every time. When you pay, you want to know that you got real ingredients, made WHEN you asked not before, and made with the care that we all desire our own food and drink to be handled with; and that’s our guarantee.

We promise that EVERY time you come by you will receive our best attempt at perfect service. Your food hits your hand hot, and your drink is either perfectly cold or has steam coming from it. You see us make each part of your drink, and even shake/stir it to make sure even your first sip is perfectly mixed and chilled. We actually care, and we care THAT much; and if you don’t believe us, come call our delicious bluff. 

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Along with the regular (and growing) menu, there is always a featured daily special to tempt you away from established favorites. And Unicus Manufactus has launched a 3-level loyalty program that can reward you with discounts and giveaways, one free item per month, up to a free item with every visit (purchase required).

The boys just announced a partnership with Tempo Ultra Lounge at 1000 East Sahara Avenue, where they’ll be every Friday and Saturday night beginning April 2nd. To learn where else to visit the UM Bistro Trailer, follow them on Facebook, check out the YouTube Channel, or subscribe at the official website.

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“Unique Handmade Culinary Creations & Libations for just $5. Need I say more???” – Unicus Manufactus

Photos: Sam Novak, Daniel Sauls, Gunnar Walcavich

The Nevada Room

‘The Vegas Room’ Supper Club inspires an ambitious spinoff… (excerpt from CHIC Compass magazine)


Last year, a small but dedicated group of entrepreneurs and artists came together to create The Vegas Room Supper Club. Their goal was to give back to the city they love. As fate would have it, launching their retro-cool “listening room” happened to coincide with a worldwide pandemic, yet they pressed on. It’s fair to say that business endeavors don’t get more daring than that.

“Don’t you mean ‘crazy’?” laughs Thomas Michel, the establishment’s de facto spokesman. Whether you credit madness or inspiration, the timing was right for a much-needed retreat from COVID-19 isolation. Bolstered by its intimate setting and extensive protective measures, The Vegas Room was an instant success. It also became a beacon for entertainers eager to step back into the spotlight.

Inspired by the supper club’s loyal following, General Manager Sean Stephenson and the rest of The Vegas Room team are preparing to deliver two dazzling spin-offs under one roof.

Click HERE to continue reading via CHIC Compass magazine.

Small Spaces, Towering Talent

Intimate Venues are the Hottest Ticket to Sin City’s Rebirth…


The times, they are a changing’. Gone for now are the concert tours, superstar residencies and spectacular mega-productions. As Sin City eases into a new comfort zone, the smart money is on smaller spaces, where performers and audiences can connect on an intimate level. In other words, a pure entertainment experience.

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Lounge acts and supper clubs harken a return to the days that put Las Vegas on the map…a time when true talent was the star. Their resurgence is evidence that tourists and locals alike are yearning for live music, despite concerns of gathering in public spaces. Perhaps that’s why The Vegas Room, less than a year old, is already prepping a more elaborate sister club just down the block. Look for The Nevada Room to debut in April.

NOTORIETY Live on Fremont Street is another small performance space experiencing a wave of popularity. Located in a former movie theater at Fremont Street’s NEONOPOLIS complex, NOTORIETY has attracted a number of notable names from a wide variety of Strip productions.

“Tenors of Rock” performed a special July 4th show at NOTORIETY

Spearheaded by Ken Henderson of Best Agency, the colorful NOTORIETY nightspot has been safely hosting magic shows, burlesque revues from Lucie May, rock concerts and comedy acts for months while others have remained shuttered. With its full bar service and available dining options, the 21-and-over clientele have been returning week after week for top-notch excitement (there’s a big-name residency slated to begin there soon, but I’m sworn to secrecy for now).

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While contracted productions are on hiatus, individual performers have been able to create scaled-down solo shows. Bucky Heard of The Righteous Brothers (see my Las Vegas Magazine article here) is launching “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, a concert series. Bucky tells me that it’s an intimate duo presentation with accomplished guitarist John Wedemeyer, who’s worked with legendary acts such as Donny and Marie, Bonnie Raitt, Wayne Newton and Clint Holmes.

Bucky and John’s “The Heart of Rock and Roll” premieres February 17th at Italian American Club on East Sahara Avenue. An amazing dinner is included, which starts at 6:30pm. Showtime is 8pm sharp. Tickets are available by clicking here

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If you’ve never visited Italian American Club, you owe it to yourself to discover it. Thanks to a dear friend, I’ve experienced the joys of this old-school gem and their rotating roster of talent, both established and rising. Stunning hunks like Jonathan Karrant and Chadwick Johnson performed incredible pre-Christmas shows, and they’ll be back on the IAC stage very soon.  Other favorites include Craig Canter, Chase Brown, and Frankie Scinta

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Travis Cloer, best known for his l0ng-running role in the Jersey Boys musical, has been super-busy during the pandemic. He’s had gigs at The Vegas Room and Italian American Club, among others. This weekend he’s at Chianti Restaurant with Christopher Lash for a special Valentine-themed performance. Showtime is 6 pm on February 13th, and tickets can be purchased here

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Crooners, Inc. at THE MINT Lounge…

Also this weekend is the debut of Crooners, Inc. at The Mint Lounge on East Sahara Avenue. Described as “an hour and a half of pure, classic Vegas entertainment on Valentine’s Day with music, mayhem and memories”, the production features a full band and a cast that includes Miss Mala, Tony Felicetta, Jonny Bird, JC Lopez and Dean Perry. Showtimes are 7pm and 9pm, with tickets available here

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Tuscany Resort on East Flamingo Avenue has been another go-to for superb lounge acts. Kenny Davidsen’s Bowtie Cabaret is a weekly Friday event with rotating hosts and guests. Stars like Ruby Lewis, Ian Ward, Anne Martinez, Kelly Vohnn, and Cassie Stone have recently joined Davidsen on stage. Performers Rita Lim, Ashley Fuller and Michael Grimm all have ongoing residencies there as well. 

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Harrah’s outdoor lounge Carnival Court has been playing host to a number of familiar faces, albeit under aliases. The father/son duo of Vinny Adinolfi and son Vin A. (The Bronx Wanderers) hit the C.C. stage on the weekends, operating as…well, it seems to depend on the week. Let’s stick with “VINdemic” for now. The guys also hit Italian American Club with the full band in January, and will be back there on February 18th.

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Another effect of the pandemic has been the formation of “super groups”. What you get is a superlative combination of artists from various other productions working together under a new moniker. ORIGINAL CHAOS boasts TENORS OF ROCK members Dai Richards, Chris Cicchino and Tim Sorbs (The Black Donnellys), along with vocalist Colin Cahill (Atomic Saloon Show). Together they’ve been doing gigs at Carnival Court, along with the two Vin’s

NOTORIETY Live hit the ground running in November with Vin and Jimmy’s DOWNTOWN HOOTENANY. An irreverent collection of music, comedy, and hysterical video segments, the show featured Jimmy Denning of TENORS OF ROCK, Vin A. (him again), Tim Sorbs on drums, and guest stars Bucky Heard and Colin Cahill (do you see a trend here?). Expect another edition of DOWNTOWN HOOTENANY in the coming months.

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Broadway stage and screen star Ruby Lewis, a recurring guest at The Vegas Room, will have her own showcase at NOTORIETY on February 25th. The one-night performance will celebrate both her birthday and the release of her first original song “Shock Value“. Tickets are $40 and can be reserved here

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Speaking of The Vegas Room, the classy supper club has a great line-up of acts in the coming weeks. Entertainment director Jassen Allen has booked The Doo-Wop Kings, Christopher Lash, Savannah Smith, Elisa Fiorillo (with Barry Manilow’s musical director Joey Melotti), Skye Dee Miles and many more. Click here for performance schedules and to make reservations. 

 

Worth The Wait: EDGE Steakhouse Returns to Westgate Las Vegas

The city’s top-rated steak restaurant is ready to sizzle once more…

If you’re a regular reader of this column, then chances are that you’ve visited Las Vegas more than once. Perhaps you have a favorite hotel and some must-do activities that accompany your list of new adventures. When you get to the point where staff members remember your name and preferences, then Sin City begins to feel a little bit like home.

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EDGE Steakhouse of Westgate Las Vegas understands how rare it is these days to feel like a valued guest. They treasure each and every visitor, going beyond expectations to earn your business…both today and in the future. That’s why dozens of devoted patrons turned out for the reopening of the city’s top-rated steakhouse on October 22nd. Thanks to COVID-19, that hiatus was an astounding seven months. 

You might recall my series on the culinary greats of Westgate. Or perhaps you read my salute to the iconic property’s 50th Anniversary, which appeared in Las Vegas Magazine. It’s clear that I have a deep affection for the resort and the hundreds of dedicated individuals who keep it operating like a fine, beloved timepiece. 

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“I’m not going to lie, Sammy” said Head Bartender Mike Thompson. “I’ve got goosebumps after all these months of being away. As professionals, we’ve got to nail it”. And nail it, he did. The handsome and charismatic mixologist, whom I profiled here, was in perfect form last Friday evening when I arrived for a pre-dinner cocktail. 

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As expected, loyal patrons had already lined up for 5pm dinner reservations before I arrived. Hostess Cheryl P. was welcoming guests with her usual warmth, and the familiar smells of seafood and dry-aged beef made it seem as though the doors had never closed.  

Seated at the bar for a solo meal, I had the pleasure of watching Mikey at work. Equally skilled at the fine arts of mixology and conversation (and one of the current faces of EDGE…see video above) Mikey was clearly pleased at the opportunity to greet his regulars. They came from as far away as New York City…and as close as Turnberry Towers…to share an hour or two on opening weekend with the famed bartender and self-professed “Court Jester”. 

Of course, any fine-dining establishment is only as good as its team in the kitchen. That’s where EDGE has the….er…edge, as Executive Chef Steve Young (read my profile here) is a true master of his craft. It’s easy to crow about the accomplishments of this youthful culinary genius, given his ability to elevate both EDGE and adjacent Fresco Italiano to the top of their respective TripAdvisor rankings. Perhaps that’s why the great-looking chef is frequently welcomed to local news programs to discuss his latest creations. 

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Since EDGE‘s reopening coincides with the fall season, Chef Young is excited to bring back Sunchoke Agnolotti ($16). This seasonal offering combines the root of sunflower plants, King trumpet mushrooms, black truffles and parmesan with a ravioli-style pasta. The dish was featured at New York’s James Beard House in 2017, and returns to EDGE every year at this time.

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Despite this being a steakhouse, my palate was yearning for seafood. So, I started with an appetizer of Spicy Shrimp (above, $17), along with one of their famed, buttery popovers. Lightly fried and drizzled with a delicious spicy-sweet chile reduction, Spicy Shrimp is a favorite that seemed to be at nearly every table.

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For my entrée, I went with Sea Scallops ($38), a beautifully delicious choice served with butternut squash puree, pine nuts, pomegranate and brussels sprouts. I paired it with a massive salt-baked Loaded Potato ($12) smothered in a smoky Nueske bacon, white cheddar, sour cream and chives.

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You might find it tough to pass on an EDGE dessert, but my hearty dinner portion left me more than satisfied. So, I ordered another of Mikey’s riff on a vodka sour and settled in for some light conversation. That’s easy to do in the elegant yet comfortable atmosphere that EDGE Steakhouse is famous for.

thumbnail_116758It’s not my forte to elaborate on the wealth of tastes at EDGE, as I’m not a food critic. But I can tell you that whatever you desire from a steakhouse, you’ll find it here with the best possible preparation, presentation and atmosphere. You can peruse the EDGE Steakhouse menu by clicking this link. The array of choices is sure to stimulate your senses and make your mouth water.

There are hundreds of restaurants throughout Las Vegas, and each resort would have you believing that theirs are the best. But only one steakhouse can hold the top spot in the city, and Westgate has the EDGE.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

EDGE Steakhouse is located at 3000 Paradise Road inside Westgate Las Vegas. Their current hours are Thursday through Saturday from 5pm through 10pm. The restaurant is operating under advance safety and sanitation protocols.  Enjoy a limited-time offer of one cocktail with each dinner entrée. Click here to make reservations through OpenTable

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas. Videos provided by Westgate Las Vegas

‘Fresco Italiano’ Races To The Top


Westgate’s superlative Italian restaurant takes highest ranking on TripAdvisor…

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The journey to success is never easy, especially in an era where anyone can be an online critic. It just takes a few troublesome reviews to jeopardize years of hard work. So there’s something to be said for a dining establishment that continues to rank higher and higher on a respected travel website…until it finally takes the top spot. That’s what Fresco Italiano has achieved…number 1 out of 290 Las Vegas Italian restaurants, according to TripAdvisor.

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I first reviewed this “journey for your senses” in the summer of 2017. Won over by its flavorful dishes, home-style atmosphere, exemplary service, and Tuscan-style decor, I found myself returning again and again. I’ve also done so many articles on the Westgate staff and operations that they’ve made me feel like one of the family.

So naturally, I’m biased when it comes to revisiting my favorite Italian destination. But don’t be deterred, because the slogan for Vegas Unfiltered is “Probably Biased -Definitely Honest”. Still, you don’t have to be a world-famous blogger (LOL) to feel right at home. Everyone is family at Fresco.

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In the years since my first visit, there have been frequent additions to the menu, ensuring that each visit to Fresco Italiano is a unique experience. Things really took off when Chef Steve Young of Edge Steakhouse took on dual responsibilities as their Executive Chef, which including revamping their offerings.

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The talented culinary expert, whom I profiled here, managed to keep Edge Steakhouse at the highest TripAdvisor ranking while elevating its sister establishment to the same level. Fresco Italiano was also awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. Combine those accolades with the talents of General Manager Dora Pane and an expert wait staff (including the stellar Michael Nealy Baker), and you’ve got an unforgettable evening in store.

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Now that Westgate Las Vegas has both the top steakhouse and top Italian restaurant in the city, you owe it to yourself to check them out. EDGE Steakhouse is awaiting a date to reopen since the pandemic has greatly decreased traffic, but Fresco Italiano is serving up brand new creations directly from Chef Young’s kitchen.

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Chef Steve Young

Here are a few dishes, some new and some familiar, that my companions and I enjoyed from the current menu:

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Bruschetta ($12.00) – heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, vincotto, charred bread
Caprese ($14.00) – burrata, heirloom tomatoes, basil oil, extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Salad ($13.00) – romaine, iceberg, arugula, radicchio, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, salami, crispy prosciutto, Italian dressing, parmesan (half-portion pictured above)
Tuscan White Bean & Kale Zuppa ($9.00) – white cannellini beans, Tuscan kale, Italian sausage
White Sangria and house-baked bread

 

 

Meatballs ($14.00) – slow-braised pork, beef, veal meatballs, stracciatella, grana padano, tomato sauce
Mozzarella Fritta ($12.00) – breaded whole milk mozzarella, tomato sauce

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Guazzetto di Cozze ($14.00) – salt springs mussels, artisan nduja, fennel, calabrian chiles, garlic butter
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Frutti di Mare ($29.00) – strozzapreti pasta, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, spicy tomato sauce
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Salsicce Italiane & Rapini ($20.00) – fennel sausage, orecchiette pasta, roasted peppers, ricotta salata

 

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

Costata di Manzo ($45.00) – 18oz grilled bone-in rib eye, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, garlic butter, wild mushrooms

Salmone in Padella ($30.00) – artichoke hearts, fregola sarda, capers, basil, lemon butter

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Scaloppine di Vitello ($31.00) – sauteed veal loin, piccata style, capers, lemon, parsley, spaghetti

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

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Tiramisu ($8.00) – mascarpone crema, marsala wine & espresso

Bomboloni ($8.00) – lemon & ricotta doughnuts, raspberry, crème anglaise, and Nutella dipping sauces
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As you can see, Italian meals are much more than past and pizza, although they’re represented here as well. There’s also an extensive wine list and additional meat and seafood entrees. A 3-course Chef Selection makes it simple, offering soup or salad, choic of main course and dessert for $40. Add a wine pairing for $7 more.
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I think you’ll agree that once you visit Fresco Italiano, you’ll look forward to returning frequently…and bringing new guests along each time. Superior to anything you’ll find on the Strip…at prices that belie its quality…Fresco Italiano serves Italian cuisine better than anyplace else in Las Vegas.
Fresco Italiano is located along Restaurant Row at Westgate Las Vegas, 3000 Paradise Road. Open daily from 5pm to 10pm. Call 702.732.5276 for information, click here to reserve through OpenTable.

Actor/Musician Ian Ward is Ready to Rock ‘The Vegas Room’


Youthful heartthrob from “Rock of Ages” and “BAZ” possesses the soul of a legend…

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There are many who consider Palazzo‘s BAZ to be one of the greatest productions that Las Vegas has ever seen. A gentre-defying blend of modern music and the works of literary greats as seen through the eyes of film director Baz Luhrmann, BAZ provided a forum for some of the best entertainers in the business.

When Ian Ward stepped into the role of “Romeo”, the youthful performer had big shoes to fill. James Byous, LJ Benet and Myles Nuzzi had all been stunning as the ill-fated lover, yet Ian (full name Ian Ward Brininstool) managed to make his own indelible impression. His powerful, heartfelt performance of Elton John’s “Your Song” elicited cheers from the audience…and the tragic “Love Is Blindness” (below) could cause you to erupt into sobs.

Ian made his stage debut at the age of nine, landing the lead in a large scale production of Oliver. Since then he’s taken on television with a role in Veronica Mars and the New York stage in musicals like Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Leaving Eden and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

The native of La Jolla has performed on cruise ships around the world and lived in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Miami, and of course, the Big Apple. Currently completing his studies at Berklee College of Music with an album on the way, he’s released a collection of self-penned singles that reflect a variety of cultural experiences.

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Ian was performing in the hit Los Angeles production of Rock Of Ages (with fellow BAZ alumnus Sean Lessard) when the pandemic forced it to close. Since then he’s been focused on his studies and writing new music. Like BAZ, Ian refuses to be categorized, yet influences from The Beatles, Elton John and classic rock anthems come through.

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Like most entertainers, the sandy-haired Californian has been yearning for a return to live performance. He’ll be center-stage this Friday and Saturday with an intimate showcase at The Vegas Room. I caught up with Ian over the weekend, and this is what he had to say:

When did you first visit Las Vegas, and when was the first time you performed here?

Growing up in San Diego, Las Vegas has always been a vacation destination for me and my family. I clearly remember spending my 13th birthday here and doing the indoor skydiving experience with my best friend. I think somewhere deep in my subconscious, I always knew that I would be spending more time in this special city. My dream came true when I was cast as Romeo in BAZ back in 2017. This was my first time experiencing performing here and getting to know the entertainment community in Las Vegas.

Roles in BAZ, Footloose, and Rock of Ages have allowed you to stretch your acting, dancing and singing muscles all at the same time. Do you approach a song “differently” when you’re performing in-character versus as yourself? Which do you prefer?

When I am performing a song in a musical, I bring the past experiences and memories of that character into the words that he is speaking and singing. As an actor through song, you must be able to convey to the audience where this character is in their particular journey within the overall story of the play.  

When I perform an original song or a cover song in a cabaret setting, sometimes I am more focused on feeling the energy and vibe of the material and connecting with the audience. I want to communicate directly and bring them along on the ride. It’s much more collaborative with the people there enjoying the music.

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Photos: Ryan Salinas for The Vegas Room

You tend to gravitate towards explosive productions, yet your solo work is of a more romantic nature. What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

I love doing large scale productions because of the quality of lights, sound, special effects and the entire creative team that comes together to create something spectacular. However, in my solo work, I tend to gravitate towards love stories or stripped down acoustic sounds. I think this comes from my father’s influence in classic rock and my love for classic songwriters such as Neil Young, James Taylor, Sting, and The Beatles. I would love to blend high quality production with my own songs eventually.

Your cover of “Across The Universe” with Ruby Lewis is gorgeous and pure in its simplicity. How did that collaboration come about, and do you see the two of you working together again?

Ruby and I love to collaborate on songs that we share a passion for. One afternoon at my parents house, we were listening to some oldies and “Across the Universe” started playing. Ruby’s voice is so pure and strong that when we blend harmonies, it always sounds special and unique.  

We decided that it would be a nice take on a classic to do our own rendition, and I think the setting of my deck made the ambience all that more magical. She and I will definitely be doing more writing and recording together in the future. She is featured as the background singer on my song “Tru Luv” and sometimes I help arrange or cowrite on her songs. We hope to be onstage together soon!

Your IMDB and social media bios don’t list your birth year. Is there a reason behind that?

Haha! No reason for that actually. Maybe it’s just an industry thing…I think my agents might have taken it down online. I was born on Valentines Day, 1996.

You’ve shone onstage, on the screen and in the recording studio. What’s next to conquer?

I want to continue to grow my catalog in the recording industry and make songs that will make a difference to society and uplift people. A large goal of mine is to get significant progress made with my entertainment company ‘Outward Original’. This company was formed to establish artistic media that can create understanding and harmony. And, I want to collaborate with other artists to make art across all mediums. 

Many artists have reported a surge of creativity during the pandemic. Has this happened to you as well? What did COVID-19 deliver to your legacy?

This year has been very tough on everyone. Covid-19 was responsible for the closing of one of my favorite productions I have been a part of…’Rock of Ages Hollywood’…just after we had opened. It also took the life of my great friend, Nick Cordero, whom I shared the stage with in ‘Rock of Ages’.  

I went though a couple months of reflection and a form of depression where it didn’t feel authentic to be creating or trying to push my voice out into the world. However, now I am feeling invigorated and have been blessed with an influx of new opportunities, so I’m ready to get back out there and create!

Your website is “Ian Ward Out Ward Dot Com”. What is the message or meaning of that?

Ward is actually my middle name. My last name is Brininstool, of German descent. ‘Outward Original’ is the name of my entertainment company. And, being a spiritual person, I believe in the process of taking inspiration and then letting that flow freely outward into the world. So this play on words seemed both fitting and appropriate for my company and my beliefs.

Is there one well-known role that you’d love to take on? Who’s your dream onstage partner?

A dream role of mine would be to play Roger in RENT! Or be a part of a brand new, revolutionary musical where I get to build a role from the ground up. I had an experience like this when I was the first “Ren” in ‘Footloose’ for Norwegian Cruise Lines, because I got to make a lot of creative and artistic choices that became a part of the track for other actors to come! I am excited to see which great performers I get to share the stage with in the future!

The Vegas Room has quickly become the go-to venue/hangout for BAZ alumni (Randal Keith, Lisa Marie Smith, Anne Martinez, Eric Jordan Young) as well as other highly seasoned performers. Your inclusion in their entertainment line-up is testimony to your talent. What can guests expect from your showcase?

I feel so honored to have been asked to perform at The Vegas Room! My peers that worked on BAZ with me are so talented and are such gems in this city. I look forward to joining them in the roster at this great venue! The audience can expect a night of an eclectic smattering of classic songs, some originals I have been writing recently, and stories from my career that I hope will excite and interest people. I can’t wait to connect and entertain to bring some light to their night!


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Ian Ward takes to the stage of The Vegas Room on August 7th and 8th at 8pm. Options include a 6:30pm dinner/show or 7:30pm light bites/show. Click here or call  (725) 206-7059 for more information and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 E Sahara Avenue Suite E18 (Bright RED Doors), Las Vegas, NV 89104 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas: Men of ‘The Garden’


Superlative new nightspot/restaurant has a painfully attractive cast of hunks….and one particularly hot lady…

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It’s tough enough to launch a new business under any circumstances. But what about during the tail end of a quarantine? As Vegas entrepreneur Eduardo Cordova recently learned, if you do so with careful planning and COVID-19 safety protocols, you’ll be off to a great start. The Garden Las Vegas did exactly that, providing the perfect tonic to a fun-starved community while offering a luscious assortment of mouth-watering eye candy.

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The Garden LV has only been open for two months but is already recognized as a runaway success. Located in the heart of downtown’s Arts District, the restaurant/bar has quickly become Sin City’s hip hotspot. The indoor-outdoor venue is located next to ARTIFICE BAR in the trendy Art Square, also home to monthly First Friday festivals.

Cordova had this to say about his latest venture: “The Garden is a fresh, new concept. It is an intimate and chic LGBTQ lounge bar (that) dives into an untapped market in the Las Vegas community, championing craft cocktails, light bites, and an indulgent ambiance.

While others have written about The Garden‘s lush decor, delicious food, stunning cocktails, and superlative entertainment, this column is called “Hot Guys of Vegas” for a reason. So let’s get straight to the beef and take a close inspection of a few of the hunks that make The Garden Las Vegas such a sumptuous experience.

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Shyllon Melatti I first introduced you to Shyllon Melatti when the model and budding actor had taken over the role of “Stefan” in SEX TIPS at Paris Hotel. Since then, the handsome Vegas native was offered a hosting gig at Chippendales…just as the pandemic shutdown went into effect.

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Undeterred, Melatti joined the cast by way of Chippendales@Home, a virtual service in which the legendary entertainers present you and your friends with a private party. Shyllon’s been bumping and grinding along just nicely ever since. He also hosted a series of live fitness sessions and was featured in a guest spot for Las Vegas Magazine:

When The Garden had their initial casting call, Shyllon naturally stood out. Now he’s a favorite of guests both new and returning, skilled at presenting signature cocktails with a wholesome smile that his face mask does little to hide. Ask him nicely, and the charming cat-dad might flash his abs for you.

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            Shyllon Mellati serves up smiles for celebrity medium Thomas John (right)…

Alejandro Chirino – Every cast has that one member who’s mysterious and shares very little about themself. Alejando Chirino is apparently that kind of guy. Strong and silent, the native of Matanzas, Cuba is able to say a lot by speaking next to nothing. The muscular hunk moves quietly through the lounge area of The Garden, instantly commanding attention by not trying to.

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Clearly an enthusiast of fitness, the model-server has been devoted lately to the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for justice in a time when our culture is in chaos. Alejadro’s also a supporter of LGBTQ causes, dedicating his birthday towards the plight of gay and transgender people, especially in the Las Vegas community.

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Ger Haro –  The fabulous Ger Haro is another returning favorite to the “Hot Guys of Vegas” column. The model and master mixologist is famed throughout the city for his rocking body, stunning tattoos, ever-dazzling hairstyles, outgoing persona and a shockingly-deep voice.

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Known as “Gerry” to his friends, Mr. Haro is a favorite subject of photographer Noel Dahl. The two collaborated on a 2020 fundraising calendar to benefit Amor Peludo, a Spanish-language non-profit that assists pet care and housing in the Las Vegas Latino community.

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This month, Gerry stepped out from behind the bar to try his hand at hosting The Garden‘s Thursday Bingo Night. But don’t be concerned…you’ll still be able to indulge in the handsome stud’s hand-crafted cocktails every Thursday through Sunday. And wait until you see what he can do with a cucumber.

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Brandon Grimm – There’s a silent one in every group, and there’s also the guy or gal who sparkles. And “Sparkles” just happens to be the nickname of Brandon Grimm. If you’ve ever hung out in West Hollywood, you might have encountered the bedazzled boy at world-famous The Abbey Food & Bar, where Brandon was once a dancer and manager. He’s also performed alongside Willie Gomez as a backup dancer for Britney Spears.

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Back in Las Vegas, the fair-skinned musclehunk has become airborn in Atomic Saloon Show, alternating center stage with fellow performer Davide Zongoli (another “Hot Guys of Vegas” alumnus). A skilled aerialist and pole artist, Brandon entertains audiences with his light-hearted wit and physical prowess. Both of those qualities come in handy when taking care of the loyal patrons that now return to The Garden every weekend.

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Eduardo Cordova and Chandler Kramer Barbra Steisand once sang a cynical ode to nightlife romance:

Love comes from the most unexpected places
In bars that thrive on loneliness
Where people sell their sorrow for your time

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Fortunately for the adorable duo of Chandler Kramer and Eduardo Cordova, the opposite became true. Working side by side in a new business could easily fray nerves, yet this couple’s relationship has grown stronger. The two took their next step this past Independence Day weekend when Mr. Cordova proposed to Mr Kramer (an ICU Nurse at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center) inside The Garden, to the delight of their patrons…and friends throughout the city.

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Lilian Aguilar – When I first decided to do this article, I approached bartender Lilian Aguilar while she was on duty. My apologetic words were something along the lines of “I’m about to do a feature on The Garden‘s staff. Unfortunately, I can’t include you, as it’s going to be all about the boys”. Miss Aguilar was quite understanding and thanked me anyway.

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Since then, I’ve observed this young lady in action and have realized that Lilian truly deserves her own special mention. After more than three years of Vegas Unfiltered and literally dozens of related articles, Lilian Aguilar is now the First Lady of “Hot Guys of Vegas“. She’s dynamic, glamorous, and a truly integral part of the team.

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Lilian may be “one of the boys”, but she’s all woman…and an ambitious one at that. A longtime vegan, she’s a certified fitness trainer, certified plant-based nutritionist, a title-holder for Mrs. USA Globe, and of course, a model. She, along with The Garden‘s equally dynamic operating partner Edith Castillo (below) bring a powerful female presence to Sin City’s latest success.

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The Garden is located at 1017 S. 1st St – Suite 180, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702-202-0900)

Hours are Thursday & Sunday 6pm-1am, Friday & Saturday 6pm-2am. Reservations are recommended for dining. Click here for menus, reservations and additional information.

Photos: Higor Almeida Photography, The Garden LV, Brandon Grimm, Lilian Aguilar, Ger Haro, Alejandro Chirino, Eduardo Cordova, Chandler Kramer, Sam Novak

 

 

THE VEGAS ROOM – Sin City’s Best Kept Secret Is A Secret No Longer


Intimate supper club is a meticulously crafted experience from arrival through the final applause…

“I miss the days of old Vegas.” How often do you hear those words? Colored by a fondness for “when the Mob was in charge”, people lament about the golden era of Sin City. It was a time when you were escorted to your “usual table”, the bartender had that favorite cocktail waiting, and an evening out was a splendidly curated event.

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If you’re among those who yearn for the return of vintage-Vegas glamour, your prayers have been answered. Step through the red doors of The Vegas Room and enter a world where dinner and music are served on a plate of elegance. Here you’ll enjoy the most gifted entertainers of Sin City, showcasing their talents in an intimate presentation that you won’t see anywhere else.

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The Vegas Room is a passion project of sorts…a crowning achievement representing the careers of three gifted gentlemen. President Thomas Richard Michel orchestrates the business side, pulling from years in the entertainment and marketing industries. It falls upon him to ensure that every visit is uniquely memorable:

“There are so many talented performers in Las Vegas who don’t always have a place to share their talents. And, even if they do under normal circumstances, they often aren’t able to perform the type of material that they might really want to showcase. This was a key reason that The Vegas Room came to be.”

“Our mission is to envelop our guests in an environment that doesn’t really exist in Las Vegas anymore. It is a place where people can experience incredible local talent coupled with delicious handcrafted food, all in a warm and intimate setting.”

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“The entertainment we showcase changes each and every weekend, and the handcrafted menu – whether for our five-course dinner, our light bites “Sampler” package, or our Sunday Jazz brunch – changes every two weeks” Michel explained. “For this reason, many local people are already returning frequently, as they appreciate our reasonable prices and the fact that there’s always something new and wonderful to experience.”

“Tourists also tell us that they’ll make The Vegas Room a definite “must-do” on their calendars when they’re back in Las Vegas. Whether locals or tourists, there’s no doubt that that type of reaction is extremely gratifying for everyone involved in The Vegas Room, whether a performer or staff member.”

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Although the tourism industry is currently in flux thanks to the pandemic, The Vegas Room‘s location gives it the ability to prosper, even in these uncertain times. Tucked away inside a rather humble and aging East Sahara shopping center, the small venue provides an immediate feeling of welcome familiarity. That’s especially important to locals, whose repeat business makes up the majority of their clientele.

The supper club experience might be new to contemporary generations, but it’s made a remarkable return, thanks in part to high-profile spaces like Rose.Rabbit.Lie (Cosmopolitan) and Bellagio‘s new Mayfair Supper Club. True fans of the supper-club concept know that a skilled chef is as much an integral component as the entertainers who command the microphone and keyboards.

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Executive Chef David James Robinson is the owner of The Vegas Room. He’s known to thousands of fans and followers thanks to television shows, a strong online presence, and his 10-part cooking tutorial “Learn How To Cook (and eat your mistakes)”. It’s clear when he’s visiting tables that Chef David is having as much fun as his guests:

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“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch” (click here to view the latest brunch and dinner menus).

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”

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“Our goal when it comes to the food we serve at The Vegas Room – whether for dinner or brunch – is to make it an equally memorable complement to our world-class entertainment, combining the two to make a truly wonderful evening or afternoon out.”

The entertainment community seems to have adopted The Vegas Room as their new combination hangout/haven. Often unable to perform in their usual venues thanks to the pandemic, they come here to share their craft and support one another. During each of my visits, entertainers from large-scale Strip productions were enjoying the food and cheering on their colleagues.

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As you might imagine, management has taken great care to ensure guest safety. Face masks are required until seated, guests have their temperature scanned (a two-second touchless process), and everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival. The serving and bar staff wear protective facial coverings, and implements are santized and sealed. Tables are arranged to meet social-distancing protocols, aptly serviced by the always-wonderful Sandy Love. A full description of The Vegas Room‘s COVID-19 safety plan is available on their website.

                   Vocalist Randal Keith with Philip Fortenberry at the piano…

Onstage, stars like Anne Martinez (FANTASY, BAZ) Randal Keith (Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, Showstoppers), and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show, Cocktail Cabaret, Rock Of Ages) present spectacular interpretations of classics old and new. As you might imagine from a line-up of that pedigree, Broadway showtunes frequently fill the air.

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There’s an enormous amount of respect between artists and the venue’s Director of Entertainment Brent Barrett, himself a seasoned performer (The Broadway Tenors, Chicago The Musical):

“From an entertainment perspective, The Vegas Room is meant to be a prestige room. That means that – as the Review-Journal stated recently – you have to be great to play this room. And, speaking of the room itself, instead of being a big theatrical space, it’s a very comfortable jewel box of a setting, currently seating less than 50 guests.”

“With our wonderful sound system and amazing acoustics, you really feel as though you’re listening to great standards, jazz, rhythm and blues, and Broadway showtunes in the comfort of your own living room. It’s THAT intimate. I think that is what has attracted so many of Las Vegas’s best performers to want to play the room.”

                                   Anne Martinez accompanied by pianist Dan Ellis…

“Because of that, we are able to present a robust array of truly incredible singers and musicians to our guests. And, many of the folks who attend The Vegas Room now return week after week to experience artists they know in addition to ones that they don’t…but should,” stated Barrett.

               Patrick Hogan performs at Sunday Jazz Brunch throughout July….

One such artist is Patrick Hogan, who dazzled audiences during July 4th weekend’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The 24-year-old singer/songwriter is principal pianist at Mayfair Supper Club. Hogan performed two astonishing sets of his own compositions, along with many beloved standards.

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Look for Patrick Hogan and fellow jazz great Amanda King Sundays throughout July. Upcoming evening performances include Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys) with pianist Chris Lash (BAZ), Toscha Comeaux (Cirque du Soleil) and The Vegas Room‘s own Brent Barrett.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Sunday Jazz Brunch is held weekly at 1pm. The “Supper Club Experience” takes place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30pm. There’s also a “light bites” sampler option which seats at 7:30pm. Showtime is 8pm.

Click here for full details and to make reservations or phone (725) 206-7059

Photos: Sam Novak, Sparky Lisa, Lisa Marie, The Vegas Room, Brent Barrett, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Travis Cloer, Christopher Lash

Basking in the Sea Spray at Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and Resort


Oceanside family fun with enhanced safety protocols awaits post-pandemic adventure-seekers …

Welcome to part two of my four-part visit to Westgate Resorts in Florida. In chapter one I visited Orlando’s Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa and explained why a Vegas blogger was doing travel research in the Sunshine State. Click here to check it out, otherwise, let’s head directly to the beach for the next stop on our tour.

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A pleasant drive about 45 minutes east of Orlando International Airport, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier is a historic landmark and attraction that will take you back in time. As you cruise towards the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll pass through gorgeous unspoiled terrain and lush inland waterways, ideal for boating, fishing and swimming. Remember that this is gator country, so observe posted signs and warnings.

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Next comes the stunning Port Canaveral. Dredged between 1951 and 1955, Port Canaveral is one of the busiest in the world for cruises. It’s also Port of Call for the famous Disney Cruise Line. Ships are currently docked there due to travel restrictions, so you may want to stop for some incredible photos.

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Before you know it, you’ll arrive at Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. Slather on the sunscreen and step through the brightly-colored welcome sign for a day of carefree fun. Only a few steps away is a sparkling shore teeming with surfers, jocks and sunbathers. While the rest of the country is cautiously venturing from their homes, you can revel right now in all things “beach-y”, secure in the knowledge that the Westgate CARES enhanced health and safety program is in full swing.

Built in 1962, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier is steeped in Space Coast history. Originally named “Canaveral Pier”, it was THE place to view rocket launches during the space race. Even today, crowds gather on the 800-foot-long structure to view SpaceX and NASA take-offs from nearly Kennedy Space Center.

Although it has evolved through the decades (including a $4 million redesign by Westgate in 2014), Cocoa Beach Pier still evokes an era of innocent fun. That’s when surfers and families piled into their wood-paneled station wagons for a day at the water. Fans of Ron Jon Surf Shops know that the company began right here, too. And through the years, the popular tourist destination has been home to a dance club and a concert venue for acts like The Beach Boys and Ziggy Marley.

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Today, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier has five restaurants, four bars, and a variety of shops. Diners can enjoy expertly prepared seafood dishes and tropical cocktails as ocean waves pass directly beneath them. Fishing enthusiasts have long gathered here to cast their lines from its deck. For the time being, social distancing protocols have required the suspension of fishing (to monitor capacity and patron health), but it’s expected to return when the time is right.

Every Christmas season, the “SkyDiving Santas” drop from the sky and land next to the Pier. Their arrival signals an annual collection drive on behalf of Toys for Tots. It’s one of many family-friendly activities and live shows that take place year round. Charity events include the National Kidney Foundation Walk, NKF Paddle Out and Rich Salick Pro-Am Surf Festival.

There are dedicated spaces for meetings and events, fishing equipment rentals, outdoor showers, lifeguards and volleyball courts. You can even have the Westgate Resorts team help you to plan an entire wedding and reception. Check out the live webcam feed (above) to see what’s happening right at this moment.

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Whether you’re staying near the Pier or driving in for the day, you’re bound to need some supplies. Look for Trader Rick’s Marketplace, where surfer dudes go for sporting essentials like body boards, volleyballs and sunglasses. You can pick up some beach chairs and umbrellas, or rent a pair of bicycles ($25 per person daily fee includes helmets and locks) to cruise up and down the beach.

For the ladies, Tropical Threads Boutique features swim suits, sun dresses, jewelry, hats and locally-made accessories. The Pier Shop carries t-shirts, souvenirs and memorabilia for gift-giving, along with beach-themed decor for your home. My tiki mug should get quite a lot of use if pool parties return to Las Vegas this summer.

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If you’re heading directly to the sand, stop by Sea Dogs, a modern take on the traditional Coney Island snack shack. Nestled under an eye-catching yellow canopy, Sea Dogs’ menu fills the air with the fragrance of smoked turkey legs, Nathan’s hot dogs, and buttery popcorn. Sundaes, cold soft drinks, chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and frosty beers will take you back to the days of carnivals. The only things missing are midway games and amusement rides.

Since I was on an official visit for this article, my flipflops and board shorts were back at Westgate Lakes Resort. So it was straight to business courtesy of a tour from General Manager Andrew Spinner. Operating an outdoor tourist attraction during a pandemic would be a daunting task for anyone, but Mr. Spinner and his team had Westgate CARES health protocols in place long before it was required (an advantage of being part of a large organization). You can click HERE to see what measures are currently being observed at the Pier.

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To monitor access, a single entry point requires temperature scans (a two-second touchless process) by a security attendant before admission. Electronic overhead counters monitor how many individuals are visiting the Pier at any given time. Strolling up the ramp, I noticed several signs detailing ongoing COVID-19 protocols, along with dispensers of hand sanitizer within easy reach.

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The Boardwalk Bar is open daily and ready to welcome guests. Walk-up ordering has been temporarily restricted in lieu of table-side cocktail service. The Boardwalk Bar specializes in Crab and Seafood Dip, Chef’s Killer Wings, a popular Happy Hour and Build-Your-Own Mojitos. Click here for the full menu.

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As has become the new norm, disposable menus, plates and utensils protect diners from contact-transmission concerns. Tables have been spaced further apart to enhance social distancing. The approach was innocuous and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Visitors were able to forget the trauma of this spring while enjoying good food, cool drinks and the relaxing scent of salt spray….proving once again that now is a great time to vacation.

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As you continue further out over the water, you’ll encounter Pelican’s Bar and Grill. Also limited to outdoor dining at the time of my visit, this air-conditioned indoor-outdoor restaurant evokes the atmosphere of Key West. You’ll be sippiing margaritas in no time while perusing Pelican‘s lengthy list of seafood dishes, burgers, clam chowder and sweets.

At its very end, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier boasts Rikki Tiki Tavern, an inviting and relatively-new bar/dining area that can accommodate up to 100 guests. The walkaround bartop specializes in a long list of refreshing tropical cocktails. It was here that I hunkered down, under its cool thatched roof, to enjoy some freshly-made specialties from Pelican’s menu.

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As I dove hands-first into three great dishes, I could hear surfers below me cheering as the next great wave rolled in. If you’ve never tried surfing, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier offers classes.  Alas, those board shorts were still back at the hotel, so I focused on dungeness crab legs and a Mai Tai instead.

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The day of my visit (May 26), some of the restaurants and shops were not yet open. Keith’s Oyster Bar at street level was one of them. Since then, they’ve all begun serving guests once more. You can visit this page to view updated hours, but there’s no reason to delay visiting Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. It’s a refreshing, purifying experience…and after three months of quarantine, the perfect tonic for your ailing spirits.

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The next stop on my seaside adventure was nearby Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort. A gorgeous complimentary trolley shuttles passengers between Westgate’s pier and their resort. Before hopping aboard, you’ll want to take photos alongside the famous whaling-ship anchor. There’s quite a story behind it, as told by Westgate Vice President Brian Siegel:

In 1984 my brother and I found the anchor while we were on a three day lobster trip 16 miles SE of the Cocoa Beach Pier. After the season closed we went back to retrieve the anchor. We had a friend who owned a shrimp boat pick up the anchor and bring it back to Port Canaveral where we had a crane waiting. The anchor was made in the 1800’s and came off a whaling ship approx 200ft in length. The ship would sail up to two years until all the drums were full of whale oil. Most of these ships came from Gloucester Massachusetts “America’s Oldest Seaport”. The anchor is 10′ 5″ tall and weighs just over 6,000 lbs.

Brian Siegel – Cocoa Beach Native and Westgate Resorts VP

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Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort was opened in 1972 as the iconic Wakulla Suites. It’s said that astronauts used to spend their free time around its pool during the heyday of the space program. You can even find their names carved into bamboo stalks that grow beside the poolside tiki bar.

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The property underwent a top-to-bottom renovation in 2018. All 120 Luxury and Signature two-bedroom suites have modern stainless steel appliances, sleek new furnishings, complete kitchens and luxurious comfort. At 812 square feet, they’re far larger than the standard hotel room, allowing families to enjoy plenty of personal space.

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Each suite has two full bathrooms, one king bed, two twin beds and a queen-sized sleeper sofa to accommodate up to six people. Other on-property amenities include complimentary laundry, free parking, business center, fitness center, ATM, and a large heated pool. All guest accommodations are non-smoking. Click here for rates.

I’m going to take a little detour here to divulge some behind-the-scenes info, peppered with a little Vegas perspective. During my tour, General Manager Valerie Anderson said that she was able to bring many of her staff back during their shutdown to refresh the resort. Everything from painting and power washing to landscaping and minor updates were completed by staff members that would have been otherwise furloughed. The only outside company they used was to trim the tops of palm trees, a specialized task that requirs professionals. 

I admire management choices like this, especially after witnessing the deplorable conditions at a well-known Vegas resort on its own reopening day. A company’s commitment to guests and staffers is enhanced when everyone puts their best foot forward. Westgate’s meticulous conditions mean even more when the associates who made it happen get to share in that pride.

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As with all Westgate properties, Cocoa Beach Resort has done extensive enhancements to their operations and procedures. My visit happened to coincide with their first day back after the shutdown. Despite an impending sold-out weekend, everything was running smoothly. I watched as team members greeted arrivals at the new outdoor contactless check-in (for details visit here). Inside the lobby, plexiglass shields and face-masked attendants demonstrated their commitment to COVID-19 concerns.

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Accommodations receive an intensive sanitation process before guests arrive, and all common areas get the Westgate CARES treatment. Poolside lounge chairs and rattan seating at the Mukua Lanai Adult Relaxtion Zone have been spread further apart and receive regular cleanings. Aloha Tiki Bar & Cafe remains in operation (thanks for the Mai Tai, ladies!) but once again, servers take orders and bring food and drinks to you in disposable containers (no walk-up ordering at this time).

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The centerpiece of the resort is the new Wakulla Falls Water Park. Available only to resort guests, Wakulla Falls features a two-story waterslide, playful splash pad for the little ones and what may be the largest lazy river of any Florida resort. Naturally, all slides, rafts, vests and touch points are regularly sanitized, and the splash pad limits the number of visitors at any given time.

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If you’re heading to the beach (and why wouldn’t you?), Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort has its own private access point. Cross over an inviting picnic area and through rows of natural seagrass to enjoy a glorious day in the sun. The resort provides a free-of-charge Beach Concierge Service, where you can grab chairs, umbrellas, sunscreen, lip balm, volleyballs, towels and coolers of ice. You’ll definitely want to unwind until the sun goes down.

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In part three, I head to central Florida for Westgate River Ranch Resort, a rustic campground, luxury “glamping” experience and full-service destination. It features an authentic weekly rodeo, airboat rides, live animals and the kind of outdoor activities you’ve always dreamed about doing. And yes, it too has undergone “Westgate CARES” enhancements.

Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. 

Photos by Sam Novak, Port Canaveral via Facebook, and Westgate Resorts

Videos courtesy of Westgate Resorts, edmondson69 via YouTube