Most critics I know, and by now I know quite a few, approach a job with optimism, or at the least hope. That's what it felt like sailing through the front portico at Harrah's. Vegas-style feeding operations have been going on at casinos since the Eisenhower Administration, and one never knows what one can learn from experienced folks. And at the very least, the people-watching on a Sunday morning at the casino should be interesting.
Yes, it's huge, no surprise. Pay as you enter, a smart move for the mass feeding, but not necessary this early. It's very roomy, nice for maneuvering through crowds and around lines waiting for roast beef and omelets. Several dining areas help avoid the school cafeteria feeling.
Good coffee, and the server waited to bring it until I reappeared from my first round of the various stations, but fake creamer in the little tubs, darn it. Don't go here looking for salads; the salad station is more varied at any of a dozen places I can name. No, the action is elsewhere at Harrah's. Bread options are almost hidden, but if you think longingly of the cinnamon-y biscuits at Bristol, seek these out, warm, fresh, dribbled with a little vanilla glaze and looking like giant scones, they're fresh and tender. Nearby, in another illogical placement, are cold shrimp. They look and taste fine, but are a little slippery, as though something had been in their cooking water to cling and keep them from drying out.
The two tables of chafing dishes mix up breakfast and lunch items to some degree. Still, the scrambled eggs weren't rubbery, the bacon and sausage were first rate. At first I thought the waffles were pecan waffles, but was a little surprised the nuts hadn't been mentioned on the description by the chafing dish. Maybe some sort of whole grain...or else they were so stale that the edges had become hard enough to give more texture. Not a hit. No eggs Benedict, but a brisket hash that needed considerably more aggressive seasoning.
Lunchery came in many forms. Chafing dishes of a couple of Asian entrees like hot braised chicken sat on a counter near a giant wok, along with crab Rangoon and pork dumplings. Both of the latter were surprisingly tasty, the dumpling with a moist interior and lots of ginger, and the Rangoon pretty crabby, although a surprising note of sweetness. Neither dish had any sign of being cooked hours ago.
Actually, it appeared that the folks manning the deep fryer were among the most skilled in the corps de cuisine. Fried chicken flew off the buffet line - on plates, we hasten to add. The breading was light and crisp, and like everything that came out from those fryers, it wasn't the least bit greasy. But the chicken wasn't nearly as tasty as the small catfish fillets, which were downright addictive. Yes, hush puppies, too. I never saw anyone standing at the carving station, which held sausages, roast beef and some grilled asparagus, but someone walked by carrying a plate with just that. . Barbecued ribs were in another chafing dish, very tender, as though they were baked in a covered pan, just a little smoky, sauce drizzled over the top of the dish. Who goes to a casino for barbecue? The omelet station was in the Italian food section, and in one chafing dish waited toasted ravioli. Not for brunch, thanks.
Huge, double-sided dessert station - which, I discovered half an hour into my visit, was serving bloody marys and mimosas. Slices of pie, mini-muffins, mini-cupcakes, two large pans of cinnamon rolls, one glazed and the other one dripping with white frosting, were only part of the bounty. I tried an eclair and a small raspberry danish; the eclair was soggy and almost completely without filling or flavor. The danish, on the other hand, was crisp, and the raspberry flavor true and quite pronounced. Twelve, count 'em, twelve flavors of ice cream twirl in a display, each labeled, billowing like something you'd see in a gelateria in Rome. I succumbed, despite good intentions, to some pineapple. "Looks like you make that here," I remarked to the lady doing the scooping. "Well, no, I don't think ...", she began and was lost in thought. It was barely frozen but seemed to have enough body that it wouldn't lose shape if it melted, somewhere between Cool Whip and Marshmallow Fluff , a strange, gummy texture. After a while I could taste a little flavor of pineapple. One spoonful was enough.
The server was clearly a favorite of many customers, some of whom greeted her with a hug. Only one set of silver per guest, but additional napkins offered without requesting them, ditto coffee refills.
Harrah's St. Louis
777 Casino Center Drive, Maryland Heights
Brunch Sun., Breakfast Mon.-Sat., Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good