Odds good you’ll like Paula Deen’s Kitchen
john grochowski email@example.com April 13, 2012 3:16PM
Updated: April 17, 2012 1:47PM
Celebrity chefs and casinos seem to go together like slot machines and video touch screens — relatively new pairings that popularity has turned into industry staples.
But while Las Vegas is practically home away from home for the likes of Emeril Legasse and Mario Batali, the smaller-scale gaming in Illinois had yet to be paired with a Food Network face.
That changed April 5 with the opening of Paula Deen’s Kitchen at Harrah’s Joliet. Deen brings her brand of down-home Southern cooking to television on “Paula’s Home Cooking,” “Paula’s Party” and “Paula’s Best Dishes,” and has more than 8 million copies of her cookbooks in print. (You’ll find the cookbooks, along with cookware, kitchen decor, T-shirts and other Deen items at the gift shop adjacent to the new restaurant.)
For Paula Deen’s Kitchen, which replaces the Union Station Buffet, the Harrah’s culinary team worked closely with the staff at Deen’s The Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah, Ga. The Harrah’s restaurant opens at 7:30 a.m. daily, closing at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. the rest of the week. Breakfast is menu service, while at lunch or dinner, diners can either order off a menu or hit the buffet stations. Saturday and Sunday bring brunch options, and Friday features a seafood buffet.
“Trying to duplicate something so phenomenal takes a lot of hard work,” said Steven Farrahi, food operations manager at Harrah’s Joliet. “Our culinary team has done a phenomenal job in making those recipes work in a buffet setting. [Paula] has a buffet in her restaurant as well, though it’s a small part of the restaurant. Here it’s on a grander scale, so we had to tweak those recipes to make big batches of the fried chicken and the mac and cheese.”
For my late lunchtime visit on opening day, I chose the buffet. Before starting, I asked Farrahi about the availability of lighter options, given that Deen’s fame is based on richer creations.
“We have an Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House station which does provide some fresh fish,” he said. “We also have Grandma Paul’s garden, which is salads and fruits and soups so you can eat on the lighter side there. And as Paula always says, it’s all in moderation. You can have anything in moderation and you’re going to be fine.”
On a quest for lighter foods, you could stop at the barbecue station for rotisserie chicken, but Farrahi told me the fried chicken was can’t-miss. It was very good, moist and tender, and flavorful with a scoop of Deen’s famed mac and cheese, also very good. My favorite was a cup of the Low Country Gumbo, to which I added a little Tabasco. I could easily make a lunch out of the gumbo with a couple of cheesy biscuits.
Not everything on the menu is on the buffet, and next time I’ll probably bring a group to share and sample menu items. But at first taste, Paula Deen’s Kitchen is down-home good.
John Grochowski is a local freelance writer. Look for him on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com.