Win, lose or eat: Player's Casino dining
The Cooke’s are back
By JR Grant 09/06/2012
The Patio, at the Players Casino
6580 Auto Center Dr.
For gambling aficionados, the Players Club on northern Ventura Avenue was the only opportunity for legalized card betting games in Ventura County. Unfortunately, location and neighborhood dynamics did not warrant expansion and facility upgrade. Now, however, the business has moved to a vital and spacious building located between car dealerships on Auto Center Drive at the Johnson Drive exit off the 101. And besides Texas hold ’em, the big O and, of course, the Blackjack Lounge, the casino also has a full-service bar and large restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The restaurant is called the Patio (referencing a pleasant outside eating area at the back of the building), and if first meals are any indication, non-gambling visitors will find another dining option in Ventura County. The chef, West Cooke (a noted meat smoker), provides a surprising diversity of menu options, and the creative food pairings demonstrate this is not just an afterthought for the Casino’s public presentation. The chef’s wife, Shoshanah, bakes the giant cupcakes.
The dining room is spacious and comfortable, chrome and blue accents with glass-covered linen tablecloths and a single succulent plant on each table. One’s first impression is welcoming and pleasant. Of course, there are six big-screen televisions around the walls, with various televised sports options silently ever-present. The adjoining bar has two other screens as well. Besides the full-bar options (with several microbreweries featured), I was very impressed with clever nonalcoholic beverage options, including the “Mellow Mule,” ginger beer with pineapple juice and home made grenadine, and a mint lemonade that was quite tasty and most refreshing on a recent hot day.
I expected more of a coffeehouse kind of presentation on the menu, but beginning with the breakfast menu the chef’s hand was apparent in ordering options. For example, the smoked salmon omelet has not only salmon, but cream cheese, spinach, capers and roasted peppers as well. I ordered the corned beef hash (made with homemade corned beef) and was most pleased with the taste and serving size. (And no one can complain about $1 cups of coffee!) My companion had the French toast and we were both impressed with the freshness and simple presentation. For those looking for a new breakfast spot, the Patio might well become a new destination.
Lunch is also reasonable and tasty. Last week I ordered the pulled pork sandwich and was pleased. It wasn’t knock-your-socks-off unique, but had great flavor and I would certainly order it again. My vegetarian companion ordered the tofu sauté: bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and tofu served over rice. The onion rings were large and fluffy, and not greasy in the slightest.
Dinner options are not vast, but of the several sampled I would recommend the sesame crusted Ahi: micro greens, red cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and red bell peppers in and Asian vinaigrette (very redolent of sesame oil). The flavor and texture combinations were good, and at $18.95, this is the most expensive item on the menu. I want to return and try the “barbeque spaghetti,” which is described as a mixture of barbecue and marinara sauces topped with the slow smoked pulled pork (and certainly a bargain at $8.95.) There are also build-your-own 10-inch pizzas (starting at $5 and then 75 cents per topping).
Many guests (both at the bar and light eaters) are selecting from the “starters” menu, and also the Wok. I sampled both the pot stickers (plump and moist sautéed dumplings in sesame and scallion dipping sauce) and the ginger beef kebabs. The marinated beef could have used a little more tenderizing, but the ginger flavor was strong and appealing. Certainly there is enough variety in the smaller-item options that all diners will be able to find an appetizing choice.
The staff is very eager and earnest, and hopes to be busier and busier as word spreads of this new dining option in Ventura County. And also, the Casino regulars can now stay at their tables and eat well 24 hours a day! What card player could ask for anything more?