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A friend just sent me the news that Emeril Lagasse and Sandy Levine, owner of NYC’s famous Carnegie Deli, are teaming up to bring 2 more restaurants to the Sands Casino in Bethlehem – a gourmet burger joint and another Carnegie Deli.

I’m always down for a good burger, but I have a bad impression of the Deli. When my wife and I were interning in NYC back in 2000, we would spend most weekends hitting all the landmarks. We checked out the Deli one day and i ordered a ginormous turkey sandwich to share – which seemed like a great deal since we didn’t have much $$ to throw around and the sandwiches are monstrous enough to satisfy a family of four. But here’s the rub: They insist on charging you an additional maybe 3 or 4 bucks if you want to share!

They charge you more if you want less food!

They charge you more if you don’t want to waste food – which is what happens because no one wants to carry a pound of pastrami on a sightseeing jaunt through Manhattan in the middle of effin July.

They coerce each member of your party into buying a reedonculously wasteful sandwich since it’s completely against all logical thought to fork over more cash so that someone can help you finish a novelty-sized pile of bread and meat. (And when you’re a minimum wage intern, it’s hard to fathom spending an additional $3 on top of a $13 sandwich.)

The rationale has to be that they don’t want non-purchasers taking up valuable table-space in the tiny dining room. Space is always at a premium in New York, but that argument falls flat at the spacious Sands. And continuing a policy that wastes money and food isn’t exactly en vogue in the current climate.

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Since it always seems so difficult to pick out birthday presents, going out to a nice meal has become our default gift. My wife chose Emeril’s Chop House at the Sands casino in Bethlehem to celebrate her birthday last weekend. They’ve removed the phone number from the website – instead directing you to OpenTable.com to book your reservation. While it’s always reassuring to make a reservation with an actual person, web reservation sites let you see what times are available. I originally tried to book a table for Saturday but nothing was available between 5 and 10pm. Yikes. Friday’s options were 6:45 and 9:15. We went with the 6:45. That Emeril’s was so booked up was a fair indication that the food would to be good. We’d heard from a friend who attended the restaurant’s opening that the food was so-so. We optimistically assumed they just hadn’t worked out all of the kinks. Then my mom chimed in that the food was “too salty” at the Emeril’s in Las Vegas, though my dad said otherwise. We were undeterred!

We forgot the camera but snagged some inferior pics on my wife’s phone. I’ll post them if I can clean them up in Photoshop.

They started us with some toasts covered with a mouthwatering mushroom paté. I ordered a half-bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and my wife had their sangria – a delicious mix with a subtle taste of cloves. It took a while for the waiter to return to take our food order, but that was our only criticism of the night. We started with salads – the iceberg wedge slathered in Pennsylvania blue cheese for me and the grilled peach and chevre salad for my wife. Both were great – fresh and flavorful. And mine was so filling that I got a bit nervous knowing I had a 22oz ribeye on the way! My wife had the shrimp arrabbiata for her entrée.

Their steaks are accompanied by 3 sauces including bearnaise, Worcestershire, and horseradish. They were good but the steak was seasoned and cooked so well that I used the sauces only sparingly. Side dishes must be ordered separately, but I wanted to save room for dessert.

I was excited to see Penn State Creamery ice cream on the menu and was definitely going to get the Bittersweet Mint if it was one of the selections. It wasn’t (though they did have Peachy Paterno) so we shared the coconut cream pie. Yummm.

We had a great night and highly recommend it. The decor is great, the waitstaff was professional and the food was top notch. It was one of the pricier meals we’ve had in a while (though my steak and wine threw off the curve) but i can confidently say that we got our money’s worth.

Just found some pics we took a few weeks back. We took my pops out for a belated Father’s Day dinner and decided to meet up at the new Sands Casino in Bethlehem. My folks had just been to Vegas and had eaten at an Emeril’s restaurant out there (“too salty” my mom declared) so we chose St. James Gate for a little Irish fare.

We approached the casino complex from Rt 412 and were guided directly into the parking garage so we didn’t get much perspective on the entire steelworks complex. But based on a 3D mockup in one corner of the casino, it looks like the plans are pretty ambitious. I haven’t studied the socio-economic pros and cons or the politics involved but it looks damn cool.

Our timing was spot-on and we ran into my folks in the parking garage. We made our way to the casino floor and walked the perimeter to the restaurant at the opposite corner. On the way we passed by Emeril’s which looked impressive – though I heard from a Lehigh Valley restaurant-junkie that the food’s not so hot. We’ll give it a chance though. St. James Gate doesn’t take reservations so we put our named down – “45 minutes.” Super! Just enough time to lose $40 in the slots. After 45 minutes our wait was magically reduced to 20 minutes. Wuh?

Jump ahead to the food. My dad started with the seafood chowder and my wife and i planned to share the stuffed mushroom which turned out to be kinda small. The chowder was good and the portion was generous.

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It took forever for us to get our entrées. My dad had the fish ‘n chips, my mom had the prime rib sandwich special, my wife went for the salmon, and i had the corned beef and cabbage – though they brought me a reuben by mistake. In hindsight, I should have kept it. My beef and cabbage was kinda blah. Same goes for my wife’s salmon. You can tell by the plating that their style is no-frills. If the food was amazing, I wouldn’t care about the lack of flair. My beef was rubbery and the cabbage-in-a-warm-bath added little flavor to the dish. Thank jeebus for the mustard. The pic below looks like it tasted.

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We skipped dessert. I think we got to the casino starving at 5:30 and didn’t finish eating till around 9. We were tired of the whole eating process. Dropped a few more bucks in the casino before parting ways. We’ll try Emeril’s some time soon – thankfully they take reservations.

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