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The here is Tapas on Main and the there is Emeril’s Burgers and More, both in Bethlehem.

Let’s start with the there. We spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s bouncing around the house looking for reasons to get out in the Valley. My wife mentioned that some new outlets had opened at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem so I had the idea to grab a burger for lunch at Emeril’s. We’d been there once before, shortly after it opened, and our recollections were positive. Well, on this second visit, things didn’t start out strong. The hostess was nowhere to be found while 10 people stacked up at the doorway staring at a bunch of empty tables. The manager repeatedly noticed the lineup but continued delivering food to tables rather than alert the hostess or jump in to get people seated in the meantime. We were finally seated close to the kitchen and noticed how rapidly the food was stacking up under the warming lights. The place was definitely understaffed. Our drinks took forever to arrive (and we were never offered water), but the food was tasty. Though burgers and fries from Five Guys are more satisfying for half the price. The service was friendly, but the atmosphere was offputting – bright lights, dirty floors and chaos. One might chalk that up to the casino experience but somehow Vegas has figured out how to make even casual dining feel classy. Emeril’s feels like a fast food joint that sells $10 burgers. Total: about $50 for a burger, crabcake sandwich, fries, cole slaw, a beer and a margarita.

Two days later, we found ourselves in Bethlehem again to do a little ice skating. We were shopping on Main Street around 5pm and decided to fuel up before hitting the rink. We considered Mama Nina’s, a new Italian Place called Molto Pazzo, and the Brew Works. A shopkeeper recommended the new Tapas on Main and we figured a couple small plates and a glass of wine would be perfect for our purposes. We chose wisely. They offer a happy hour menu with a handful of tapas dishes, mixed drinks and glasses of wine for $5 each. We ordered the hand-cut fries (ideally crisp with a great aioli), the chorizo (with melted manchego cheese and an interesting chocolate balsamic drizzle), and the coca de calamari (perfectly cooked and flavored). We then shared a petite flourless chocolate cake for dessert. All of that plus 3 glasses of wine, tight service, and great ambiance for the same amount we spent at Emeril’s two days prior.

Some may say the comparison of a casino burger joint to a quiet tapas bar is apples to oranges, but if you’re in Bethlehem in the mood for something casual to semi-casual with a medium budget in mind, these are certainly two places you might have considered. And in the interest of keeping you away from Emeril’s (if wine and tapas aren’t your scene), check out Looper’s just down from the casino on 3rd street. Great casual food, good drinks and decent atmosphere.

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We were looking for a dinner spot last Friday and wanted to try something new. I was in the mood for something casual and was pushing for Black & Blue near the Easton courthouse. My wife heard some good chatter at work about Emeril’s new place at the Sands and I could tell she had her heart (and stomach) set on it. It was already 5pm so I was surprised when she was easily able to make a 7pm reservation – we’ve since learned that Saturday is the busy night.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. I was expecting something as stylish as Emeril’s Chop House across the casino floor, but it was much more casual. The restaurant runs along a wide hallway that extends from the back wall of the casino. There are 3 seating sections – a bar, a prep area, and the dining room. The bar had the most character with a view of the casino floor. The prep area gives you a view of the pizza oven and charcuterie cooler & slicer but the lighting was kinda bright. The dining room, where we were seated, was pleasant but had the vibe of a catering hall. (The curtain near our table clearly indicated that the dining room was designed to be closed off for private parties.) The arched beams leading to a huge chandelier were a nice detail, but the height of the ceiling, starkness of the walls, and view of the adjacent large hallway detracted from the intimacy we look for in rustic Italian dining.

My main focus in the menu was the meat and cheese selection. We created a combination of 3 cheeses (burrata mozzarella, taleggio, and robiola) and 3 meats (prosciutto, coppa, and nduja) from a selection of maybe 20. They arrived accompanied by 2 different chutneys and some small (seemingly fried) breads. Everything was great except the little churro-like breads. They were chewy and stale. My wife also ordered the radicchio and endive salad.

For our entrées, my wife went with the clam pizza and I ordered the meatballs. For a wood-fired pizza, it was rather bland. They need to take a page out of Sette Luna’s playbook and give their crust a lot more seasoning and color. The meatballs, though, were great. There were 3 of them covered in a rich red sauce and fresh arugula all on a bed of soft polenta. If I had one criticism, I would have plated it on a large dish. It really looked like a side order. And I had to take care to avoid splashing with so little room to maneuver on the plate.

The service was good except for one instance when the entrées arrived a few minutes before we were finished with our charcuterie. Our table was pretty well filled with dishes and cutting boards, but the server tried to force the entrées onto the table and take away our unfinished appetizers. I made him cool his jets, but I still felt I had to rush through the rest of the meat and cheese as our food was starting to get cold.

The desserts were petite and excellent. My wife enjoyed the dark chocolate-hazelnut tart and I had the spumoni torta.

We’ll likely go back but will probably be a little more specific about where we want to sit – and probably skip the pizza.

This past Monday, we took a personal day to do a bit of Christmas shopping without the crowds. It took us a while to get rollin, but we eventually made our way to our first stop in Bethlehem just before lunchtime. We wanted to see if a gift certificate to one of the Sands casino’s two new restaurants, Burgers and More by Emeril or Carnegie Deli, would make a good gift for my folks. We decided both spots were too casual to make a classy gift, but we were psyched to try Emeril’s for ourselves. We grabbed a seat at the bar and were handed the menus and two build-a-burger order forms. It’s nice to have the options clearly spelled out and there’s an implied reassurance that there won’t be any miscommunication with the chef. Hopefully you can read all of the choices in the pic.

My wife wasn’t in a burger mood, but went for the crabcake sandwich. The menu had a bunch of non-burger options including salads and a portabella burger for vegetarians. I do wish there was a veggie burger option on the build-your-own menu.

Design sidebar: It took me a while to realize that the BAM adjective in front of a number of menu items was an acronym of the restaurant’s initials and not just a reference to Lagasse’s trademark exclamation. Not sure why they didn’t play that up in the logo?

Our food took a while to arrive – probably due to the lunch rush – but the unique plating put a smile back on my face. You gotta love the fryer basket of extra thick and crispy onion rings. And the burger was great. Lots of toppings – a generous amount of blue cheese, and tasty balsamic-braised onions.

On my next visit, I plan to get the brisket blend burger with bacon, bbq sauce and cole slaw. And I heard the andouille barbecued white beans are fantastic. Though we may have to try the Carnegie Deli before the return trip to Emeril’s. Their dessert cases are a sight to behold.

I wasn’t expecting Emeril’s burger joint and the Carnegie Deli over at the Sands casino to open so quickly. Lehigh Valley InSite has an early review. Can’t wait to build my own gourmet burger – or at least have a pro build it to my specifications.

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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