In Las Vegas, it’s not enough for a restaurant to just serve food. There also has to be some sort of theme or hook to help differentiate from the horde of establishments that are crammed into seemingly every corner of every casino that lines the Strip. For “Rock and Roll Chef” Kerry Simon and Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, a concept that’s been open at Harrah’s since July, his idea was to riff on Cold War-era Russia, and the restaurant more or less works.
Some dishes would have been better off at a state fair, including the crisp-crusted Mac & Cheese Sticks (normally $5), made with white cheddar and a modicum of mozzarella and served with cheddar dipping sauce. Same things goes for the fried dill pickle spears ($4), which sported clumpy batters and came with roasted jalapeno ranch dressing. At KGB, everything is fried in 75% canola oil and 25% olive oil, not that it matters much with food this decadent. These two dishes will not end up in front of me again.
A kind of ingenious idea turned out to be the Waffle Fry Nachos ($6) featuring crispy fries loaded with braised short rib, molten cheddar, salsa and sliced jalapenos. Each component was good, and the dish was even better than the sum of its parts.
Kerry Simon held court before heading to the Palms to help cook the always-raucous weekend brunch. During his appearance, hamburgers were foremost on his mind. “We got pretty serious about burgers after being on Iron Chef,” he said. What’s the key to a great burger? According to Simon, it’s “the quality of the meat, not having too much fat content, and the way that you cook it.”
Eli Fortney is KGB’s Room Chef, the Vegas equivalent to a chef de cuisine, and he shed even more light on the burger development process. “We went through a lot of different blends. I probably ate 20 pounds of beef in those two days.” He’s from Vermont, attended CIA and worked at the Broadmoor in Colorado before moving to Vegas three years ago.
For his 6-Pack of Iron Chef Sliders ($14), Simon referred back to his victorious appearance on Iron Chef America, where he defeated Cat Cora in Battle Hamburger. He recreated his championship blend, which includes grass-fed organic Creekstone beef, smoked bacon, celery and fresh herbs, all formed into a patty and served on glistening brioche. The blend yielded very good results, and unlike most sliders, these patties weren’t overcooked. Simon says he favors a blend of 40% chuck, 45% brisket and 15% Kobe trimmings.
Simon stepped into the kitchen and asked me to pick the patty and toppings. I opted for a variation on The Cheddar Cheeseburger ($12) featuring crispy cheese folded over four times, bacon and grilled onions. The griddle-crisped cheddar reminded me of the innovation at burger joints like The Squeeze Inn, and also of chicharron de queso in Mexican cooking. This approach may not have been entirely original, and Simon didn’t make that claim, but it still yielded winning results.
Simon asked for a side. The other bloggers called for tater tots, and who was I to deny them. They were good, crispy and salty, just like at my elementary school cafeteria, minus the heat lamp. KGB’s sweet potato version didn’t fare as well since it didn’t have the crunch or flavor.
It’s always a good idea to check the center of the patty to see if it’s cooked to oder. The rosy core confirmed my hope: medium-rare. The cross-section also showcases the smoky bacon, grilled onions, fresh tomato and pickles.
A massive block of ice features holes to keep bottles of vodka on chill, including Belvedere, Stolichnaya and Grey Goose. Why vodka? According to Simon, “We’re open until 6 AM, so the place has a lot of different energies.” It was still lunch, so no bloggers were ready to knock back any Stoli.
At his other restaurants, Simon has become known for his takes on childhood classics, so that certainly factored into KGB, especially with the Milkshake Trio (choice of 3 for $9). We received strawberry and chocolate, both topped with whipped cream, shaved chocolate and chocolate straws, but my favorite turned out to be Glass #3. The Captain Crunch shake incorporated milk-soaked cereal, which was blended with vanilla ice cream and topped with more whipped cream and Captain Crunch. This was a sweet finish to an otherwise savory meal that involved some good burgers and some other unexpected highlights.
Note: This meal was part of a media trip sponsored by Caesars Entertainment Inc. for food bloggers from across the country. Everything was on the house except for the tip.