When you think of casino buffets, the first words that come to your mind are probably not "farm to table."
Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park is betting you'll change your mind about casino food with the mid-September launch of its Farmer's Pick Buffet. And it's doubling down by starting its very own farm on the property.
The new buffet, which launches on Friday, September 14, at 4 p.m., will feature fresh produce grown from an on-site one-acre farm and hydroponic garden that can grow more than 1,000 varieties. Ingredients will be supplemented by Florida purveyors located within a 300-mile radius of the casino whenever possible.
Clean Plate Charlie visited the farm, located adjacent to the stables and jockey residences, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs being grown. During our visit, we spotted micro greens, oregano, rosemary, eggplant, basil, tomatoes, melons, papayas, bananas, pineapple, beans, and radishes, to name a few.
Casino buffets are used as a way to keep people under the
same roof as slot machines and card tables, but they're rarely
associated with having well-prepared food made with fresh ingredients.
Isle's senior director of food and beverage, Mark Sicilia, has a
different view. "Traditionally, casinos try to buy inexpensive products
for a buffet, but because we cater to a more local clientele, I take the
approach of stepping up the quality and having a lot of variety.
Saving a dollar on meat doesn't save you any money if the customer isn't
going to like the food and waste it."
The best way
to know what product is going into your kitchen is to grow it yourself. Sicilia
told Clean Plate Charlie that starting the farm was a no-brainer. "We are
fortunate enough to be in a climate where we can grow year-round. One
evening, the general manager, some of the senior directors, and myself
were talking about the fact that we had all this land. It's always the
dream of a chef to have their own herb garden, so why not grow the herbs needed at the restaurant? Then, we figured if we can
grow herbs, we can grow vegetables. Before we knew it, we were plotting
the land, having the water tested, and planning irrigation. We now have a
raised bed farm, a traditional farm, and a hydroponic garden. Most of
our herbs come directly from our property. Last season, we harvested so
many tomatoes, we didn't know what to do with them. We made fresh
sauces, salsas -- you name it."
Farmer's Pick Buffet will be open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3
p.m. ($12.99); dinner Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. ($20.99;
includes up to three servings of beer or wine); seafood dinner Friday and
Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. ($25.99; includes up to three servings of
beer or wine); and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ($19.99). On
September 14 and 15, the first 500 people to eat at the buffet will
receive a free gift.
Bananas, papaya, and mangoes are all well-suited to our climate.
A honeybee works diligently in the raised bed garden.
We spotted several varieties of eggplant.
Oranges starting to ripen on the tree.
The vertical garden can hold up to 1,300 different herbs and greens in only 1,200 square feet of space.
Behind the scenes, a blend of water and organic nutrients is constantly supplied to the growing crops.
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