When you open the menu at Ellis Island Casino & Brewery, be prepared for a flashback. Those who remember the days of inexpensive and plentiful food in exchange for a little gambling will love it here.
Where else can you get a 20-ounce glass of draft beer for $1.50? Or a 10-ounce top sirloin made from Choice meat, served with a super salad AND that draft beer for $6.99? As they say, only in Vegas.
So, sure, your first impression of Ellis Island is old Las Vegas. It has those great prices. It has a casino. It’s open 24 hours, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has the dark paneling and deep maroon booths, with the constant glimmer of the casino lights.
However, take a second look. For one thing, old Vegas food never tasted quite this good. And, the restaurant has been innovative with its brewery business. That means that, at Christmas, it’s all about the famous Ellis Island eggnog.
General Manager Marcus Zaval (pictured, top) says they make 300 gallons of it every year, based on owner Gary Ellis’ original recipe. “He made it for the staff Christmas party every year,” says Zaval, “and it just grew. One year we said, 'Why don’t we just make 100 gallons and see what happens.’”
What happened was that it became so popular, they now have to crack up to 600 eggs, purchase an untold amount of Madagascar vanilla, adjust the spices for the huge quantity made each year, and find space to refrigerate the jugs during the month of sales.
Chef Larry Bowman, who works alongside Zaval on the specialty item, emphasizes that they only use top quality ingredients. “We don’t believe in taking shortcuts,” he says.
That same commitment is carried through the other items on the menu. The BBQ ribs (click for recipe video) are prepared on the patio outside the restaurant, and there is a two hour waiting list for them almost every day—at $11.99 for a two-pound rack, with fall-off-the-bone tenderness and flavor, who can wonder why. “They are a wet rib,” says Zaval, “steamed on charcoal with wood.”
Ellis Island was a restaurant before it was a casino. It started in 1968 as “The Village Pub,” and the Brewery came later. Zaval says, “If you are a local—you live in Vegas—you don’t go to the Palazzo. You come here for the $7 special and the $1.50 beer and the best ribs in the country.”
You might also come for the karaoke, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily. “We win the Best of Las Vegas category in karaoke every year,” says Zaval. They’ve also won for “Best Slot Club,” perhaps because of its 350 gaming devices with a variety of games including reel slots, video poker, and keno. Live blackjack, roulette, craps and sports book wagering is available 7 days a week, along with free bingo every weekday.
Zaval explains the restaurant’s history this way: “Our biggest thing in early days was taking care of casino workers. They are still our biggest market,” although he says that repeat tourism is also a big part of the business.
“We have a guy we call 'Dr. Greenbean,’” he says. “He’s from Chicago, and he comes every year. One time they didn’t put garlic salt on his green beans, and he e-mailed me to make sure we knew. Now he calls or e-mails to let me know when he’s coming, and I always take care of him!”
The Brewery is a big draw, and Ellis Island brews a variety of beers: Light, Amber, Stout, Hefe Weiss, plus a natural root beer that is rich and mellow with just a slight bite. They have a silo filled with 10,000 pounds of grain, and use copper kettles that were made specially for them.
The restaurant has kept its food updated, even if its prices aren’t. They produce a flaky Orange Roughy served with a sprinkling of paprika. They have a chicken fried steak, a pork tenderloin big enough to require a steak knife to cut, and a sirloin steak that is—no other word for it—succulent.
The signature fish & chips are made from Icelandic cod and served with malt vinegar, which Zaval says is, “the only way to eat it.” Dishes are served with massive sides of corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, and those famous green beans, with lots of garlic.
“I am so proud of what we do,” says Zaval. “Everything we get is top quality. We don’t buy anything but the best. All of it is brand name, from the liquor in the eggnog to the ketchup and mustard packets.”
And, believing that everything is larger-than-life in Vegas, they created something called, “That Really Big Ice Cream Chocolate Brownie Thing.” It’s a hot brownie topped with two scoops of French Vanilla ice cream, chocolae syrup, chocolate sprinklerecipes/recipe/old-fashioned-bread-stuffing/s, whipped cream, and a cherry. In keeping with the old Vegas prices, it’s $3.99.
Only in Vegas.
Learn how to make That Really Big Ice Cream Chocolate Brownie Thing.
For a closer look at those ribs, click here.
See our Day 7 story for more.
Visit Ellis Island Casino and Brewery when you are in Las Vegas:
4178 Koval Lane
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Located on Koval Lane one block south of Flamingo
This is a Raves & Faves Featured Restaurant.