Yes, Gov. Phil Murphy has lifted the indoor dining restriction so that restaurants can open 25 percent of their seating for customers.
But here’s the question you really want to ask yourself: Do you really feel safe to dine indoors? And, even if you do, why not continue to dine outside while the weather cooperates? In fact, September and October offer some of the best outdoor dining weather of the year.
Although most of the casino restaurants will open their indoor spaces, Atlantic City casinos will keep many of the outdoor spaces they created open so that those who prefer to dine outside can continue to enjoy doing that. Plus, customers love the new outdoor spaces so much, there is no way casinos could close them without upsetting many diners. Don’t be surprised if many of these new offerings will be back in the spring, even if the pandemic is over.
No matter which casino you decide to head to, you will find amazing outdoor dining options. I took the time to visit each casino and picked one essential outdoor restaurant you must try at each. Trust me when I say you will love every single one.
Borgata Beer Garden, near surface parking lot, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa: Some venues were designed to always handle plenty of outdoor diners, and that’s certainly the case at Borgata Beer Garden.
The stunning outdoor venue not only has 15 domestic and craft beer beers on tap along with tasty cocktails and a casual menu, but it also has a stage where DJs are offered on weekends, including Kevin Kong (6 p.m. Sept. 11), Ernesto (noon Sept. 12) and Rashaun (5 p.m. Sept. 12) for a perfect mix of daylife and nightlife fun.
With the beautiful hotel pool in the distance and lush green grass surrounding the beer hut featuring plenty of comfy seating, the Borgata Beer Garden is a slam dunk to check out for the rest of the summer and even into the fall.
Regular beer offerings include Fat Tire, Victory Summer Love, Kona Longboard and Dogfish Head 60 along with the usual suspects like Blue Moon and Miller Lite. Like frozen cocktails while chilling out in the sun? No problem. Try the mango margarita, strawberry daiquiri or pina colada, along with other signature cocktails such as the Pineapple Express (Bacardi, Myers, Malibu, crushed pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon) and the Borgata Lemonade (Tito’s, limoncello, sweet and sour, agave nectar).
Of course you are going to get hungry, so check out the pretty straightforward offerings including a Coney Island hot dog ($8) with chopped or sautéed onions, sauerkraut and cheese; smashed brisket and short rib burger ($12) with all the trimmings; beef or chicken tacos ($10) and some healthier options like the Beyond Burger ($12) and the chipotle chicken Caesar wrap ($12).
Borgata Beer Garden is open noon to 8 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, noon to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Go to TheBorgata.com or call 609-317-1000.
Chelsea Five Gastropub Poolside, 5th Floor Pool Deck, Chelsea Tower, Tropicana Atlantic City: If there was ever a space that should have always been an outdoor restaurant to begin with, it’s poolside at the Chelsea Tower. For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and logistically, it makes total sense because the Chelsea Five Gastropub kitchen is just steps away.
The food and beverage team, along with the operations team, did an amazing job transforming the pool deck into perhaps the nicest outdoor restaurant space in Atlantic City. With tents for inclement weather, beautiful cabanas, comfortable, new furniture and even brand-new LED lighting that creates an awesome mood at night utilizing every color in the rainbow and then some, the Chelsea Five Gastropub Poolside is a welcome addition to the Atlantic City dining scene that will hopefully remain there forever.
If you ever dined at the Chelsea Five Gastropub, you already know that the food is as awesome as the new scenery, and the expanded menu — the Gastropub now offers lunch and dinner — matches the highest expectations.
For breakfast, start off with some light offerings such as avocado toast ($11) or sliced Nova lox ($20) on an everything bagel, or go heartier with a three-egg omelet with steak and eggs ($22) featuring a 6-ounce angus New York strip, or hit the griddle with pancakes ($11) or french toast ($11).
Lunch is simple but delicious with everything from chicken wings ($15) — choose the sriracha-honey sauce — a Caesar salad ($12), burgers ($18), a kobe hot dog ($10) and an amazing lobster and crab roll ($25) with avocado, cucumber, onion and tomato.
But dinner remains the main event here. Enjoy the sunset and the transformation to a nighttime venue with great starters such as yellowfin tuna tacos ($18) in crispy wonton shells, fresh mozzarella cheese curds ($12) with fra diavalo sauce or an awesome, pan-seared, jumbo lump crab cake ($18) with Cajun remoulade.
The Chelsea Five has a killer Cape May clam chowder ($8), and while you can go simple and grab a burger — check out their awesome turkey burger with fresh mozzarella, balsamic onions, basil and oven-roasted tomatoes — or filet mignon sliders ($21) — I can’t urge you enough to go the entrée route with the spicy buttermilk fried chicken ($24) with honey glaze served with jalapeno cornbread, the maple whiskey salmon ($34) with mushroom risotto, the flounder Francaise ($36) with baby spinach or the pasta Bolognese ($28) with hand-cut rigatoni, house-made sausage ragu and hand-dipped ricotta … our favorite.
Save some room for the Bananas Foster Ice Cream Split ($9) or the C5 Chocolate Jubilation Cake ($9) with dulce de leche ice cream.
Chelsea Five Gastropub Poolside is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily for breakfast and lunch, 4 to 10 p.m. daily for dinner. Hours subject to change. Go to Tropicana.net or call 609-340-4000.
The Deck Bayfront Bar & Restaurant, overlooking the marina, Golden Nugget Atlantic City: Golden Nugget has so many great dining options, it must have been tough to choose which one to put outside at The Deck when outdoor dining was only allowed.
And while The Chart House would have made a lot of sense since the kitchen was right above The Deck, plus the water views scream seafood, a portion of The Deck hosted Vic & Anthony’s — one of the best steakhouses in Atlantic City — all summer.
And it was a big hit. With amazing steaks and seafood, it was a real treat dining under the stars and having Vic’s food. Well, Vic’s has moved back inside — and you should absolutely go there just to try their bone-in steaks, crab cakes and signature quail — but the shift at The Deck has reverted back to its regular offerings.
That is not a disappointment in any way because the beautiful deck overlooking the marina remains one of finest outdoor attractions in Atlantic City after more than 30 years.
With awesome bands to keep The Deck rocking and rolling regularly, anyone who has eaten at The Deck has not been disappointed. The casual affair offers plenty of great craft beers (Dogfish Head, New Belgium, Sam Adams, Victory) as well as your regular imports and domestics plus awesome cocktails ranging from frozen daiquiris and margaritas to “Decktails” like the Watermelon Cooler (Tito’s, watermelon syrup, Fever Tree ginger beer, lime) and Orange Crush (Stoli, triple sec, fresh-squeezed orange juice, Sprite).
Start with u-peel shrimp ($15.75), Buffalo chicken dip ($10.99) and Maryland crab cakes ($17.50) with red pepper puree and chipotle remoulade, then grab a salad like the pesto grilled chicken salad ($15.99). If you’re looking for something heartier, there are a slew of sandwiches including the popular jumbo hot dog ($9.75), the 8-ounce Deck Burger ($14.75) and lobster and shrimp roll ($18.75). There are even entrees such as shrimp $26.99, filet mignon ($40.99) and pan-seared, Dijon-crusted salmon ($29.50) with lemon-butter sauce.
And you can’t go wrong with a homemade ice cream sandwich ($8.99) made with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies filled with vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
The Deck is open noon to 8 p.m. Sundays to Wednesdays, noon to 10 p.m. Thursdays, noon to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Go to GoldenNugget.com or call 609-441-2000.
Fish & Co., Boardwalk deck (but enter through inside, on same level as Fresh Harvest Buffet and self parking), Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City: With gorgeous views of the Ocean and the Steel Pier’s magnificent, towering wheel, the only thing better than the view at Fish & Co. is the food.
Although Fish & Co. started as a more casual spot full of great sandwiches and seafood platters, it has evolved into an extention of the superb Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, where you can also eat inside on the Boardwalk level.
For now, I would trade the luxuries of the inside Council Oak dining room for the ambiance of Fish & Co., especially since the food is exactly the same in a more limited menu.
Let’s get one thing straight: If you are a New England clam chowder fan, you must go to Fish & Co., where we were just wowed by creamy, fresh deliciousness of arguably the best New England clam chowder ($13) we ever had. Loaded with clams and pieces of pancetta and perfectly seasoned with an equally perfect thickness, it’s topped with three or four steamed clams and some oyster crackers for good measure. It’s worth the trip alone.
Of course there are many other seafood attractions here. We particularly loved the steamed clams ($16) in a white wine/garlic butter broth and served with grilled ciabatta bread; the fried calamari and shrimp combo ($18) featured some of the most tender calamari on the planet with both boasting crispy yet light breading served with melted tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers and garlic chips; a full raw bar with East Coast oysters, shrimp cocktail and a seafood tower; and entrees such as whole branzino ($38) with a beautiful herb salad; and the Maine lobster pot ($51) with shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster, Andouille sausage and corn on the cob in a not-too-spicy seafood broth.
There are non-seafood options, as well, including a wood-fired bacon appetizer ($17) with shallot puree and apple vinaigrette; the beef tartare starter ($16) with parmesan espume, capers and toasted quinoa; and some great steaks, including a 45-day, dry-aged prime, 24-ounce, bone-in ribeye ($59) or a 40-ounce porterhouse for two ($115).
Fish & Co. is open 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Go to HardRockHotelAtlanticCity.com or call 609-449-1000.
Gordon Ramsay Steak Under the Stars, outdoor deck, The Pool at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City: It’s no secret that Gordon Ramsay is one of the most expensive and swank restaurants in Atlantic City. So can that experience be replicated outdoors so that you not only receive the amazing Ramsay cuisine that customers are used to but in a classy atmosphere, as well?
Ramsay Steak Under the Stars doesn’t boast any spectacular view, but its white tenting, temporary landscaping and the use of a pre-existing bar makes a moonlight dinner pretty appealing.
Despite the absence of a full kitchen, Harrah’s food and beverage team has done an amazing job making sure diners won’t know the difference. Yes, the menu is a tad smaller, but all of the staples from Ramsay Steak are here, including the shellfish and raw bar, plenty of steak options including Ramsay’s signature Beef Wellington ($56) with potato puree and red wine demi, plus lots of seafood options.
I hope I don’t get banned from going back indoors, but dare I say that the steaks at Ramsay Under the Stars are even better than when they are cooked inside. That’s because Ramsay Under the Stars is utilizing two huge, wood-fired grills to prepare all of their steaks. That mix of woods is adding tremendous flavor, and the heat is providing amazing sears locking in all of the juices and producing the best steak we had in our outdoor casino journey.
We chose a 24-ounce, bone-in ribeye ($77) that goes down in the Cronick culinary diary as one of the Top 5 steaks I ever had. It came out perfectly medium with an equally perfect char. When my steak knife cut through the center, the juices exploded all over the plate. Using prime beef aged for at least 40 days, this bone-in ribeye should be in the Steak Hall of Fame.
We started with a Ramsay Steak staple, Smoked Wagyu Beef Tartare ($22) that had the same presentation that diners are used to inside: nicely diced wagyu beef with lemon zest, red onion and capers with a quail egg yolk on top served under a glass dome that seals the smoke inside until the waiter removes it. Served with Yukon Gold herb chips, it’s one of the best apps in South Jersey.
Equally mesmerizing — and a bit surprising — was the roasted yellow tomato soup, which was worth every penny of its $15 price tag. Loaded with fresh tomato flavor, the soup is served with a crispy, delicious brie and gruyere arancini in the middle of the bowl with some basil crème fraiche for good measure. Again, it’s as good as any soup you will ever have.
There are plenty of other great options such as a jumbo lump crab cake ($22) and Kurobata pork belly ($19) starters, a choice of five steaks, pork chops, lamb, chicken and more, but we had to go for the Chilean sea bass ($44), which was simply prepared to let the fish speak for itself, and damn it was great.
It will be hard to not overeat at dinner, but you must have the famous Sticky Toffee Pudding ($13) with sticky toffee sauce and brown butter ice cream. It in itself is worth leaving the house for.
Gordon Ramsay Steak Under the Stars is open 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Hours subject to change. Go to Caesars.com or call 609-441-5000.
Guy’s Rooftop Chop, Sixth Floor, Spa Level, Bally’s Atlantic City: One of the most underrated restaurants in Atlantic City, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, once again impresses, this time in its outdoor version called Guy’s Rooftop Chop.
Located right outside of Bally’s acclaimed spa, Guy’s Rooftop Chop is a marvel in execution because Restaurant Chef Giancarlo Generosi and his awesome team are preparing everything in the restaurant’s regular kitchen and then running it to the outdoor space.
And while that may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it was anything but. Guy’s Rooftop Chop offered a stellar outdoor experience. With some tenting and an awesome view of the ocean — try to dine right before sunset so you experience the water view — Guy’s Rooftop Chop’s abbreviated menu offers just the right mix of Chophouse staples and Generosi favorites for a great and safe night out.
As proven at several Atlantic City Weekly Wing Wars events, Fieri’s wings are some of the best around, and the garlic buffalo wings ($13.50) were particularly rocking the night we dined there. Lollipop-style drums were perfectly cooked so the meat literally fell off the bone. Dunked in a generous portion of Guy’s signature, garlic-laden hot sauce and served with blue-sabi dip (a mix of wasabi and blue cheese), they are sheer wing heaven.
We also split The Wedge ($11), a giant iceburg lettuce salad loaded with tomatoes, Applewood bacon and a creamy blue cheese dressing made even better by generous chunks of our favorite blue cheese: Humboldt Fog.
Other starter choices include Crispy Korean BBQ Chicken Sliders ($13), loaded smoked brisket tater skinz ($13) and Bloody Mary Jumbo Shrimp ($17.50).
For entrees, we had some hard choices to make, passing on the grilled Scottish salmon ($35) and Cajun chicken alfredo ($26) and even the bacon mac’n cheeseburger ($19) because Generosi really wanted us to try the chili-soy glazed Chilean sea bass ($45) with roasted fingerling potatoes, jumbo sesame shrimp and crispy vermicelli; and the steak special: a giant, center-cut, 22-ounce porterhouse ($58) that offers the best of both worlds, a tender, well-portioned filet accompanied by the even more flavorful New York strip. Both dishes were outstanding, with the chili-soy glaze helping make the sea bass one of the best we ever had, and the porterhouse was nicely seasoned and cooked perfectly medium.
A home run all around.
Guy’s Rooftop Chop is open 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Hours subject to change. Go to Caesars.com or call 609-340-2000.
Mukashi Sushi Bar and EastWind, Boardwalk, Resorts Casino Hotel: While most casino outdoor restaurants seem to concentrate on steakhouse and traditional seafood offerings, Resorts’ best bet is a pair of tremendous Asian options in one spot.
Located right on the Boardwalk so you can hear the ocean in the distance and people watch while enjoying dinner, Mukashi Sushi Bar offers Japanese-inspired favorites such as sushi, bowls and more, while EastWind is its Chinese counterpart, offering traditional noodle dishes, Chinese entrees, appetizers and other favorites.
While we love both concepts, we particularly like Mukashi, so that is what we gravitated toward on our visit. What we love about Mukashi is that it pays homage to the centuries-old tradition and craft of Japanese sushi and sashimi. There aren’t really any gimmick rolls or Americanization going on here. It’s basically sushi done right, and that was certainly the case when we were there recently.
We skipped all of their signature opening dishes such as the A-5 kobe wagyu ($65) with brulee foie gras and 24-carat gold caviar and the Hokkaido scallop ($18) and went straight to more traditional offerings, including beautifully fileted Hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi ($10) and perfectly rolled uramaki including spicy tuna roll ($12) with cucumber, pickled jalapeno and spicy aioli; crispy spicy salmon ($12) with house-cured salmon, spicy aioli, pickled jalapeno and crispy arare cracker; and the only nontraditional roll on the menu, the Resorts Roll ($19), a superb creation with shrimp tempura, beef tataki, cucumber, guacamole, eel sauce and spicy aioli.
What’s nice about Mukashi is that they also offer Donburi, which are essentially sushi bowls that few other places in town offer. We chose the Tekkadon ($25), sushi rice, pickled veggies, sesame and loaded with sliced, fresh tuna, spicy mentaiko, soy, scallion, wasabi olive oil and arare crackers. Hearty, delicious and perfect under the stars on the boardwalk.
If Chinese is more your thing, previous visits have impressed us with their BBQ spare ribs ($15), bacon shrimp rolls ($13), Vietnamese Pho ($16), fried rice dishes ($18), Pad Thai ($16 to $18), and entrees including General Tso’s chicken or shrimp ($19, $28), sirloin steak in black pepper sauce with broccoli ($28) and salt and chicken curry ($18).
For two Asian experiences in one stop, Mukashi and EastWind is a great choice with an even greater location.
Mukashi and EastWind are open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Go to ResortsAC.com or call 609-340-6300.
The Sky Garden, lobby level, Ocean Casino Resort: For a feeling like you are dining right on the ocean, no one comes closer than Ocean Casino Resort’s Sky Garden.
Although the lobby-level, rooftop garden never hosted a restaurant before, the Sky Garden made perfect sense with its lush surroundings, firepits and rooftop deck areas that seem to hang right over the ocean. It’s quite stunning.
The fact that the Ocean culinary staff didn’t have a kitchen to work out of didn’t hold them back. So they crafted an ingenious menu that takes advantage of using outdoor grills to the max. And the Sky Garden Grille was born.
The menu is fresh and simple, like if a trained chef was invited to your house to cook on your deck … if your home was located 14 stories above the ocean.
Start with some u-peel shrimp ($18) or chilled jumbo lump crab dip ($17) served with grilled naan or a cold lobster salad ($19), but I can’t urge you enough to try one of the seafood pouches ($18 to $24) that include everything from garlic shrimp to steamed clams to scallops and halibut steamed on the grill in pouches with potatoes, sausage, veggies and fresh herbs. They are outstanding.
The grill is also pumping out some nice options including a 12-ounce marinated skirt steak ($24) with crispy onions and chili-pepper relish; Thai scallops ($28) with cucumber, jalapeno, bok choy, ginger, cilantro and green tea basil broth; an 8-ounce Sky Burger ($15) with black angus beef; an awesome Iberico burger with black angus beef, chorizo, manchego and midnight moon cheeses with a sweet apricot mustard and pickled red onions; and fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs ($16 half rack, $28 full rack) with a sweet, smoky BBQ sauce.
Some of the biggest hits at the Sky Garden Grille have been the Poptails ($13 to $15), a half dozen cocktails that come with their own boozy popsicles, including the spicy mango margarita with mango popsicle, the Margarita with lime popsicle, the Popsecco with rainbow popsicle and more.
The Sky Garden is open 4 to 11 p.m. daily. However, the Sky Garden Grille will close Sunday, Sept. 13. Go to TheOceanAC.com or call 609-783-8000.