Monday 08 February, 2016

Eating Container Park: Downtown Vegas’ New Spot

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More from Las Vegas City Life, this was my one cover there and one collaboration with Mr. Wilburn. Good times, even if the food (half of which is already gone) was a very mixed bag. Budgets were so slim, I believe this cover shot was actually shot with my cell phone.

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Container Park Grub

by Mitchell Wilburn and E.C. Gladstone

Downtown Container Park offers a number of different experiences for different moods and personalities, but one of its main draws is undeniably the food and beverage offerings. Rather than focus on any one, or playing favorites, we figured we could best serve with a primer to all the experiences in one swoop. We'll admit that our level of expectation for DCP's may be higher than were they located somewhere random--let's face it, this is a landmark of the new downtown--and in that regard we've been impressed and disappointed in almost equal measure. Some places are inspiring, some embarrassing, and some are just...well...pretty much the same thing you'd expect in any mall or marketplace. Read on, and then judge for yourself.

The Beatnik

Occupying a nondescript window near the mouth of Container Park, this is the auxiliary wing of The Beat coffee house down the street.  A few simple coffee and tea drinks make up their menu, along with Greek yogurt with granola, cinnamon toast, bagels, etc.  Just good enough to be a fortunate fixture for the lounging, meandering families and couples making a day out of the park. --MW

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Big Ern's BBQ

It doesn't take a high barbecue standard to declare Big Ern's a miss;  even comparing it to git'erdone chains like Dickey's and Famous Dave's leaves it wanting. The full rack of ribs Herr Wilburn and I shared on the night of grand opening were bizarrely chewy and tasteless on one end, intensely crisp and salty on the other.  A "pulled chicken" sandwich ($6.95) that another local newspaper roundly praised (according to the review on Big Ern's wall) was nothing more than unseasoned bits of white meat, barely sauced, on a stone cold chewy bun--a recipe even a hungover club kid might reject. The pork version was marginally better. Could someone take Ern and co. on a field trip to T.C.'s Rib Crib for an education?--EG

Some technically proficient smokehouse barbeque, held back by some serious practical flaws.  Above the board ribs are buzz-sawed into splinters, well prepped brisket rushed through a too-hot smoker into chewy jerky. Far too below par. --MW

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Bin 702

Undeniably the best interior in Container Park, squeezing in three distinct experiences--kitchen-view bar, hightop communal tables and best of all, an intimate mini-lounge area with tasteful decor. Overseen by ex-Strip sommelier Kathleen Thomas, this wine bar with bites offers a half-adventurous half-approachable selection of wines and beers (both on tap and bottle)that's expected to expand as time and space allow. The gastro-pub-lite fare includes a generous avocado wedge salad ($9), a lobster roll with my name on it ($12)  and even a couple things for kids (like many spots here, they serve to the outdoor tables and a rooftop lounge).  --EG

One of the better thought-out of all Vegas wine bars, with an additional bonus of a robust beer list, and some seriously lovely bites  like the turkey brie panini ($10) and curried pickled devilled eggs ($5). The two-shipping-container space constraint gives more comfort than the square-footage leads on. --MW

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The Boozery

A new wing of the Downtown Cocktail Room parent company, what ought to be a very encouraging cocktail bar leaves one wanting.  The cocktail list ($9-11) ranges from boring to poorly-executed, but with a kind of insecure footing that may lead to a proper successor to the DCR.  Here's hoping they stretch their legs and explore a more exciting menu before another container gets a booze license and a clue. --MW

And...notwithstanding all of the above....serving in clear Solo cups is the tippler's version of sex with two condoms on.  --EG

Sassa Neros Snow

Chillspot by Sasasweets

There's an infectious enthusiasm among the smaller entrepreneurs here at CP, none stronger than at Chillspot, a category killer of cold treats, including nitrogen-frozen gelato and sorbetto, Italian ices, raspados, Hawaiian, Filipino, Korean and Japanese shave ices with a sick selection of toppings, milkshakes, slushies, smoothies and a huge variety of award-winning specialty frozen pops (Calamansi? Salted Peanut Caramel??). That may be the last thing you're interested in right now--focus on their selection of single-origin hot coffees and tea blends instead--but come March, you'll be lining up. --EG

A local artisanal/healthy Popsicle company (you may have seen their peanut/nougat/chunky fruit creations in Whole Foods) opens a ice-based dessert spot with cutting absolutely ZERO corners. Try the Nero's Snow ($5/16 oz.), inspired by one of the world's first frozen desserts, with local desert honey and your selection of chopped fruit. --MW

CupKates

Cupkates

Every mall needs a cupcake stand, I suppose, so CP has Cupkates, a small space that still somehow seems under-utilized. Kate offers six rotating flavors in two sizes, as well as cake pops and  those decadent dipped candy apple varieties you always see everywhere but never see anyone buying (somebody must, I suppose) . The "chocolate lab" was moist, sweet and flavorful--everything you want in a cupcake--though it felt a bit small even for $2.00. Some cute aprons and other accessories offered here too.  --EG

www.cupkateslv.com

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Jojo's Jerky

You know Alien Jerky?  You know the jerky place on Fremont?  They are nothing compared to Jojo's Jerky.  Everything is done with grass-fed beef, long-dried, with amazing spice combos.  Try the Carlota, or their original vegan cactus jerky.  Worth a good, long sample session, and a life-long devotion to the brand.  --MW

www.jojosjerky.com

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Las Vegas Kettle Corn

A couple of nice guys from Henderson who make kettle popcorn in nearly any flavor imaginable (Bacon Cheeseburger...Coconut White Chocolate...even the ever-popular Blue Raspberry) as well as another thing you're likely to line up for in a few months, fresh lemonade to order. Ask for free samples.  --EG

What they lack in football-branded tins and sextuplet-flavored blends, they make up in simplicity in flavored corn. Handy for gift-shopping, but maybe unsuited for the uber-hipness of Container Park.

--MW

www.lasvegaskettlecorn.com

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Pinches Tacos

Coming at a time when Las Vegas is oddly fortunate with new good mexican food, Pinches has become a quick favorite in the Container Park.  Properly done carnitas, chicken mole, and of course carne asada here, with a couple interesting desserts and sides. --MW

This Vegas branch of a fairly well-respected Westside LA taco chain offers a wide variety in a small space--street tacos, burritos, sopes, tortas, taquitos, flautas and more--and proteins include beef tongue and cactus. Among the pluses, corn tortillas are made by hand, the frijoles are silky smooth, and the sopes firm and generous. I don't entirely agree with MW's opinion of the carnitas, however, the fish taco was crispy outside, moist inside and flavorful, well worth $2.95. Pinches is also the only spot here serving breakfast, weekends only. --EG

www.pinchestacos.com

PorkAndBeans

Pork & Beans

An interesting concept, mired down by over-produced execution.  Mostly sausages not meant for a bun, with extras not really meant for the sausage.  Their house-made condiments (spicy ketchup, garlic pickle relish) are admirable, but don't make up for criminally underwhelming "frank n' beans."  Leaves you considering, "I could have done this at home!" --MW

It  almost feels like one of those challenges on The Apprentice that's put together in 48 hours, only to be torn apart in 48 seconds by The Donald. The "Primo Pork and Beans" was an orangy bowl of rich but mealy bratwurst  and tomatoey beans that seemed skimpy for $9, with not even a hunk of bread as accompaniment. As for the "World's Best Hot Dog" (short, thick red hot on a toasted baguette slathered with unwieldy amounts of kraut and thick cut pickle relish, $8), I think it might want to visit a certain neighbor named Cheffini and think twice about its claim. --EG

Simply Pure

In many ways, Simply Pure embodies--or should embody--the whole spirit of CP and the Downtown Project--a raw food to-go counter from a former Wynn resort chef offering a wide variety of cross cultural recipes (nachos to pasta to Thai spring rolls) and salads using only vegan ingredients and textured vegetable protein.  But don't let all those "hippie" terms dissuade you--just try a few of the free samples they offer. Both the "chicken" salad and "chili" were craveably good, and the raw almond agave truffles were a pleasant, not oversweet palate cleanser. Kind of a shame this place is hidden on the second floor--advanced eaters should seek it out. This might be one of the best lunch options in downtown. It's certainly one of the healthiest.  --EG

www.chefstacydougan.com

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Sweet Spot Candy Shop

A scaled-down version of Sugar  Factory with old school "penny" candy, retro sweets like Cherry Smash and Razzles, and some funky novelty toys. Oh, and gummy chicken feet. Bring the kids here BEFORE the playground, okay? #sugarrush --EG

Prior to experiencing DCP, we thought what a perfect canvas the project could be to allow Las Vegas' incredible amount of under-utilized culinary talent to push the city's dining scene farther. So far, that talent seems to have been barely tapped.  Whatever powers are behind the F&B at DCP need to remember that Vegas residents--even downtowners--won't go out of their way to patronize mediocre experiences that only mirror what's available elsewhere.  Curate the food in the same way that the Downtown Project curated the building murals around downtown, and something interesting is bound to emerge.

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