A northern bright spot, Total Wine deals and Batali’s fantasy market

As I was making the long journey from downtown to the Hitching Post Saloon & Steakhouse, at 3650 Las Vegas Blvd. North (644-1266), the scenery was bleak, the landscape alien. It’s a different world up here—RV’s, country music and the best chicken fried steak between here and Texas.

This is a rustic Western-style saloon, pardner, but the kitchen is quite accomplished. Lunch specials are killer deals at $7, such as a patty melt on Thursdays, served with steak fries or potato salad. Bull Kickin’ Chili ($6) is made fresh, with huge chunks of beef and, yes, a nice kick. But Full Belly Breakfasts, served all day, are my favorites.

Meanwhile, in Henderson, the newest branch of Total Wine & More has settled into the spot where the mighty Wild Oats was once bought out by Whole Foods, in a strip mall at the corner of Stephanie Street and Warm Springs Road (433-2709).

What makes the values so good here is factory-direct pricing. The chain has dozens, maybe hundreds, of New and Old World wine at low prices because they are shipped directly to the store, eliminating the need for a middleman.

That means you can get a wine such as a 1.5-liter bottle of Valpolicella from the producer, Montresor, for $17. It’s a dark, inky wine loaded with black currants and it goes great with red-sauce pasta. Or how about Gumdale Shiraz from Australian, scented with plums and vanilla, for $12?

You can get low—really low—here with wines such as Pacific Peak, $1.97, either chardonnay, merlot or cabernet. (Life is too short to drink them, if you ask me.) And those with a really fat wallet may want to try a 100-point (from Wine Spectator) ’05 Chateau Margaux from France. But if I had the $1,099 to spend, I’d do the weekend in Paris instead.

Finally, Mario Batali and his team, who already have several New York and Las Vegas restaurants, including B&B, Carnevino and Otto in the Venetian/Palazzo resort complex, opened Eataly on Aug. 31 in New York City’s Flatiron District, at 200 Fifth Ave. It’s the world’s largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace, and it includes seven full-service places to dine. The 42,000-square-foot space that cost more than $20 million also includes a bookstore and areas that sell wine, pasta, cured meats, fish—anything to do with Italian cuisine.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Hungry, yet?

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