This Heart is in the Right Place

Somewhere between downhome and high-end, there’s McCall’s Heartland Grill

Max’s menu picks

  • Braised beef short-rib sliders, $10
  • Asian roasted chicken salad, $11
  • Horseradish-crusted 16-ounce ground chuck steak, $19
  • Blackened Hawaiian ono, $26
  • House-baked Granny Smith green-apple pie, $7

Most of our major hotel-casinos have both high-end dining and casual places in food courts for quick, cheap meals. But the medium-priced dinner house is relatively rare on the Strip. That’s one factor that compels us to visit to McCall’s Heartland Grill on the ground floor at the Stratosphere.

The real ace in the hole here is the talent of hotel executive chef Rick Giffen, whom you may know from his appearance as a finalist on the Food Network show Chopped, or his various stints in local restaurants from Café Wasabi to Mon Ami Gabi. Giffen proposed a restaurant that he calls “down-and-dirty cowboy chic,” with a price point of about $40 per person, less than half of what you pay upstairs at Top of the World. The name was computer generated, then voted on by casino players. The brass at the Stratosphere gave him the green light, and the result succeeds on many levels.

One is the wine service. This place must have the lowest wine prices of any Strip restaurant. I was amazed to see a Talbott pinot noir priced at $40, and the Duckhorn merlot at $80, wines I’ve seen at nearly twice the price down the street. Entrées are also quite reasonable. A 16-ounce horseradish-crusted ground chuck steak served on a beefsteak tomato slice the size of a Frisbee is $19 here, and delicious. Even the 16-ounce Porterhouse is only $30, about half the average price for this steak on the Strip.

The hotel sunk more than a million dollars into the design, a spacious, mauve-colored expanse with booths situated under a dark wooden trellis, with soft lighting, granite tables, abundant stonework and (less desirable) those Chilewich place mats that are easy to wipe but aesthetically unappealing. There is a private dining room for parties of 12 or more, and Giffen uses recycled Skyy vodka bottles and wine bottles for glasses.

You have to admire the imagination that has gone into this place, even if the “heartland” isn’t really at the heart of the chef’s vivid imagination at the stoves. I daresay blue corn-crusted lollipop chicken wings with watermelon Buffalo sauce or Asian roasted chicken salad—the latter laced with macadamia nuts—aren’t common at many church picnics, but they are two appetizers that impressed me.

PB&J Crostini, an oddball dish composed of a toasted baguette topped with peanut butter, bacon and bleu cheese, smeared with jalapeño jelly, struck me as overkill, and the bread came out without a hint of crispness. But braised short-rib sliders with green-apple horseradish slaw on pretzel bread are just plain terrific. Just don’t plan on an entrée if you intend to eat the entire dish.

I say that because the entrées are enormous; if bang for the buck is your thing, brother, you have come to the right place. My wife’s Cajun chicken and Andouille sausage pasta was big enough to choke a horse, and my friend Bob’s blackened Hawaiian ono was an 11- or 12-ounce hunk of fish.

Side dishes are also quite good, notably Giffen’s smoked-cheddar croquettes, and grilled corn on the cob, served in wedges and topped with sliced red and green chili.

If there is still room, you can’t go wrong with two desserts, one a house-baked Granny Smith green-apple pie with dulce de leche ice cream that is more like an apple dumpling, or a bananas Foster bread pudding with rum caramel sauce, which is pure indulgence.

Entrées are also quite reasonable. A 16-ounce horseradish-crusted ground chuck steak served on a beefsteak tomato slice the size of a Frisbee is $19 here, and delicious. Even the 16-ounce Porterhouse is only $30, about half the average price for this steak on the Strip.

The hotel sunk more than a million dollars into the design, a spacious, mauve-colored expanse with booths situated under a dark wooden trellis, with soft lighting, granite tables, abundant stonework and (less desirable) those Chilewich place mats that are easy to wipe but aesthetically unappealing. There is a private dining room for parties of 12 or more, and Giffen uses recycled Skyy vodka bottles and wine bottles for glasses.

You have to admire the imagination that has gone into this place, even if the “heartland” isn’t really at the heart of the chef’s vivid imagination at the stoves. I daresay blue corn-crusted lollipop chicken wings with watermelon Buffalo sauce or Asian roasted chicken salad—the latter laced with macadamia nuts—aren’t common at many church picnics, but they are two appetizers that impressed me.

PB&J Crostini, an oddball dish composed of a toasted baguette topped with peanut butter, bacon and bleu cheese, smeared with jalapeño jelly, struck me as overkill, and the bread came out without a hint of crispness. But braised short-rib sliders with green-apple horseradish slaw on pretzel bread are just plain terrific. Just don’t plan on an entrée if you intend to eat the entire dish.

I say that because the entrées are enormous; if bang for the buck is your thing, brother, you have come to the right place. My wife’s Cajun chicken and Andouille sausage pasta was big enough to choke a horse, and my friend Bob’s blackened Hawaiian ono was an 11- or 12-ounce hunk of fish.

Side dishes are also quite good, notably Giffen’s smoked-cheddar croquettes, and grilled corn on the cob, served in wedges and topped with sliced red and green chili.

If there is still room, you can’t go wrong with two desserts, one a house-baked Granny Smith green-apple pie with dulce de leche ice cream that is more like an apple dumpling, or a bananas Foster bread pudding with rum caramel sauce, which is pure indulgence.

McCall’s Heartland Grill

In the Stratosphere, 380-7777. Dinner 3-11 p.m. daily. Dinner for two, $75-$109.

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