LOSING AT THE TABLES

Red Rock Cafe, Fort McDowell Gaming Center, just west of Beeline Highway on Fort McDowell Road, 837-1424. Hours: Breakfast, Monday, midnight to 5 a.m.; Tuesday through Friday, midnight to 10 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, midnight to 11 a.m.; Lunch, Monday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3:30 p.m.; Dinner, 4 to 11 p.m., seven days a week. The fare at Fort McDowell's Red Rock Cafe did have one remarkable quality: It made the Harvest Restaurant look good in comparison. Unlike the Harvest Restaurant, the Red Rock Cafe sports a dull, generic, coffee-shop look designed to make you eager to return to the casino. There are some negligible bits of greenery and mostly bare walls, except for a few historic landscape photographs and pictures of Indian notables. Color is supplied by your fellow patrons, most of whom seemed to be bola-tied Milwaukee retirees and their bingo-obsessed wives. Before you decide to eat here, ask yourself this crucial question: Do you like mayonnaise? Though this is an Indian enterprise, it's catered like a Midwestern church social. Take the macaroni salad, slathered with enough mayonnaise to throw a herd of buffalo into cardiac arrest. Or the Dan Quayle-inspired potatoe salad, dripping with hundreds of flavorless calories. There is something called Southwestern macaroni salad, too. Apparently, adding a few red beans and a handful of baby corn to any pasta dish automatically turns it into a regional specialty.

You could get the meal started in two other ways, neither a significant improvement. On the evening I visited, guests could have ladled themselves out a thin, watery tomato vegetable broth. Or they could have foraged at the greenery table, loading up on exotic delights like cherry tomatoes, pickled beets and kidney beans.

Location Info

Map

Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino

15406 Maricopa Road
Maricopa, AZ 85239

Category: Music Venues

Region: Outside the Valley

Each evening the Red Rock Cafe features three main dishes. Don't get your expectations up.

Barbecued ribs are wretched. You know those fragrant specimens, laden with butter-soft meat and moistened with tangy barbecue that you get at places like Honey Bear's? Well, Red Rock Cafe doesn't have them. Instead, it has a chafing tray full of gristly, fatty bones that even in retrospect make me uncomfortable. Entree option number two was game hen. That's a euphemism for puny, bony chicken, fowl not remotely worth clucking over. Breaded catfish fillet had the virtue of palatability, which immediately assures it a spot in Red Rock Cafe's culinary hall of fame. The thick, meaty fillets come battered and fried, neither too greasy nor too dried out. No wonder the staff had to keep replenishing this tray, while the ribs and chicken lingered.

To avoid starvation, amble over to the side dishes, where the Red Rock Cafe bats .500. Corn cobbettes, drowned in a scary-looking vat of yellow liquid, strike out. So do the flavorless beans. But somebody had the good sense to cook up wedges of butternut squash and sprinkle brown sugar over them. And the medley of steamed broccoli and cauliflower is simple and effective, as long as you don't ruin it by adding the "cheese" sauce in the adjacent tub.

What's for dessert? You guessed it--Jell-O. And that's a highlight. There are three odd-looking, odd-tasting mousses--chocolate, vanilla, strawberry--that will lead no one into the Valley of Temptation. Cherry pie--all glunk, no cherries--is abysmal. Best bet: Track down a chocolate chip cookie--like the catfish, they also go fast.

I've been to Vegas often enough not to expect much in the way of casino buffet food. After all, casinos are in the gambling business, not the food-service industry. And nobody goes to a casino just to eat. But clearly, Fort McDowell and Harrah's can do better. Whatever you've come here to feed--a machine or your belly--it's a bad bet.

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