From gamblers to gastronomes, there’s a seat at the table for everyone at the area’s newest casino resort.
The first thing one notices about newly minted Valley Forge Casino Resort is how decidedly different it is from its local peers. Open less than six months, it joins neighboring Harrah’s in Chester, SugarHouse on Philadelphia’s waterfront and Parx in Bensalem as the fourth casino to be opened within a 30-mile radius. The small and understated space offers a striking, quietly modern alternative to its flashy, over-the-top counterparts.
Like younger siblings living in the shadow of an overachieving older brother (in this case, Atlantic City, N.J., and its latest ode to excess, Revel), area casinos are working hard to compete for the public’s attention. But Valley Forge’s newest endeavor isn’t interested in attempting to replicate what other local casinos are doing, according to Jennifer Reese, Valley Forge Casino Resort’s director of marketing, advertising and public relations. Big on ideas and distinctiveness, the newcomer is the only gaming hall in the area that offers tiered resort memberships to accommodate frequent patrons and visitors alike.
Certainly, the casino floor—outfitted with 600 slot machines and 50 gaming tables—is a huge draw for gamblers seeking favor with Lady Luck, but those with a taste for more than games of chance will discover that the Montgomery County casino offers something sorely missing from the area’s landscape: unique, non-chain dining. Reese, a gaming industry veteran, insists that Valley Forge is much more than a casino; it is quickly becoming a local dining destination.
“We expect that a lot of our patrons will be business travelers, food enthusiasts and those looking for a different experience,” she says.
That “different experience” includes a first-floor dining area that houses three so-called micro-restaurants (American Grill, Italian Market and Asianoodle) that offer classic, well-executed menus prepared with fresh ingredients. Purveyors from Lancaster County and New Jersey have been tapped for their locally grown produce, artisanal products and craft beer, all of which are incorporated into the restaurants’ most successful dishes. A pizza from Italian Market is crafted from dough that is made fresh daily and topped with locally sourced produce, just as vegetables from area farmers are tucked into maki rolls from Asianoodle. With oversized sandwiches and hearty mains such as root-vegetable chicken pot pie and tender prime rib, Nosh Deli and Valley Tavern present additional casual options to patrons looking for straightforward comfort food.
Upstairs, the casual vibe of the first floor gives way to a more sophisticated dining experience where executive chef Michael Inferrera (formerly of the lauded Table 31 in Philadelphia) helms both Viviano and Pacific Prime—a rustic Italian eatery and steakhouse, respectively. Boasting refined menus, thoughtfully curated wine lists, and a shared wine-preservation system, the two upscale eateries are the casino resort’s crown jewels. Inferrera and executive sous chef Chris Garrison show a restrained but deft hand in dishes such as linguine negro—squid ink pasta tossed with a rich tomato compote, calamari and shrimp—while focusing on seasonality with a simply seared, jalapeno-tinged ahi tuna with melon and vibrant watermelon radishes.
It was not that long ago when casino dining was synonymous with questionable buffets and quantity-over-quality menus. But the varied dining options and impressive roster of talented chefs here may be just the thing to convince suburbanites that times have changed and in-casino dining is less of a gamble and more of a safe bet.
Valley Forge Casino Resort
1160 First Ave., King of Prussia
Iris McCarthy is a food writer based in the Philadelphia suburbs.