Chef Fabio Viviani knows the patrons at some of his restaurants are coming off of emotional roller-coasters.
“They lose money, they test their luck,” Viviani said of the likely customers at The Eatery, a food court-style complex of restaurants that opened Nov. 11 at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino. “They come here, and we feed them, so we make them happy after they had maybe a little loss.”
Around the bar of 2Ten Drafthouse, where he was sitting, rows of tables anchored one side of a roughly fishhook-shaped series of counters whose names reflect the variety of cuisines on their menus.
The labyrinthine 24-hour casino and its adjacent harness racing track were already home to a steakhouse, buffet and several bars. Viviani – a cookbook author who has established more than 30 restaurants – said the new addition is similar to the three previous ones he helped casino owner-operator Penn National Gaming establish at other holdings.
“This is exactly what it is – it’s a modern version of a food mall,” Viviani said.
Mercato plies Italian-style fare – gourmet pizzas, stromboli, calzones, cold cut sandwiches and salads – that’s become popular bar food for Americans.
“It’s Roman-style, New York-style,” Viviani said of the pesto pizza. It comes on a thin crust and topped with chicken and cherry tomatoes. It pairs nicely with the Founder’s IPA, he recommended.
Viviani is now based in Chicago. He’s originally from Florence, in Italy’s Tuscany region, where he started young as a baker in a restaurant and “never looked back,” he said.
“It’s what I used to do growing up, so this is classic Italian stuff,” Viviani said.
Zen Noodle offers ramen, wonton noodles, Vietnamese pho and other East Asian-type dishes. Its neighbor, The Classic, is more geared toward the burger-and-fries crowd.
To the other side of Zen, Joe & Dough displays pastries and advertises strong Italian coffee.
“You can come in in the morning, get your coffee, pastry,” said Brett Ream, sous-chef of the café. “Or you can come in after you eat at one of the other venues ... and get something to finish off your meal.”
Most entrées cost between $8 and $12.
“We want to make it affordable,” he said. “If you price it too high, then you’ve got to provide services and stuff. We just make it approachable and affordable.”