Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Joe Pickett’s official title at Ellis Island is Executive Director of Brewery Operations. Joe actually set-up the Brewery at Ellis Island thirteen years ago, prior to that he traveled the world setting up Breweries, from Australia to China.

Joe Pickett Brewmaster at Ellis Island Brewery

Joe Pickett Brewmaster at Ellis Island Brewery

A Chicago native Joe was educated at the Illinois Institute of Technology and then went to the  Siebel Institute of Technology for advance training in Brewing. Joe has been able to make use of his training from both institutions, in that he has recently received a patent on a device to clean the long delivery lines used in most pubs.

Herman Berghoff , owner of the famous Berhoff restaurant in Chicago, was the person that was instrumental in bringing Joe to Ellis Island.

Joe’s philosophy in designing the beers he brews is simple: “Brew beers that people want to drink”, which may seem rather obvious, but in the Microbrew world that is not necessarily the case. Many Microbreweries focus on making the most exotic and unusual beers, which turn out to be unpalatable to most patrons. Patrons at Ellis Island obviously like the beer Joe brews, as this one small location serves about one million glasses a year.

“When I’m in Vegas, I always make sure to stop in at the #1 Brewery for the best micro brewed beer in town.  Hand crafted by Master Brewmaster, Joe Pickett at Ellis Island Casino & Brewery!” – Doug Jones, Brewmaster, Anheuser Busch

Ellis Island Brewery Brews Six Styles of Beer Plus Rootbeer

  1. Amber- with nice balanced Hops.
  2. Light- brewed directly, not watered down.
  3. Weiss Bavarian
  4. Stout
  5. India Pale Ale- British style
  6. Octoberfest- think Carmel Malt
  7. Root beer 12 secret herbs and spices, make that 11 secret ones plus pure vanilla extract.

Ellis Island Brewery Root Beer is a must try for Root Beer Lovers

If you like Root beer, then a visit to Ellis island is a must. The root beer you get at the supermarket is at best a vague reminder of what root beer should taste like. Joe models his root beer after the original A&W root beer, and has twelve secret herbs and spices, just like the Colonel’s I guess. Joe did reveal that  pure vanilla extract was one of the twelve secret ingredients. Brett Ottolenghi was planning on joining me for my meeting with Joe, perhaps we could have sold some of Manuata’s Tahitian Vanilla to Joe.

View of Ellis Island Brewery from Casino

View of Ellis Island Brewery from Casino

While many a Microbrewery might turn up their noses at light beer, in keeping with Joe’s philosophy of  brewing what customers prefer to drink, Joe’s produces a distinguished light beer. Unlike many American breweries that brew a regular brew and then water it down, Joe brews the light beer directly, which makes for a much more flavorful light beer.

In case you were wondering where they store all the grain used in the brewery, you walked right past the storage area when you entered the building. The grain is stored in the sign for Ellis Island. Take a closer look at the first photo in this article, notice the tubing under the horizontal sign, that supplies  the grain to the Brewery from the grain bin.

Ellis Island Brewery and Casino serves some Great Beer Food

The restaurant serves their famous, off-menu, steak special $7.99 for a 10 oz center-cut sirloin steak, with a beer. Metro Pizza, which is adjacent to the Brewery, inside the casino serves some of the best thin crust pizza in Vegas, the locals have voted it best pizza. The toppings are generous, good and fresh, no canned mushrooms here.

Metro Pizza inside Ellis Island

Metro Pizza inside Ellis Island

Note the sign in the picture: two for one slices and pizzas on Thursdays

Ellis Island serves a BBQ daily from 4pm-10pm, in the Brewery area with outdoor seating. The BBQ is very popular with the locals, lines start forming about one half hour before opening, hour waits are not unusual. For a nice review of the food served at the restaurant inside Ellis Island check out this Food Channel post. The Ellis Island eggnog available only during the Christmas season, also generates a fair amount of favorable internet buzz.

Ellis Island BBQ Grill

Ellis Island BBQ Grill

Ellis Island BBQ Menu

Ellis Island BBQ Menu

Note the $3 discount for club member, just go to the club booth and sign-up for a card, no gambling required.

Ellis Island Brewery is located behind Ballys

The name Brett Ottolenghi should be familiar to Vegas Mavens readers from the essay “White Truffles, Beluga Caviar , Bellota Pigs” . Brett is the proprietor of Artisanal Foods in Las Vegas and the subject of the New Yorker article: “The Truffle Kid: Supplying fine food in a town where money is no object”

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I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Brett, as he whisked around the Vegas Strip. The day started with a seemingly full itinerary of visits, to which Brett tried to squeeze in, “Just One More Restaurant”, throughout the day.  Part of the impetus for over-stuffing the itinerary was that Manuata Martin, Brett’s Tahitian Vanilla supplier, was in town and joining us on the restaurant rounds. The whole itinerary has to fit into a relatively short time frame, since Chefs work late into the evening, not many arrive at their kitchens before noon and by late afternoon they’re too busy preparing for diners to meet with Brett.

One of our first visits was with Chef Gary FX LaMorte the Chef de Cuisine at Andre’s at the Monte Carlo, and since Gary lives on Vegas Chef  Time, an afternoon visit coincides with his morning coffee time. Gary used Manuata’s Tahitian Vanilla to prepared hands down the best latte I’ve ever tasted. The Vanilla, besides adding great flavor to the latte, also serves to amplify the sweetness of the sugar. I don’t usually wax poetic about beverages, but this is one of those times you could pull out all the cliches and still fall short of the mark. If you dine at Andres be sure to ask for a Vanilla Latte, make that a Tahitian Vanilla Latte.

Brett Ottolenghi, Manuata Martin and Chef Gary FX LaMorte of Andre's Restaurant at Monte Carlo

Brett views these visits more as educational opportunities for the Chefs rather than mere sales calls. The Chefs are so busy, they really don’t have time for sales pitches, they need to learn something about the ingredient to make it worth their time.

Manuata describes to Gary the two species of Vanilla Beans that he sells, Planifolia and the highly sought Tahitensis, which as the name suggests is native to Tahiti and has a more floral and fruity flavor profile. Manuata sells the familiar alcohol based Vanilla extracts, but the form that garnered the most attention was his Vanilla Bean Paste.

Jar of Vanilla Bean Paste

Jar of Vanilla Bean Paste

Manuata has developed a  12-day proprietary method to capture and retain fresh whole bean flavor, which are not only has a more concentrated flavor than non-prepared Vanilla beans, the paste can be stored for a longer period of time without a reduction in quality.

Manuata's Vanilla Samples

Manuata's Vanilla Samples

The Chefs that we met with were all at the pinnacle of the Vegas restaurant scene, and were accustomed to starting with the most basic ingredients, and doing all preparations in-house, such as grinding Vanilla Beans on-site to create their own Vanilla paste. So, while Manuata sells his own Tahitian Vanilla Sugar and Vanilla Fleur de Sel, which combines the highly prized sea salt from Guerande France with Tahitian Vanilla, the Paste was the focus for all the Chefs we met. One surprising use of the Vanilla, which both Gary at Andre’s and Chef Drew Terp at Shaboo and Bar Masa discussed was in high-end cocktails. Andre’s makes a Foie Gras Martini that has become famous among internet foodies. Now you have two beverages to sample at your next meal at Andre’s, The Foie Gras Martini and the Vanilla Latte.

Manuata describes his Vanilla Products

Manuata describes his Vanilla Bean Paste as Gary examines a sample.

Brett Ottolenghi and Bill Clinton

Brett Ottolenghi and Bill Clinton may seem like an unusual juxtaposition, but in Las Vegas the unusual is usual. Brett met Bill Clinton in a very Vegas way. Bill Clinton was in town to help Harry Reid, the Nevada Senator that was in a very tight reelection campaign. Brett has a friend that is a VIP host at Tao Nightclub, a high-end Nightclub at the Venetian. VIP Hosts in Vegas seem to have  access everywhere and when you’re hosting a team of Professional athletes, nothing is out of bounds, even the former President of the United States.

As Brett was retelling his meeting President Bill Clinton, he said how he regretted not mentioning to the President his concern that children are not taught about food and proper nutrition in school. Obviously, Brett takes his role as Food Educator seriously, whether you’re a top Vegas Chef, The President of the United States, or a person that writes essays about Las Vegas, Brett wants you to be more interested and informed about the food you consume.

Brett enters a Vegas Kitchen the way a masterful politician enters a room, perhaps even Clintonian’esque, he greets everyone, as if he were asking for their vote. He’s careful to include the Chef’s key assistants on his product discussions, todays Sous-Chef could be tomorrows Celebrity Chef.   That is not to say that Brett comes off as Slick or Disingenuous, Earnest would be more accurate.

The New Yorker Profile of Brett

I asked Brett for his reaction to the New Yorker profile of him, and he mentioned two aspects of the article that he thought were misleading. First, he thought the article made light of his relationships with Las Vegas Chefs. I think the part of the article that best demonstrates this is the following:

He often says that he is on a first-name basis with three hundred and seventy  chefs in Vegas-the executive chefs and sous-chefs and chefs de cuisine at Jean Georges Steakhouse, Daniel Boulud,  BarMasa and dozens more- by which he means he has forgotten their last names, or is not sure of the pronunciation. (Many are French)

I think Brett feels this passage belittles the true relationship even friendship he has with many of the Chefs in Las Vegas. The other aspect of the article that Brett was less than pleased with was the whole discussion of the clothes he wears when making restaurant calls: The unfashionable brown suits and brown shoes with fake eyeglasses, of which he is quoted in the article as having twenty pairs. As a side note: The New Yorker which  is notorious for their fastidious fact checking, actually fact checked this with Brett, and wrongly quoted him, he’s never had twenty pair of fake glasses. The whole point of his outfit, was to appear a few years older, and perhaps more mature, a rarity these days. Brett is only twenty five years old, and is often dealing with customers decades older.

Brett Ottolenghi Television Star

The readership of the New Yorker may be small in Las Vegas, but some important people there have taken note. The executives at CityCenter have sent a copy of the article to every restaurant in the complex, inviting them to source products through Brett.

Reality Television producers have also taken note, over thirty production companies have contacted Brett about doing a Reality Television Show. Brett has chosen to work with the producers of  the Travel Channel show “Man versus Food”  It sounds like the show may be similar to Gordon Elliot’s show “Follow That Food” on the Food Network. Brett is insistent that he doesn’t want a hyped-up phony reality show.

While the title of the New Yorker article is “The Truffle Kid”, Brett has shifted his focus away from truffles, its a difficult item to sell profitably without undue risk. When he takes a basket of truffles around the Strip, he finds that the chefs want to hand select each individual truffle they buy, hence by the end of his rounds he is left with the least desirable ones, which may not be salable at a profitable price.

Brett is always looking for new Artisanal Food products to add to his inventory. He told me about a small farm in Pennsylvania that raises free-range chickens akin to the way the Japanese raise their Kobe Beef  Cattle. He is known in Vegas as the go to person for exotic hard to find unique food items. When Phil Ruffin’s wife wanted special honey to serve with tea in her high-end spa at TI she reached out to Brett. Bellagio restaurants and bars often contact Brett with special requests, such as recently a high-end Bellagio bar, aren’t they all high-end at Bellagio, asked him to source gourmet large green pitted olives with which they could hand stuff with blue cheese. While most of the items Brett sells are pricey compared to their lower grade alternatives, the profit margins are small in relation to the effort involved. Bellagio compensates Brett for all his hard work in sourcing small order specialty items by giving him the contract to supply Duck Breasts to their buffet. Even on the Duck Breasts, Brett is able to offer the Bellagio Buffet a good price, since as he notes, these are Foie Gras Ducks, and hence to the supplier “the real money” has already been made on the foie gras, the Duck Breasts are just extra cash.

If you’ve eaten at one of the Michelin Star restaurants in Vegas, or the Bellagio Buffet you have a had a chance to sample some of Brett’s products. However, if you wish to purchase items directly from Brett you have tow options.

One: You purchase items from his website: Artisanal Foods

Two: You can visit his store, which is located adjacent to McCarran Airport at 2275 E. Sunset Rd.

I’ll close by posting the message I sent to Brett after spending a day with him:

Brett thanks again for letting me tag along on your visits on Wednesday, it was interesting, educational, enjoyable, and exhausting!

Related Posts:

White Truffles, Beluga Caviar, Bellota Pigs…

The Michelin Stars of Las Vegas

How To Buy Vanilla and Vanilla FAQs

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