Neighborhood bar chain PT’s is upgrading its menu of staples with new dishes and fresh ingredients. Artisanal chicken fingers, anyone?
To many, Las Vegas dining and nightlife conjures images of celebrity-chef restaurants serving exotic dishes or posh clubs with bottle service and star DJs. But for a lot of us, it’s more likely to be pizza, pints, and video poker at a PT’s. Since 1982, the local franchise has been where many people unwind after work, watch the game, or end a long night with a basket of fries and a game of pool. It’s a Vegas institution that inspires great loyalty among some for being a reliable mainstay chain bar, and contempt among others for being, well, a reliable mainstay chain bar.
However, even the old standbys can’t rest on their laurels — or wings. With gastropubs and pop-ups giving patrons other bar-and-bite options, PT’s is bringing its menu into the 21st century. “Over the years, food has evolved so much in Las Vegas,” says Jimmy Wadhams, vice president of Tavern Operations for Golden Entertainment, PT’s parent company. “The traditional tavern food like wings and burgers is important, but it’s also getting more innovative and creative.” PT’s new additions include custom burgers and specialty cocktails, but also crab cakes, edamame, and Belgian waffles.
“We’ve looked at what other taverns are doing, did a lot of research and development … and we’ve been taking some guest favorites, things that people have wanted for a long time or have asked for,” says Scott Green, culinary director of Tavern Operations at Golden Entertainment. Green is a veteran of opening venues at places like Caesars Palace and the Wynn, but is quite familiar with the neighborhood stalwart. “Up and down the Strip, I’ve always gone out with everybody after work, and you go to a PT’s,” he says.
A menu revamp is never a small undertaking, and in the case of PT’s, it involves about 60 properties spread over seven brands, with more opening next year. “The menus have kind of been engineered to play off one another. Each brand has a little bit different signature item here and there,” Wadhams says, “but now we’re in the process of giving each menu its own identity based on the brand.”
The franchise began with PT’s Pubs — low-key neighborhood joints with pool tables and sofas. Then it expanded to PT’s Gold, which are more restaurant-oriented, and more likely to be found among the big-box stores of the suburbs. PT’s Ranch plays a Southwestern angle — reclaimed wood paneling and plenty of burrito variations — while Sean Patrick’s is their version of an Irish pub, where the St. Patrick’s Day garland never comes down, and Jameson’s wings and Guinness corned beef potato skins are staples. (They’d better leave those Guinness taters alone — it’s one of the most pleasant ways to slip into a food coma.) Sierra Gold is a series of upscale taverns, while PT’s Brewing and SG Bar are both one-offs. The former is where they’ve brewed their proprietary beer for the past three years; the latter is located near corporate HQ and is the most upscale, with Edison bulbs, abstract art, and charcuterie platters.
A longtime PT’s skeptic, I sampled some of the new happy hour menu items. It’s certainly still bar food, but it’s grown up considerably: The sweet, spicy, saucy Sriracha chicken bites are addictive, while the pub burger has a half-pound-heft and a smoky, cheese-drenched flavor that can fuel up at lunch or fill up post-midnight. There’s also an array of new cocktails, with variations on the mule and the margarita, as well as the Spark Plug, a blend of vodka, Kahlua, and espresso that supplies sweetness, richness, and a nice boozy kick. The Pubs, Golds, and SG Bar have recently rolled out their new full menus, with the rest to come as 2019 opens.
“I’d say we probably changed about 50 percent of the menu and cleared up the other 50 percent to be more user-friendly, better quality items,” Green says. “We want everybody to be able to have the same options, no matter what location they go to. Pizza, flatbreads, burgers, and fries will all essentially be the same.” One of the quality moves is making all their chicken fingers in-house: marinating, breading, frying. “Up and down the Strip, a lot of places will just use frozen chicken fingers, and I really wanted to move away from that,” Green says. “It gets a little more complicated, rather than just opening a box, (but) it has such a good flavor.” The idea, he says, is to balance old favorites with new items, sometimes in the same dish. “We’ve had a staple pizza in the taverns for a long time called the Gilroy: It’s garlic ranch, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, tomato, and pizza sausage. What we’ve done is make a burger out of those same options.
“We have a lot of people who have been coming to our taverns for a long, long time, myself included. Everybody who’s lived in Las Vegas for any amount of time knows about PT’s,” Green says. “You go for certain things, so we want to make sure that remains consistent. The additional new items are kind of a play toward people who want something a little different.”
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