COVID SUMMER '21 sure has been a wild ride when it comes to eating and drinking in Las Vegas. Capacity down; capacity up; masks down; masks up! It’s a challenge to keep current, to be sure. Thankfully, I’ve found surprises at eateries and drinkeries across the valley these past few topsy-turvy months. That, in itself, I take as a kind of blessing: too many hospitality businesses from the mom-and-pop level to the corporate sector have not survived the devastating past year. So, with high hopes for better days to come, here’s some of the Southern Nevada awesomeness that I, Snack Hunter, have recently tasted.
This is Total Baloney
There’s no shortage of love for Esther’s Kitchen around town, but the Mortadella Melt (right) is a phenomenal next-level sandwich option. It’s quite possibly the most decadent fried bologna sandwich in the world. Rich with a nutty aroma, it takes pistachio-studded mortadella meat slices, blankets them with melty Fontina cheese, and then seals the deal with herbaceous pistachio pesto and aïoli inside two robust slices of Chef James Trees’ acclaimed house-baked bread. And — wait for it — an extra sheet of mortadella is crisply annealed to the top of each sandwich for even more nutty flavor and texture. Total baloney (in the best sense). And each one comes with a bag of veggie chips on the side. This sandwich is all that.
Chilling with Cold Soup
I don’t know why, but with Southern Nevada’s infernal summer temperatures, it’s surprising that the lunch-focused restaurant scene here has never adopted Spanish gazpacho as a city-wide chilled soup of the season.
So, I'm glad to have found the refreshing cold tomato swirl served traditionally at the astounding Jamón Jamón Tapas on West Sahara in a clasp-topped bottle. At the table, the snappy mélange is poured into a tall drinking glass ready for sipping. No spoon needed. Olé!
Taking my hankering for stone-cold soup eastward, I checked in with the tiny but awesome Fukumimi Ramen (4860 South Eastern Ave.) to learn if they were offering their seasonal cold tomato ramen (headline photo, also right) this year. (It was on pause last summer for all the reasons you’d expect.) Thank the noodle gods — it’s back on the menu while local temps are toasty.
In a way, Fukumimi’s chill concoction is a salad hiding a soup. A sesame-based broth that’s faintly reminiscent of Thai peanut sauce (but much thinner in texture and quite less sweet and spicy) bathes jade-hued, spinach-infused noodles beneath a covering of greens such as arugula and jewel-like cherry tomato slices and golden corn niblets. Harvest a bowl with chopsticks and a spoon while you can.
Color Cheese Surprised
On any given day — supply chain problems notwithstanding — there’s probably more than a handful of different bleu/blue varieties of cheese available at any major grocery store in the region. However, only at Henderson’s exquisite Valley Cheese and Wine is the nearly glowingly indigo-hued Tomme du Berry (right) available for your marvelment and delectation.
That said, this nouveau French casein creation is not a familiar soft-style, stinky cheese crumbler, but rather it's a mid-firm slicer perfumed with thyme and rosemary and deep-dyed from within with lavender petals.
But what does this turquoise tantalizer taste like? Think of very lightly sauced cheese pizza or very fragrant focaccia. Best use: Bringing the wildest-looking cheese to a dinner party. Score!
Chicken Sandwich Wars Heat Up
From giant international chains to local Vegas eateries, over the past couple of years there’s been an arms (wings?) race for the best Hot Chicken Sandwich around. In all this spicy brouhaha, a new and worthy dark-horse entrant has emerged on West Charleston: Blue Hen Chicken Co. Located across the street from CSN's Charleston campus, the dining spot is decorated inside with a cute modern-rural palette.
On my first visit, I went with the namesake sando (right). It stands out with its chive-forward, crème fraîche-thickened buttermilk dressing, chopped lettuce, and bread-and-butter pickles draped over deep-fried thigh meat finished with spicy duck oil drizzles. And a brioche-style bun. It was delicious with icy fresh lemonade on the side. I hope to see and taste more from Blue Hen Chicken Co. soon.
Savory British Bites
The best new unexpected to-go bites around have to be the snackable sausage rolls at the excellent Featherblade English Craft Butchery. Golden-baked pastry (made right there) envelops hearty meat filling in each baked muncher. Order a paper-wrapped few from the warming case; add a jar of gourmet mustard from the shop’s shelves to your order; and start zestily dipping and chowing down in the parking lot.
Ultimate Alluring Flavors (and Scents)
I recently re-visited beloved Other Mama after a long pause. Along with familiar potent grandma-named cocktails like the “Geraldine” (bourbon, spiced cherry syrup, pineapple, and bitters with togarashi rim dust) and always artful sushi handrolls, I was dazzled by an allium extravaganza in a nightly special of hamachi. Garlicky wowzers! Light yet forceful —fish yet farm. Delicious. Love this place.
A couple of days later, I returned to the same Durango-meets-Twain strip mall across from Desert Breeze Park to explore Laos Thai Street Food. On my visit, I dined on my first plate of tom ga deah.
It's a cold-ish “cellophane” long rice noodle salad with lots of eggplant, tomato, lettuce, fish balls, fish sauce, and garlic crisps. It was super-potent in taste and maximum umami. I’d like to learn more about Laotian, Cambodian, and Burmese (Myanmar) cuisine in the near future.
Randomly, I also happened upon the Sri Lankan “secret menu” at Betty’s Bistro just a few miles away near the Southern Hills medical complex. I went with roti kottu for my first taste: a stir-fry of shredded flatbread with plenty of egg, ginger, leeks, and other onion-family verdure along with tropical curry spices. It was my favorite fragrant lunch of the season.
Need To Cool Off
While driving about Viva Las Vegas in record-breaking temps, two distinctive coolers whetted (and wetted) my parched palate.
The first was old-school: mint lemonade at the venerable Amena Bakery and Cafe on Decatur Blvd. The ratio of herb-to-juice in the cool drink is pronounced, with the menthol-ish leaves thoroughly infusing the sunshiney citrus sipper (and stopping up a straw). Lip-smacking and head-clearing.
For the newest-of-new school, I also sipped on a beautiful Desert Rose iced tea on the first day of the newly opened second location of the excellent Vesta Coffee Roasters on West Sahara. It’s a meeting of cold-steeped Darjeeling leaves with cardamom pods and rose petals. And while it's not sugared before the suffusion hits ice cubes, it still has a sweetish nuance. Plus, it's presented artfully in a short crystal glass with a dried citrus slice and a dusting of dried petals on top. Arty.
Snap-O-Razzo hot dogs and buns are now being sold at many Green Valley Grocery locations in the region. I recently broke a personal rule and ate one (right) in my new car, but it was 115 outside at the gas station. These are frankfurters of the highest quality and have a faintly smoky flavor as proof.
Celebration Times on the Strip
Las Vegas for locals means celebrating on the Strip now and then.
And that often means brunch. Or is it brunching? Regardless, late morning-to-early afternoon hours are perfect for eggs Benedict and sashimi at the vibrant and popular Catch in Aria—and let’s just also say a chocolatey tower of waffles and ice cream held in place with a giant steak knife. Named “The Anytime Waffle Tower" (right), it’s layers of griddlers sandwiching maple, milk chocolate, and raspberry ice cream along with chocolate ganache, raspberry jam, and toasted almonds for good measure. It’s not my normal kind of breakfast, but getting back to normal isn't normal anyway — so I knifed in on one recently with all smiles.
Finally, the most spectacular treat of my summer so far has been caviar tacos at the classic Petrossian Bar in the Bellagio—the lovely space that bridges Old Vegas with Future Vegas to the tinkling of Steinway piano keys.
For these astounding tacos, the kitchen partially fills thin crispy potato shells with chopped hamachi enhanced with lemon, chives, and olive oil. Then things go lavishly to the edge with a bountiful swoosh of Daurenkie caviar, a mildly briny roe perfect for first-timers and aficionados alike. A dollop of crème fraîche and glinting edible gold foil completes the posh snackers.
But don’t get the idea that these caviar tacos are too fancy for themselves: they’re served on a welcoming bed of crushed potato chips and can go toe-to-toe with nachos on any finger food-friendly celebration day. For at least three or four of them, that is—they are luxurious, indeed.
What the hell am I saying? I'd eat a caviar taco for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or any meal. Who am I kidding?
P.S., Per Favore
Sometimes when writing magazine stories—like in my recent Fifth Street look at the neighborhood Italian restaurants that are burgeoning about Las Vegas and Henderson—some places don’t make it in for space. But here’s a special shout-out to the minestrone at Limoncello Fresh Italian Kitchen. It’s a purposefully simple soup, but laudable still for its abundant chunky vegetables united by tomatoes and basil. It’s a colorfully excellent starter to dinner with a spoonful of parmesan cheese and crusty bread on the side for dunking.
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from John L. Smith’s upcoming book, Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War over the West’s Public Lands, published by University of Nevada Press. In this chapter, Smith recounts the June 2014 murder of two police officers in east Las Vegas, and links the perpetrators, Jerad and Amanda Miller, to the Bundy Ranch standoff two months earlier.
AS THE SPRING of 2014 became summer, the temperatures in Southern Nevada climbed steadily toward triple digits and the Bundy Ranch standoff fell from the headlines. None of the participants in the tense showdown had been taken into custody, not even the armed volunteers who had been photographed pointing high-powered weapons at county, state, and federal law-enforcement officers. The tale of Camp Liberty grew taller with each telling.
The morning of Sunday, June 8, broke blue and mostly clear. As the sun moved toward noon and the temperature climbed to a hundred degrees, veteran Las Vegas Metro uniformed patrol officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo took a break from their calls in the East Valley Area Command to grab lunch in the 300 block of North Nellis Boulevard. The Cici’s Pizza buffet they chose was tucked inside a careworn strip mall located approximately five miles northeast of the famous Las Vegas Strip. It was a neighborhood joint popular with families on a tight budget, and Saldo and Beck were among its early customers. It was 11:20 a.m.
At 41, Beck was a veteran officer well known in the department as a leader. A training instructor with Multi-assault Counterterrorism Action Capabilities (mactac) and Special Weapons and Tactics (swat) experience, he was a mentor to younger officers like the 31-year-old Saldo. Both were married with wives and children.
As they took their seats in the restaurant, they didn’t notice two apparent customers coming through the door behind them, “from out of nowhere,” as a witness would later recall. The young married couple had not come for lunch but were looking for the occupants of the black-and-white Metro squad car they had noticed out front.
Bent on killing the first police officers they could find, the self-styled revolutionaries later identified as Jerad and Amanda Miller went to work quickly. Drug-addled and near-psychotic with hate for governmental authority, Jerad stepped behind the seated Saldo, withdrew a semiautomatic handgun from his vest, and fired it point-blank into the back of the officer’s head, killing him instantly.
Beck reacted quickly, but not before he was shot in the neck by the same weapon. As he struggled to return fire, Amanda shot him repeatedly. The officers, two of Metro’s finest, lay dead or dying. Fear paralyzed customers, but someone managed to call 911.
Armed to the teeth with a pistol-gripped shotgun and two handguns with armor-piercing bullets, the Millers stripped the police officers of their weapons and ammunition. Jerad removed a bright yellow Gadsden flag, the kind favored by the Tea Party and the militia movements, and draped it over Beck’s body. He added a swastika patch and pinned a note to Soldo’s uniform that read, “This is the beginning of the revolution.”
A poorly planned revolution, as it turned out. Although the Millers had vowed to take out as many cops as they could find, their exit strategy included a walk to a nearby Walmart for more ammunition. That’s where a line of Metro officers converged on them, led by some of the swat team members trained by Beck himself.
Jerad Miller repeated to frightened customers, “This is the start of the revolution. The cops are coming. Get out.” When a legally armed citizen named Joseph Wilcox spotted Miller waving his gun at police, he withdrew his weapon and prepared to fire, not recognizing Amanda Miller as an antagonist standing a few feet away. She shot and killed Wilcox, who was later remembered as “a man who was willing to be that person maybe some of us hope to be when danger looks us squarely in the eyes.”
The Millers fired on police for 15 minutes. As a new wave of backup officers arrived on the scene, Jerad was overheard shouting, “Stand down! I am in charge now!” But Beck and Soldo’s brother and sister officers were closing in. The Millers moved to the rear of the retail store in the sporting goods section, improvising a makeshift redoubt from store shelving. Jerad grabbed a baseball bat, shattered a glass case holding ammunition, and prepared to reload.
He then went down, courtesy of his wife, who stood a short distance away. She spoke a few words to him, then completed their suicide pact with a bullet to her own head. In less than 30 minutes, the Millers’ senseless revolution was over. Five people were dead. Their Walmart battle resulted in the murder of an innocent customer and cost them their lives.
The fallen officers were honored as community heroes. The Millers would be remembered too, and not only as a “wingnut Bonnie and Clyde duo” fond of donning sadistic clown makeup and posing with weapons. They had also been spotted participating in the Bundy Ranch standoff. Reacting angrily to internet posts on the InfoWars website and to the Bundy family’s doctored videos of their tangles with BLM rangers, the Millers had been among the patriots who loaded their guns and drove to Camp Liberty in support of the “besieged” Mormon clan. The Bundy family moved quickly to distance itself from the killers, calling them “very radical.”
The Millers were at Camp Liberty for several days before Jerad’s tough talk of violence finally convinced the Bundys to ask them to leave. Miller wasn’t hard to spot and didn’t conceal his opinions that federal law-enforcement and police officers were Nazi oppressors who deserved to be shot. In a brief interview with an NBC affiliate during the standoff, Jerad Miller wore a camouflage cap and shirt and offered, “I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and try to push us around.” He had come to the camp loaded for war.
Noting the obvious — that a direct association with vicious cop killers would be bad for the family’s image and cause — Ammon Bundy moved to redirect the narrative and called the Millers a “very radical” exception to the family’s armed volunteers. “Not very many people were asked to leave,” he said. “I think they may have been the only ones,” implying that the Millers were too radical for the Bundys.
But “radical” was in the eye of the beholder. Several of the Bundy Ranch standoff’s gunmen, including Todd Engel and Gregory Burleson, also had violent revolution on their minds.
The Millers lived in squalor on the tattered lower east end of the Las Vegas Valley, financed for the most part with income from Amanda’s job at Hobby Lobby. Their many internet and social-media posts painted a picture of right-wing radicals who promoted elements of white supremacy, militia action, and fundamentalist Christianity. They equated government and law enforcement, as Metro Undersheriff Kevin McMahill would put it, “with fascism and those who supported the Nazis.”
They railed against government tyranny, talking often with their neighbors about killing police officers, although those neighbors did not report them to police. They posted morbid predictions and violent threats on Facebook, and Jerad’s internet fingerprints were found on a range of conservative websites, some of which were aligned with the Bundys’ interpretation of the role of the federal government in the management of public lands.
In one Facebook post, Miller pronounced, “I will be supporting Clive Bundy and his family from Federal Government slaughter,” he wrote. “This is the next Waco! His ranch is under siege right now! The federal gov is stealing his cattle! Arresting his family and beating on them! We must do something, I will be doing something.”
In his own convoluted worldview, Jerad Miller was a nihilistic American patriot who had pronounced in a post that there “is no greater cause to die for than liberty.” When the Millers departed a friend’s apartment on the morning of the triple homicide and double suicide, they left behind documents that included a plan to murder Nevada court officials.
Although he claimed the Bible as his favorite book, Miller would also be remembered for posting photos posing with firearms and in face makeup as “The Joker,” the supervillain in Batman. “Either you stand with freedom, or you side with tyranny,” he wrote less than a month before the Bundy standoff. “There is no middle ground.”
The Millers were obviously mentally unstable. Self-styled revolutionaries, cult leaders, and outlaws commonly suffer from paranoia and delusions of grandeur. But in the wake of the Millers’ killing spree, many professionals examined the role that internet influencers may have played in instigating their fears and hatreds. Did they follow right-wing hate and dog-whistle conspiracy theories out of mutual interest, or did those voices encourage them to act on their impulses?
Multiple trials in U.S. v. Bundy would reveal that many of the armed men, who drove hundreds of miles to provide a paramilitary presence at the ranch, were called via militia email larded with InfoWars misinformation and mainstream news articles taken out of context.
Jerad warned that the Second Amendment was under attack, that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was a domestic terrorist organization, and he parroted the talking points of the Three Percenters, whose founder predicted mass armed unrest. “All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war ... The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it,” Jerad’s final Facebook post read.
1. REMEMBER BOARD GAMES — old-school, physical board games with pieces and cards and boisterous family arguments? They’ve been enjoying a comeback in recent years, a phenom no doubt amplified by the New Homebodyism inspired by COVID. But their resurgent popularity has mainly to do with the rise of elegantly designed, strategically satisfying “Eurostyle” games (think Settlers of Catan) whose play revolves less around demolishing your opponents than dealing creatively with life alongside them. The Eurostyle game currently taking the world by storm, however, isn’t European at all.
It’s called Wingspan, and it was invented by Elizabeth Hargrave from Florida. Out-Euroing even the most Eurostyle games, Wingspan is about building an ideal bird habitat. Can it get more charming than that? Oh, it can. This story in Slate considers how Wingspan, besides being fun, also manages to question the brainwashy capitalist impulses, assumptions, and values built into an American board-game culture still haunted by the ethos of Monopoly. Slate's Dan Kois writes, “The lack of real competition in Wingspan, its physical beauty, the grand themes it smuggles into the family rec room — they’re all enough to make you think about what a game actually is. What are the requirements for play? Does a game even require fierce competition, or scoring? Is Wingspan actually a game at all, or is it something slightly different? Is it art?” Spoiler alert: You might experience charm overload when you learn the game pieces include cute tiny little eggs.
2. I noped out of my gym in March 2020, shortly before the shutdown. And not necessarily reluctantly; I’ll even confess to having felt a teensy frisson of happy relief at “getting” to cancel my membership, as though I were a fifth-grader again and an epic snow day had shuttered my school. Admirably, my flimsy license to be lazy withstood all the hastily improvised gym alternatives that arrived as the pandemic chased us all indoors: Zoom yoga, YouTube body-weight routines, aerobic weeping. Sooo stoked to report that my larval dadbod is flourishing beneath its pulsating chrysalis of Cheeto-stained sweatpants!
But I don’t know if I have the imaginative wherewithal to make excuses not to work out for a mere … four seconds?! It's a thing, says the New York Times. (Then again, I kinda already do four-second workouts, except I call them anxiety attacks.)
3. I love hating a “good” book, especially one that critics go ga-ga over. That way, my tome-hurling rage and lacerating disappointment are mollified by the reassurring confirmation of my indisputably superior literary taste and perspicacity. But I can’t fairly resent book reviewers for leading me astray, particularly after reading this long but illuminating insider's rant, “Critical Attrition,” in N+1 about the class and economic factors lurking behind the grind that is book criticism. Turns out that book reviewing is often about neither books nor reviewing at all! Instead, from the perspective of labor, it’s frequently a kind of take-home exam for the working writer — or, better yet, writing worker: “The problem is not that book reviews are too mean or too nice, too long or too short, though they may be those things, too. The main problem is that the contemporary American book review is first and foremost an audition — for another job, another opportunity, another day in the content mine, hopefully with better lighting and tools, but at the very least with better pay. What kind of job or opportunity for the reviewer depends on her ambitions.” The piece is credited to “The Editors,” but I suspect a mind or two in the hive that wrote this piece paid some dues in the mills, mines, and farms of the intelligentsia internet.
4. Welp, looks like that whole minimalist lifestyle trend was just another cynical consumerist racket, but whatevz ... *hiding half-full Hefty bag* ... I was always a maximalist anyway. Not hating on you hipster monks out there or anything. I feel you. I get you. I admit it: I, too, had always wanted to be a minimalist — or rather, had always wanted the imagined dignity, grace, and clarity of being a minimalist — but, I dunno, I gradually just came to accept the fact that cluttering my house with weird thrift-store shit just sparks joy for me. Living my truth = so liberating! Anyway, I was thinking lately about the meaning of home in the context of COVID, and this recent piece by Mireille Silcoff in The Walrus, “More Is More: The End of Minimalism,” struck me with its sharp insights (and its pleasingly maximalist prose style). Staunchly pro-stuff herself, Silcoff posits that our renewed embrace of moreness, particularly in the realm of home design, is a nesting instinct gone viral: “If minimalism was about controlling the static and crashing of a world spinning too fast, maximalism may be more about filling in a void of loneliness and isolation.” But in its current expression, she writes, “it feels less about decadence, showiness, and richesse and more about diversity, acceptance, and fun.” See you at Goodwill — dibs on any suh-weet ceramic chickens! Andrew Kiraly
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