This Ain’t No Buffet

By Bill Gerdes

Posted June 2, 2011 in Eats

When I was growing up, casino food had a certain bletch factor, a stale buffet and smoke-filled diner ambiance that suggested overly-fried meats, portly men from the Midwest smoking cigars and mushy apples. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Now of course if you’re any sort of celebrity chef you’ve got a restaurant in Vegas or Atlantic City, and if you serve up mushy apples they’re imported from the steppes of Kilimanjaro or some other exotic locale. Freddy Rieger, executive chef of POM Restaurant at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, doesn’t serve up mushy apples at his creative middle-brow restaurant in the casino.

No, Rieger, along with chef de cuisine, Juan Gonzalez, offers up creative comfort food in an airy setting that feels far removed from the hazy mild desperation of the casino floor. It’s the kind of place where you can get a quality steak and eggs at most hours of the day, but also a delicately cooked filet mignon for a more upscale dining experience. POM manages to be most things to most people, a rare quality in the restaurant business.

The food itself helps. We started off with an array of appetizers. First up was a plate of mozzarella “lollipops,” square fried wedges of panko crusted cheesy goodness that sat well with the heat-infused marinara sauce that came as a dipping sauce. They’re tasty enough that it didn’t matter that the lollipop conceit was more skewer than actual lollipop.

Even better were the bang bang shrimp, coated in a semi-sweet glaze that hugs tightly to being overly sweetened only to recede delectably when it interacts with the crunchiness of the shrimp itself. The bang bang shrimp’s moment in the sun was short-lived though, as the calamari were perfectly cooked ringlets that only got better when combined with the pesto aioli that was lightly dabbed on top. Simply put, these were some of the better calamari I’ve had and reasonably priced at eight dollars. Rounding out the appetizer overload was the fried chicken, really chicken strips, served up on a skewer with shoestring fries along with three dipping sauces, a tangy wing version, a sweet honey, along with a nice blue cheese. My kids gobbled them down.

POM is that kind of place-you can bring the kids in or you could have quite a romantic meal in a more secluded part of the restaurant. You can spend a little with some of the entrees going for as low as $11 or you can get a little crazy. Both Chef Rieger and Chef Gonzalez deserve credit for what they’ve built here, a comfortable place to enjoy fun food. By the time our entrees arrived I was feeling full, but the lure of some authentically crispy, moist, Southern-fried chicken drew me in. The stars of the main course though were the meatballs in Chef Freddy’s linguini. Meatballs like these normally entail a five-hour flight to Jersey. Now you just head east on the 10.

POM Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino, 84-245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio, (800) 827-2946; Breakfast, 6AM-11:30AM; Lunch, 12PM-4PM; Dinner, 5PM-2AM. AE, D, MC, V.

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