The rejuvenation of Pine Bluff has been talked about for a decade now. During much of that time it has been a one step forward, two steps back effort. We even went down for an event almost 2 years ago that promised to be a glimpse at the future, only to have a big portion of the funding vanish before it ever got started.
I had started to wonder if we would ever see this once great town rise out of the rubble again. Then newly announced Saracen Casino and Resort got very serious about food. They had the funding to back it up, and quickly made the right moves to build something fantastic.
Saracen started off by hiring Todd Gold as their Food and Beverage director where he will head up the restaurant operations within the resort. Gold has a strong history in the restaurant industry in Central Arkansas, he was the driving force behind the Purple Cow restaurants and then shifted his focus to build and grow the Pulaski Tech Culinary school. He understands the food business as well as anyone else in the state.
“At Saracen we are building what we believe will be the best restaurant in the entire state, and probably in the entire region,” Gold explains as we walk through the casino. “It is not just about our flagship restaurant though. We are bringing a strong level of quality to all the food operations with in the casino to make them each individually the best at what they are.”
The main attraction at Saracen will be the Red Oak Steakhouse, and it has all the elements to become the best steakhouse in the state. To start Saracen takes farm to table to another level by owning and managing many of the farms that supply their restaurants, including carefully managed cattle and bison herds.
“We started working to acquire the best cattle herd in Arkansas, and we WP Malone herd out of Clark County. The beef quality in it was exceptional,” Saracen project manager Carlton Saffa tells us. “Beyond that we also have a bison herd and we will use the full primal on our bison. It ends up being some cuts of bison that people have not had before, and I think will really enjoy the rich flavor involved.”
Red Oak will age their steaks in house and offer a wide variety of cuts and ages. The other important thing for Red Oak is their focus on the sides and making sure the quality of everything on the plate matches that of the steaks.
“We didn’t want to be like other steakhouses where you may have a great steak and then get some basic mashed potatoes on the side,” Saffa continues. “We put a lot of care and planning into everything we send out so that if we do mashed potatoes, for instance, we are giving you the best you have ever had.”
Stepping down from Red Oak is the Vegas style buffet that also features a strong focus on farm to table. Unlike most buffets you are used to, Saracen will focus on fresh, frequently rotating food, with much of it cooked to order. They have also made a number of adjustments to keep it safe during covid by limiting self service options.
Next on the list is the Legends Sports bar that will feature Saracen’s own in house brewery. They source many of the ingredients for the beer as well as the food from local farmers here as well. The brewing setup is prominently positioned above the bar so that you can watch future beer being brewed as you drink or eat. The area also features a dining room with a stage that will include live music.
Finally Saracen will feature a food court with four different options, all equally great. First will be a delta oriented eatery, a fried chicken focused space, a taqueria restaurant, and a coffee and donut spot. Each of them bring the same level of focus and care as any of their top bill locations.
Along with the restaurants are several bar only locations scattered around the casino floor. Speaking of the casino, while we like to focus on food it is an absolutely gorgeous location that would not look out of place on the Vegas strip. They bring a high level of attention to every small element through out the place, including spending several extra million to ensure protection for COVID measures once they open.
Saracen is set to open the restaurants and casino portion in mid-October, the resort and convention center portions will begin construction sometime after.
Saracen looks like it will absolutely be the portion that kick starts the surrounding area of Pine Bluff, including the nearby downtown area, while providing a world class destination on its own.