There’s no place on the planet that screws up your relationship with money as much as Las Vegas, but not just in the way you think. Vegas is full of wallet-emptying temptations and experiences, but it’s also home to some of the most fantastic deals in the world. Once you’ve spent time eating around Spring Mountain Road, eating Asian food almost anywhere else might feel like a ripoff. Once you’ve bought a deeply discounted Burberry and Ferragamo wardrobe at the Premium Outlets, 15 percent off at Neiman Marcus seems like an insult.
Those who visit Vegas to ball out of control aren’t immune to counting every dollar. High rollers who have no problem betting $500 per blackjack hand and spending $2,000 for nightclub bottle service get annoyed when that club charges them $8 for bottled water, because water is free on the casino floor. In this world, $8 for a bottle of water is nonsense even though $400 for a bottle of vodka is fine—it’s just part of the spectacle.
Me? I like to focus on positive experiences, like how a $90 brunch can seem like a bargain. The Sterling Brunch at Bally’s dates back four decades but was relaunched at the new BLT Steak last year. (The price is $85 if you have a players card, which is free, so maybe get one.) It’s a completely different experience than the buffets at other upscale casinos. Yes, you’ll stand in line for Alaskan king crab legs, lobster tails and filet mignon, but there’s also civilized waiter service and unlimited pours of Perrier-Jouët (usually $25 a glass at BLT) and as many orders as you want of hackleback caviar or tuna tartare.
Some have complained the lobster tails aren’t as big and the crab legs aren’t as good as they used to be, but this is still the brunch benchmark. Sterling is the best unlimited seafood bounty you’ll find, and it also serves steakhouse-worthy beef along with other fantastic meats like Nueske’s slab bacon. Plus, it more closely resembles the calm, luxurious experience you get at Wynn’s Country Club or Simon at Palms Place than the typical buffet death match. Somehow, splitting into buffet stations and à la carte ordering restores a sense of grace to all-you-can-eat Sunday afternoons.
Sure, you can beat the house by drinking Champagne and eating big plates of steak and shellfish, but I bet it doesn’t quite happen like that. This brunch isn’t run by rubes, so every meal starts with BLT Steak’s signature warm Gruyére popovers. This is cheesy bread for kings, what a luxury real estate broker who joined me for brunch called the best bread he’d ever had in Vegas. It’s hard to eat just one popover. Eat two, and you might be halfway to full. They know this. Every bite of bread is one less bite of caviar or lobster.
When I see these popovers, I think of the time my parents yelled at me when I was 10 and grabbed a banana on a cruise-ship buffet. They were incredulous. There was shrimp cocktail and prime rib, and I went for a banana? They wanted me to never behave like that kind of sucker ever again.
But look, I never pass up a chance to eat that BLT cheesebread. You’ll think of that bread longer than you will any crab leg. You can get a crab leg so many other places. Sometimes it’s fine to let the house win.
Sterling Brunch BLT Steak at Bally’s, 702-967-7258. Sundays, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.