Las Vegas


Ecstatic fast food, Italian Elvis, Clearing the bread racks

Joy to be had at multi-hued Jollibee

On May 2, a technicolor burger joint opened on Maryland Parkway -- Jollibee. Located in the entryway of the similarly new east Las Vegas-meets-Far East supermarket, Seafood City, Jollibee is a chain from the Philippines. It already has franchises in Southern California, and this is the brand's first foray into Nevada.

Jollibee is regarded as the McDonald's of the Philippines. And it shares the basic layout of any corporate fast food place from Mickey D's and Burger King to Taco Bell and Arctic Circle. Step up, order, receive, move to table, eat.

 But Jollibee takes the solid, simple, bold color schemes of its American forebears to a hyper-saturated, Manga cartoon-like level. Inside it’s all aqua and light-orange moulded plastic chairs, a bright red illuminated scrim below the ordering counter and a highly colorful and photographic menu board behind the counter. There's even a plasma TV screen running kinetic HD scenes of meat meeting bun, shrimp meeting sauce, etc., in the middle of the wide menu display.

And then there are the nearly ecstatic names on the Jollibee menu. The basic burger is called the "Yum," or "Yum with cheese." Upgrade with a pineapple slice to the Amazing Aloha. Choose from among selections of Chickenjoy with fried poultry pieces. Break out from Americanish burger monotony with Jolly Spaghetti. Go full-on-Philippines fun with Palabok Fiesta, a mélange of sauced pork, shrimp and hard-boiled egg served on rice.

Yum, Aloha, Jolly, Fiesta ... this place truly goes for festive appellations. Totally jolly.

I popped in a week after Jollibee's opening. The place was packed with customers. And there were more behind-the-line employees than you are likely to see at any other fast food joint. It was a brightly colored hive of fast food, Philippines-style.

Of course, some of this added labor is probably to accommodate the initial eating delight of Jollibee's Las Vegas fans. The Maryland Parkway Jollibee will probably tone down a bit, but not in vibrant color and light. It will just lose a little business as the next euphoric Jollibee opens in Las Vegas.


3890 S Maryland Parkway

Elvis, Italian-style

 If ever a city could give birth to Elvis' Restaurant & Bar, open for four months now on Sahara just west of the Strip, it is Las Vegas.

Sure, anyone can throw up some slightly kitschy photos of the King and Southern-fry some grub and call it an homage. But an Italian-inflected bar and dinner menu with cabaret seating completed by stage lighting and an Elvis-inspired musical performance by the owner, an Elvis tribute artist himself? I doubt if there’s a similar establishment anywhere.

Elvis' Restaurant & Bar is the labor of love of proprietor Elvis Nargi, a former Las Vegas realtor with three decades of E.A. Presley impersonating under his glimmering, golden belt buckle.

Nargi's place offers actual kitsch ... the real deal. And there's an incredible amount of it, too. The whole establishment is filled with Elvisania and complementary Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, blues and mafia regalia. All the artifacts are from Nargi's own personal décor trove ... not bought in a complete but fake set like an imported pre-fab Irish pub. It's a sight to be seen.

I visited Elvis' on a recent Friday night to watch the comings-and-goings of this newest and most idiosyncratic of themed restaurants.

Around 8 p.m., groups of diners started to trickle in for sit-down service. Some parties headed to the more sandwich and pizza side of the menu. A couple of tables went for more full service with soups, salads and shrimp cocktails to head into entrees.

Around 9 p.m., a lounge act started to perform standard hits, and more bar patrons arrived. Many comers were members of a definitive cross-dressing niche common in the environs. The rest of the customers seemed to fall into a wide swath of Vegas local types, though trending to an eccentric, nightlife-loving old school crowd. Above all, Elvis' Restaurant & Bar is a welcoming and hospitable place, a make-your-family experience.

There were two performances by proprietor Nargi lounging it up to Elvis songs, as well as other standards. His renditions were met with enthusiastic response.

Elvis' is in the startup days, so things seemed a bit shambolic at times. But the place is not without a clockwork of its own. It will probably find its very own mix of Elvis-time and dinner time, even in this city without clocks.

Viva, Elvis' Restaurant & Bar … Viva indeed.

Elvis' Restaurant & Bar

545 E. Sahara Ave

The last loaves out (the front door)

 Since moving to Las Vegas nearly two years ago, I had been looking for a really great crusty, chewy artisanal baguette. Just some good European bread, darn it.

 With all the commuting and a seeming lack of true bakeries, I thought I had found a secret saving method -- get par-baked (about 2/3 done) loaves at Whole Foods and finish them off in the oven at home. The breads are mostly from Al Fornaio, and fine, if corporate. But I wanted a grab-the-bag-and-stick-it-in-the-knapsack real deal -- done and ready to tear away at.

I'd read about Zimmerman Bakery, out in the incongruous location of Boulder Highway and Russell Road. A neighborhood corner bakery it was not, but it bakes with traditional methods.

So, on May 12, I finally drove out to Zimmerman Bakery to buy an excellent baguette for a dinner with a more excellent dinner guest.

It turns out that I arrived at Zimmerman Bakery at the very last moment -- at least for drive-up retail bread-buying purposes. The bakery closed its retail doors that evening after two years. Its wholesale business to Strip restaurants far outpaces the few drivers-up to the retail case -- by a factor in the multitudes.

I was doubly lucky, too, on my last-minute arrival. Owner Thomas Hanlon took me on a tour of the workings of his bakery. After slices of great, mouthful peasant loaves with butter, I was shown stacked-up sacks of hard winter wheat flour, a five-stage osmosis water filtering system, barrels of ethanol-belching starters (or bigas) and an enormous high/low tech steam-circulating oven from Italy.

Headed out the door with my baguette, Hanlon assured me that his loaves will still be available to retail customers at farmers markets in Summerlin.

More driving, yes. Great bread, absolutely. It's a different economics. I'll be heading west for a good crust.

Call Zimmerman Bakery for locations where its bread is sold at 562-2253. writer Greg Thilmont is constantly prowling Las Vegas with a notebook, digital camera and videocamera -- along with a mind for interesting happenings. Contact him at [email protected]

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