It’s a blustery February weeknight, and inside the renowned Maryland steakhouse, guests mingle in the low-lit bar area, sipping red wine and sampling crab cakes and lamb chops, as a suit-and-tied piano player taps the keys.
They’re all enjoying an evening out at the award-winning The Prime Rib—but not in Baltimore—in Hanover, inside Maryland Live! Casino.
Brothers Buzz and Nick Beler opened the original Prime Rib on North Calvert Street in 1965 and added locations in Washington, D.C., in 1976, and in Philadelphia, in 1997. The fourth Prime Rib location at Maryland Live! marks the first time the steakhouse has partnered with a gaming company
“Maryland Live! is a world-class facility with quality standards that matched my own, so it was a natural fit for a partnership,” Buzz Beler said. “They have truly captured the essence of The Prime Rib with just enough casino flair.”
While the guests ate and drank and the music played, General Manager Jean-Jacques Retourné bounced around the restaurant, shaking hands and sharing laughs.
Retourné has more than 30 years experience in fine dining, having managed Citronelle, a French restaurant in Georgetown, for 13 years, and before that, the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. He knows the weight the name “Prime Rib” holds in the Baltimore area.
“That’s a big challenge to live up to [the Prime Rib’s] standard,” Retourné said. “It’s a level of standard that, for me, was one of the reasons I came on board, to try to live up to that.”
The restaurant’s main serving room features a 14-seat private dining area, which is dramatically encased by more than 800 bottles of wine and champagne. A few steps away is a 76-seat, open-air lounge area, complete with a retractable roof and a large, glass fire pit for outdoor dining when the weather allows.
As he toured the Prime Rib’s different dining areas, Retourné recalled meeting with Maryland Live! President and General Manager Robert Norton last September, before construction began.
“This was a shell, it was dirt and there was nothing at all,” Retourné said. “The first thing [Norton] said to me was, ‘You better get a wine list together.’”
Retourné built a list with about 240 selections and assembled a 68-person staff, while Maryland Live! Executive Chef Rudy Volpe oversaw a classic Prime Rib steak-and-seafood menu.
Opening an upscale steakhouse, with a storied local tradition, in a suburban casino presented several unique challenges to Retourné and his staff, so they officially opened the doors in early December with little fanfare.
“We just came in one day, opened the doors and turned on the lights,” Retourné said. “Now, we’re showing that we’ve come a long way and want to show we’re taking care of guests every night.
“Every restaurant has challenges when you open,” he added. “It follows its course. It takes a while for the machine to be well-oiled, and now it is.”
The Prime Rib staff also is revving up for the arrival of about 150 table games at Maryland Live! in April. The restaurant’s bar area features a terrace that opens to the casino floor, where staff is preparing for the placement of blackjack, poker, and roulette tables.
“We’re all eager to see table games coming in,” Retourné said “When you start having blackjack and roulette, that will be bring in a different crowd.”
The Prime Rib joins a varied lineup of food options at Maryland Live!, including Bobby’s Burger Palace, The Cheesecake Factory, Phillips Seafood, the Live! Buffet, and the Noodles Asian wok and noddle bar.
Adding an upscale option like the Prime Rib, where entrees range from an $18 white cheddar burger to a $64 12 oz. filet mignon, makes sense for any casino, said Volpe, who has worked with gaming companies in places like Las Vegas and California since 1995.
“Table-games players are accustomed to being wined and dined, so the steakhouse is part of their experience,” Volpe said. “We could be standing in any casino in Las Vegas. We could be in any modern casino in the world.”
What’s the best seller so far?
“The namesake—the prime rib,” Volpe said without hesitation. “It sells head-and-shoulders above everything else.”
Andrew Cannarsa has been writing professionally for almost 10 years, first as a crime and safety reporter at a community daily newspaper outside Philadelphia, and then as a business reporter at Baltimore Examiner. He graduated with a journalism degree from Boston University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @cannarsa.