Washington, DC-based chef Robert Wiedmaier had plenty of in-house concepts to pick from when he agreed to open a restaurant at Revel Resort and Casino, the new 47-story property in Atlantic City, NJ. But instead of defaulting to his specialty, fine dining, he went with his most approachable concept: Mussel Bar, a gastropub meant to reproduce the food and ambiance of a Belgian roadhouse.
The new place is the second iteration of Wiedmaier’s Mussel Bar concept; the first is located in Bethesda, MD. The chef also has a trio of high-end restaurants in the metro Washington area: Marcel’s, his fine-dining flagship, and Brasserie Beck, both in DC; and Brabo, located at the Lorien Hotel & Spa, a Kimpton property in Alexandria, VA.
Revel knew all about Wiedmaier’s cooking skills and his trio of swanky concepts. But its management wanted something an Atlantic City gambling crowd could relate to. In that light, Mussel Bar’s gastropub concept seemed ideal.
“We targeted Robert for the overall strategic position of Revel’s dining, which centers around excellence, but accessibility,” Revel’s restaurant consultant Chuck Bragitikos told the Press of Atlantic City. “And Robert really defines that. The quality of what he puts in front of you is superb, yet you are welcome and comfortable in a suit or if you are in jeans.”
Mussel Bar at the Revel is located on the casino floor. Wiedmaier’s high-profile culinary neighbors there include a pair of Iron Chefs. Jose Garces operates a unit of his Spanish tapas concept, Amada, at Revel, and Marc Forgione runs the 300-seat American Cut steakhouse. Also on the premises is Central Michel Richard, the latest of that legendary chef’s brand extensions. In this context, Mussel Bar is well-positioned as the least-fancy dining option that would still offer notable food.
The signature item on Mussel Bar’s menu—what else, mussels—comes in five varieties. Versions include Spicy Thai Green Curry and Cave Aged Gruyere. A half order costs $16; full portions are $30, with frites included. Meat and potato eaters can go for the Steak Frites ($32), a Filet Mignon ($46) or a 52-ounce Herb Crusted Porterhouse ($110). There’s a fully stocked raw bar, plus charcuterie ($8 per item) and cheese selections ($6 each) and a quintet of pizza-like wood-fired Belgian tarts that cost between $14-$20.
Considering that gastropubs are usually meant to evoke local taverns with better-than-average food, these price points seem aggressive. But it’s good news that Wiedmaier is able to command them in an atmosphere where customers come “…to hear live rock and roll, catch a game on TV or just chill.” Also helping to set the tone: the chef’s personal custom-made Bourget motorcycle that hangs from the ceiling and a beverage program that offers 150 craft beers, 75 of them imported from Belgium.
Mussel Bar at the Revel tells us that customers are willing to embrace a gastropub concept in nontraditional contexts and endure a high check average to do so. It also should make operators who are thinking about entering this emerging segment aware that standards can be high. You’ll need creative, well-prepared food and a strong beer-focused beverage program to compete. But Wiedmaier is showing us at the Revel that the market for gastropubs could be much broader than we think.