The Sharp’s Menu: A Super Bowl party spread inspired by the wise guys, sports bettors and classic Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the largest adult amusement park on planet Earth. Light, sound and stupid money stand athwart nature, defying the desert and reason. Vegas is synonymous now with sports; you can’t escape a single broadcast without the pregame show talking point spreads and totals and commercials inviting you to place prop bets and same-game parlays on apps in legal states. Every facet of how we talk about sports gambling is painted by Vegas.

This city has become the second Wall Street of America. After all, what is holding stock in a company other than making a wager that the line will go up? But it’s only in Las Vegas where you’re going to find the type who bets football for a living. The pros, the real sharps, the wise guys are at it, chasing edges, hooks, key numbers; going over their own analytics and power rankings and networks. And sometimes they’re just betting against the other guy – you, usually – because they think he’s just bad luck.

These sharps know Vegas, and they know where to eat.

I’ve lived with these sharps in my life for years now. As sports gambling is legalized across America, the wise guys are getting more publicity and more chances to talk about their profession – and it is a profession, one that despises loose money and sucker bets (I nearly got strangled by one in the middle of the Caesars Palace sportsbook for playing a three-team NBA parlay).

It’s not just loose money on betting: They know the strip is a sucker’s bet for food.

“Nobu has $20 each Wagyu tacos – tiny, 1.5 ounces – and they’re the best morsel to consume at Caesars,” one professional gambler said, “but for that same $20 you could get a full slab of ribs and chicken at Ellis Island BBQ.”

After this he texted me an image of a “special” at Treasure Island on the strip – four beers for $35 (your choice of Heineken, Sam Adams or Dos Equis).

Where the sharps like to eat is off-Strip, downtown and in hidden gems across the city.

“If locals eat on the strip it’s because they’ve got a few select restaurants they love,” the same guy told me.

Many of these same longtime professionals are drawn to history and old, classic spots, the steakhouses and Italian restaurants that have been part of the city’s history for upwards of 60 years. Italian immigrant culture is deeply ingrained in Las Vegas, and so too is the food. It’s warm, welcoming and hearty. It’s comforting and portions can be served for your whole party, plus anyone else who stops by.

I asked a few of those locals of the best spots to eat and developed a few ideas for your next Super Bowl party, with a Vegas twist. This isn’t the Vegas of buffets and kitsch; there are no cheese blocks dressed up like dice. This is the Sharp’s Menu, the food to honor the wise guys, the local degenerates who will have the high-roller wagers on the Big Game.

Eggplant Pizettes

There’s one place in Las Vegas that came up time and time again among the local gamblers I spoke to: Dom DeMarco’s Pizzeria. “Vegas feel with just the right mix of New York style and the pizza is fantastic,” one local told me. “But, as is the case with most establishments, often it’s the people you’re with that make it so memorable. Look around, and you’ll see power broker Las Vegans as well as celebrities and certainly the neighborhood local crowd as well.”

Pizza’s a great addition to any Super Bowl party, and New York style is an even better treat. But Dom DeMarco’s also features shareable eggplant pizzettes – a perfect vegetarian option for your guests, and easy to make. Breaded eggplant slices are baked with marinara sauce, ricotta blended with herbs and Grana Padano (a cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano). A perfect, individual-sized treat which you can top with what you please.

Calamari fritti

Nearly every Italian restaurant in Las Vegas has fried calamari. Growing up in an Italian-American family, I couldn’t think of any dish more quintessentially representative of my culture than calamari, even compared to spaghetti or pizza. When someone served up those golden rings of fried squid, you knew it was a special time.

Calamari is warm, heavenly and a very shareable dish. I’ve had plenty of people in my life who proclaim they don’t like seafood and thought twice after tasting calamari. Funny how that is, especially when you have to get over the hard sell of eating squid.

One sharp recommended the calamari at Andiamo’s, a steakhouse in The D Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The calamari there is flash-fried with banana peppers (my mother’s favorite, sure to add a nice sweet hint) and served with traditional ammoglio sauce.

Shrimp de Jonghe

Originally a Chicago dish, shrimp de jonghe is still served at the famous Golden Steer Steakhouse, an old restaurant that many gamblers recommended to me.

“This is also a must visit for anyone that wants the quintessential steakhouse meal and also sit in the same exact booths that Hollywood royalty used to be in,” one said.

Shrimp de Jonghe is a simple but wonderful casserole dish and easy to spoon out a serving. Shrimp is cooked in garlic butter and sherry, then topped with breadcrumbs. Golden Steer uses butter blended with cayenne pepper, dijon mustard, lemon juice and garlic; and infuses the bread crumbs with sherry and more garlic. Consider serving with French bread or pasta, but excellent solo too.

Pat’s Meatballs

Piero’s Italian Cuisine is located near the Las Vegas Convention Center, just off the Strip. It’s a true cross-cut of Italian eating, from the Sunday gravy to agnolotti. It’s a favorite of at least one professional gambler I spoke to, but what he couldn’t talk enough about was the meatballs.

The restaurant serves up their meatballs with fresh basil and a spot of ricotta cheese. Offering several types of sauces at a party is also a fun way to keep meatballs fresh – the “Sunday gravy” red sauce is a classic, but my own personal recommendation is a rich and flavorful vodka sauce, maybe even spicy. A Franciscan priest I knew in college liked to slow cook them in a crockpot with grape jam.

Piero’s meatballs come from a recipe of their long-serving wine director Pat Rost. You can find the recipe on their website:

2 lbs ground beef (80/20)
3 eggs
2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
½ cup cold water
Even ratio canola oil and olive oil (for frying)

Mix the meat, eggs and ingredients together in a large bowl, and then mix again with cold water. Form the balls, and fry with the canola/olive oil mix until brown on all sides. Cook with sauce on low heat for an hour.

No matter which teams make it to the Super Bowl, wagering on this menu is guaranteed to pay off.

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