Driving along a homely stretch of real estate on the West Side, the flabbergastingly gargantuan Hollywood Casino appears suddenly, like a faux art deco temple to all that glitters and gold. The glitz runs rampant inside, where the casino opens up like a giant hall with few walls but lots of individuated spaces. As expected, it’s a flurry of movement, noise, flashing lights and swirling images that might well be an ADHD-sufferer’s ideal dreamscape. In other words, my gang and I immediately started giggling. But would the casino have the last laugh? In other words, what were the odds we’d win money plus find good food at a sports bar situated in a mammoth gambling palace?
To find out, we walked past movie billboards and screening film snippets (it ain’t called “Hollywood” for nothin’), gaming tables and thousands of “one-armed bandits” we’d save for later, and what appeared to be a fairly representative sample of our city’s population. Following the sound of an R&B cover band, we landed in a sorta plush rotunda lounge — with Jumbotrons and a stage — that was anterior to our destination: a sports pub that, after the call part of Ohio Stadium’s most famous cheer, is named “o.h.” Considering it’s located in a casino, I wondered if the proper response would be “I.O.U.”
The unenclosed o.h. provides views onto the floor action and is as crazy about gold and bigness as the rest of the place. TVs churn and burn everywhere you look, Seussian lamps dangle from a super-high ceiling, and patrons sit on huge curved couches, gold booths with backs about 10-feet high or rather simple tables.
After fortifying ourselves with winter beers (Founders Porter and Great Lakes Christmas ale, $6), we attacked a sloppy mountain of Twisted Nachos ($10). Made with crisp and dense, Ruffles-like potato chips (some tablemates were skeptical of their homemade claim), good (if, unfortunately, chilly in parts) pulled chicken, a light guacamole, plus zingy barbecue and nacho cheese sauces, they were flavorful and satisfying in that goofy, watching-sports-while-munching manner.
Even though it was more pickled pepper rings than seafood, the Firecracker Shrimp and Calamari ($10) was a decent fritto misto. Served with what tasted like a sweet Thai chili and cocktail sauce hybrid, it was a crispy, ungreasy and bread crumb-battered example of above-average bar food.
Ditto for the towering Western Burger ($10), a double-pattied job with biggie onion rings, cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and barbecue sauce somehow all stuffed into a pretty good bun. On the side were a lotta long and crispy, flour-coated french fries.
Also worthy was the Pastrami and Corned Beef Reuben ($10, with a side). Stacked on marbled rye, its meat — the pastrami was said to be cured in house — was reassuringly fatty, salty and spicy.
When the menu-misspelled “Margarita” pizza ($11) arrived with a puffy-edged, irregular crust and what was obviously fresh mozzarella and ripped basil leaves, expectations ran high. Well, it tasted good but, alas, its crust was limp and soft.
The best things about the Chef’s Salad ($11) were the sweet and intriguing “honey blistered tomatoes.” Otherwise, mixed greens, shredded cheddar and generous piles of undistinguished deli meats — turkey (said to be “house smoked”) and sweet, smoky ham — didn’t add up to memorable.
Final tallies: among the four of us, we later won more than $300 gambling; o.h., which is OK, improves upon returning for drinks bought with house money.
Photos by Meghan Ralston