Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one-year anniversary.
Michael Mina [Photo: MGM Grand]
Michael Mina has spent the last two years switching up his restaurants in Vegas. Seablue closed at the MGM Grand to make way for Pub 1842, which opened last July at the resort. It seems every time you walk by the pub, no matter what time of day, it's jumping with a full bar and people dining on barbecue and peanut butter burgers. Here, Mina talks about the decision to open his most casual restaurant in Vegas, how the menu here was developed and more.
How did Pub 1842 come together?
It actually kind of came together in reverse order. About a year before we opened 1842, we started talking about Seablue. It was amazing. I loved it. It had a long run at the MGM Grand. The great thing about Las Vegas is that it's filled with these kind of little cities. They redefine themselves and restaurants were part of that. About a year before the pub, we started talking about it, directionally where everything was going at MGM. We knew pubs were becoming more and more popular. We started working on conceptualizing and pitching it to MGM.
At the same time we were offered this space in Jackson Hole [The Handle Bar]. It was interesting because we were already working on it.
We felt that not only would a pub do well for MGM but that location going out to the pool.
What have you learned in the first year?
It's been really interesting, because this is obviously the most casual restaurant I have in Las Vegas. You have to understand that when you've been in a market in Las Vegas as long as I have, they would love to eat a hamburger made by Michael Mina but the expectations are the same as when you eat at Michael Mina.
I wasn't sure how much at first. When you do something like a pub, how many are coming because it's a pub or because they know me?
Those that don't know what we do come in and learn. That drives business to our other restaurants as well.
Pub 1842 [Photo: Chelsea McManus]
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
Energy. We wanted it to be true to that focal point of a pub. We wanted it to be a gathering place to eat and drink so we created the big center bar. I love sports and my next passion after cooking is sports.
The cocktail program was designed to keep this energy going. I wanted to make sure this space had this energy. The lighting, the music, the way the bar is.
There's more coming. We're going to do these custom-designed picnic tables out front.
What was the menu testing process like?
It was interesting because we probably spent as much or more time than we do with our traditional restaurants.
We spent so much time on the fish and chips recipe. We actually used a lot of our food science. We wanted to make a batter that doesn't get too crisp but not brown. It was fun.
We were in pursuit of the perfect burger. The wood burning grill we knew we had. We wanted to be able to cook all the burgers and fish on there. Then it was about the bun and making the great recipe for the bun. I'm not a big brioche person. They're too buttery. We wanted a potato bread with the density of the brioche.
We sourced this piece of equipment, a griddle with metal stainless steel rings on it, that toasts the bun but warms up the center so that you get this bun toasted where it's warm in the middle.
Obviously the grind of the meat, the short rib brisket and chuck and getting that right. Then of course the toppings.
Has Vegas embraced the restaurant?
I think so. It's really funny. I'll be sitting in Michael Mina in San Francisco and all these people will walk in. "We went to your pub at MGM Grand." People are going to the pub and loving it. It's great for me. People go to Las Vegas to have a great time.
Six months in, what changed?
When we opened, we didn't have our smokers. When you see the barbecue on the menu, Tony Schutz is probably one of the top barbecuers in the state. He grows all the peppers at home. We expanded the barbecue after that.
We have traditional pub food but we tried to do a light dish to balance the heavy dishes on the menu.
The biggest change foodwise is the whole barbecue section of the menu.
What's the must order dish of the moment?
I hope you're hungry. You have to try the things that are just fun. The nachos are just super fun with the green chili on them. You have to fish and chips, a burger, the barbecue. You have to go more than once.
I was there the other day and I was not hungry. They brought me a barbecue plate with a little bit of everything. And the cornbread on the barbecue is baked to order.
What's on tap for the future?
What's been really fun about it is the continual sourcing of beers. The cocktail program continues to evolve. We do seasonal changes at all the restaurants. That's not normal for a pub. When corn's around, we're going to do that on the barbecue. When it's not around, we change to squash.
We have Bardot Brasserie coming. That is definitely so exciting. I went through it. It's enormously inviting but chic. People are really going to see something that really fits Aria. I think that property is a modern approach but the devil's in details, the details of design. Every time I see it I see another level of design.
We designed the bar up front. It's inviting but there's a level of sophistication to the design with a lot of layers to it. When you've had a space and get your redesigned space, there's always a magic to it. In this case, you have five years of experience in the space. You have a few years behind you of understanding the space. It always seems to work better.
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