Trop’s Philly block Is Saying Alot For Everyone With Salsa In Mind

THE TROPICANA Casino & Resort in Atlantic City, in bankruptcy and looking for a buyer, has been in the news recently more for its financial woes than big casino payouts or top-flight entertainment. However, that didn’t stop crowds from attending the Philly Block Party during a blustery March weekend. The hotel’s popular Quarter features 60 stores, entertainment venues, the bluemercury spa and restaurants as diverse as the upscale Palm, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Corky’s Ribs & BBQ. When the Quarter opened in 2004, it was heralded as a welcome addition as Atlantic City casinos sought to lure younger visitors, non-gamblers and others seeking excitement beyond the casino floor. Restaurants can open and shut quicker than a cooler of cold drinks on a hot day. But the restaurants here seem to have done well, brimming with customers undeterred by (or perhaps drawn to!) the $10 vodka shots from the ice bar at Red Square restaurant, or the premium-brand mojitos at Cuba Libre Restaurant. The Quarter looks and functions in the true spirit of a Latin piazza. Grandparents watch children play near the fountain. Palm trees soar two stories up toward a ceiling painted to look like a tropical daytime sky 24/7. During our recent visit, young, energetic travelers carrying their own coolers, couples eager for a weekend alone, and seniors raring to play the slot machines all lined up at the check-in desk of the Havana Tower, Tropicana’s newest hotel addition, located in the heart of the Quarter. There are three additional hotel towers that make up the Trop. The North and South Towers sit atop the casino floor and recently were refurbished with gorgeous linens. The West Tower is part of the Tropicana complex but not connected directly to the casino. No matter which room you choose, an ocean view room won’t cost you extra since they are provided on request, availability permitting. My husband, Weller, and I hadn’t been to Atlantic City in quite a while. In fact, we’d never spent the night there. We had arrived early, beating check-in crowds that at one point backed up in a line that snaked around the hallway. Our guest room was rather simple, not at all what was expected, and the flowered bedspread had us wishing we had perhaps stayed in one of the towers with the luxurious new bedding. But the room had an unexpected southern view that displayed Atlantic City from a different perspective. Turning off the lights and leaving the draperies open, one could fall asleep in the moonlit, neon glow. Waking to a morning view of the ocean, I thought, “Who needs the nightlife of Manhattan to have a good time?” Marylanders pride themselves on their crab cake recipes. But I defy anyone to find a more delicious crab cake than the sandwiches at Cuba Libre. However, we made two mistakes. First, we ate waaaay too much at Cuba Libre, considering we were dining at Carmine’s that evening. Second, by eating too much at Carmine’s as well, we went upstairs to sleep rather than hit the dance floor at Cuba Libre for a late night of salsa dancing. With its heaping, family-sized portions, Carmine’s solidly reinforced Italians’ legendary love of food. Smart guests know to avoid eating at least six hours before their dinner reservation there – and to bring friends and family who are not bashful about eating like every day is Thanksgiving dinner. First, bread arrived, fresh and warm, with little dishes of herb-seasoned olive oil for dipping. Pace yourself – there’s a lot more to come! Salad came – a bowl the size you would hurriedly prepare after a workday to feed the entire family. Next was a beautifully presented antipasto platter of Italian meats, cheeses, olives, pickles and vinegar peppers, followed by heaping bowls of country-style rigatoni, beans, sausage and broccoli. Then the servers arrived with platters of honey-brown, oven-roasted chicken and sizzling sausages and porterhouse steaks – the latter plate so heavily laden the server needed both hands to place it on our table. It was the Lenten season and I was abstaining from meat, so it required serious willpower to keep from sampling even a tiny piece, especially while listening to the appreciative murmurs of other diners. Finally, dessert arrived. There’s just one way to describe a foot-long platter of ice cream topped with hot fudge, caramelized fruit and whipped cream sitting on a chocolate torte. Sinful. Carmine’s, however, has labeled this signature dessert “The Titanic.” At the end of our family-style meal, the waiter wrapped doggie bags for our party of about 10. Whew! Bless the woman who cooks like this on Sundays. *