Wow! What a difference new ownership can make. Since Landry's Inc. - owners of restaurant chains that include Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Rainforest Cafe and The Chart House, as well as Golden Nugget casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas - bought Morton's the Steakhouse, the national chain has gone from what seemed like an outdated boardroom classic steakhouse to a contemporary culinary destination.
Tuxedos? Gone. Overdone wood decor? Out. Restaurant managers carving salmon at the entrance? Not anymore. Table presentation where waiters tell you what a potato is? Forget about it.
In fact, Morton's, located inside Caesars Atlantic City, went through a dramatic makeover last year that included all new furniture that now features stylish, black leather banquettes; a silver, gray and black color scheme that screams contemporary; a sleek, glass and steel wine wall replacing a stodgy brick one; modern chandeliers; new carpeting and wall treatments; and even a renovated bar that features four giant 64-inch TVs and a stunning, new granite bar replacing the former wood one.
"We also opened it up more so that the flow from the dining room into the bar is more continuous," says General Manager Michael Flannelly, who has been with Morton's Atlantic City since Day 1, when it opened in 2005. "It is definitely a more relaxed, modern Morton's."
Landry's, however, did much more than change the restaurant physically. The menu is massively improved, featuring more contemporary presentations and offering a much wider array of items to offer diversity.
"The idea was to maintain our great, traditional items from the Morton's menu and expand it with some new things," Flannelly says.
If you're a longtime fan of Morton's, don't sweat all of the changes. It still offers prime steaks and chops such as its signature 16-ounce N.Y. strip ($58), 16-ounce center-cut ribeye ($49) and 22-ounce Chicago-style bone-in ribeye ($57). However, if you're looking for prime rib, Morton's no longer has that.
But meat lovers can now check out the 16-ounce bone-in veal chop ($52) with black truffle butter; and the 16-ounce double-cut prime pork chop ($32), the first time Morton's has offered a pork dish on its regular menu.
"We haven't changed anything as far as the steaks go," Flannelly says. "We were already providing great quality, so why mess with it? They are just great steaks with a touch of Morton's seasoning added to aid the grilling, and we're not covering up anything. We let the meat speak for itself."
Morton's also added pasta to its regular menu for the first time, featuring shrimp scampi capellini ($29) with toasted pine nuts, spinach, tomato and white wine; and braised beef short rib ($36) with wide egg noodles, sour cream and chives.
"It's nice to have regular pasta dishes," Flannelly says. "And they are delicious."
For starters, guests can still enjoy their favorite jumbo lump crab cake ($18.50) with mustard mayonnaise, jumbo shrimp Alexander ($21) with beurre blanc sauce, broiled sea scallops ($20.50) wrapped in bacon and baked escargot ($13), but they can now try the new Ahi tuna tower ($19) with avocado, Pico de Gallo and wonton crisps; tenderloin steak tacos ($14) with filet mignon, roasted tomato salsa, Pico de Gallo and fresh avocado; tuna tacos ($14) with avocado, Wakame and Pico de Gallo; and New Orleans-style jumbo shrimp ($19.50) with a Creole cream sauce.
Other new items include: the return of macaroni and cheese as a side dish (all $13) with bacon and onion and the addition of flavorful Tasso ham; creamed corn; onion rings; creamy au gratin potatoes; a five-onion soup ($13.50) crusted with Swiss cheese and featuring a slightly creamy garlic broth; the return of the chopped spinach salad ($11) that is slightly different with a warm bacon dressing; and Chilean sea bass ($45) with jumbo lump crab, lemon butter and asparagus.
Morton's also will rotate seasonal, limited-time items that currently include pan-roasted Alaskan halibut ($36) with brown butter caper sauce and fresh veggies; a field green citrus salad ($11) with baby arugula, oranges, strawberries, goat cheese, candied walnuts and roasted caper citrus vinaigrette; and side dishes.
"And we offer some specials like clams casino, which other place don't have, but they make sense here because we are at the shore," Flannelly says.
Some of the changes originally alarmed longtime customers, but once they were assured many of their favorites such as the Chicken Christopher ($33) - a dish with garlic beurre blanc sauce that Flannelly says is "simply the greatest chicken dish you will ever have" - were intact, they became accustomed and eventually grew to love the changes.
And desserts such as the Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, four flavors of made-to-order souffles, key lime pie, upside-down apple pie, creme brulee, carrot cake and more, will certainly have people coming back.
"We wanted to give guests a lot of options," Flannelly says. "It's a less stuffy atmosphere because we just want to make the experience outstanding and more relaxed. We don't have that intimidating, old-school feeling anymore. Right from the moment you see our new glass doors, which replaced solid doors you couldn't see through before, we are more inviting. We were very fortunate Landry's took over Morton's because they have the same focus that the traditional Morton's culture always had on great service, great food and big wines, and they made us even better."
Check Out Power Hour
Morton's the Steakhouse inside Caesars Atlantic City has one - actually two - of the most popular happy hours in the city.
From 5 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. until closing every day, Morton's Power Hour features select beers for $5.50, select wines for $7, special cocktails and martinis for $8 and great food deals, too. For $6, guests can try iceberg lettuce wedges with blue cheese topped with tomato and bacon; fresh-cut potato chips with blue cheese dressing; and chicken goujounettes with mustard mayo. The $7 items are mini crab cake BLTs, tuna tacos, steak tacos, mini prime cheeseburgers and four petite filet mignon sandwiches with mustard mayo.
"We have built this to a real success story," General Manager Michael Flannelly says. "We have a lot of hotel guests and locals. We have people who come in so regularly we can set our clocks by them."