With mellow jazz music playing quietly in the background while you dine at Oxford Bar & Grill, you might not notice the tinkling of electronic coins or the distinctive melodies singing from nearby slot machines. But you’ll definitely notice the creative and diverse menu offered up by chef Chris Gill and food and beverage manager Phil Everett, who run the restaurant inside the Oxford Casino.
Card sharks and high rollers — along with, of course, the rest of us occasional gamblers and regular restaurant patrons looking for a nice meal — have lots of food options to choose from at the Oxford Bar & Grill.
Gill called the menu “American fusion,” meaning an eclectic blend of several culinary influences. He said he brings a Southwestern twist (check out the mesquite chicken salad, nachos or quesadillas) while Everett’s background lends itself more to an Asian flair (fresh rolls made with Napa cabbage, cellophane noodles and shrimp, topped with cilantro and a sweet chili sauce, or spicy hot noodles with tofu, chicken and vegetables).
Gill shared the Oxford Bar & Grill’s recipe for one of its many interesting appetizers, lettuce wraps, which are filled with a chicken mixture and given a light, oriental twist. Easy to make and quite pretty to look at, the lettuce wraps at the restaurant make a simple, delightful lunch for $9.95.
“We also rely on a lot of Maine classics,” such as Maine lobster mac and cheese and grilled Maine salmon (both $16.95), and a traditional Maine lobster roll, available for $14.95. Gill develops many weekly dinner specials, one of which is the recipe he shared for a rustic sausage pasta dish.
Since the casino opened eight months ago, Everett said, he and Gill have focused on understanding their guests and trying to cater to their dining needs and preferences. With continual tweaks to their menu, Everett said, “We’re constantly exploring new options.” He said Gill reacts, takes the lead and challenges his staff to follow suit. The restaurant is accommodating and will take into consideration special dietary concerns, such as offering gluten-free bread, pizza dough or pasta. “We’re sensitive to who we’re serving,” Everett added.
When asked what they consider their most unique item on the menu, both Everett and Gill answered in unison “The Donut Burger!”
Not sure I heard them correctly, I had to have them repeat the “donut” part. And sure enough, they explained this fabulous burger is topped with bacon and American cheese, and served up on a grilled and locally made glazed doughnut (thank you, Georgio’s Pizza and Donut Shop of Auburn).
I, along with Scott Smith, the casino’s director of advertising and public relations, decided to give the burger a whirl. We were watched with anxious scrutiny by Gill and Everett as we took our first bites. Smith announced “It’s amazing!” I — after swooning slightly — agreed, and immediately considered the Donut Burger an unexpected, incredible and crazy-delicious jackpot.
Everett laughingly proclaimed, “We have another convert!” Yes, indeed, an immediate Donut Burger fan.
Unlike other casinos, buffet dining has not been a huge focus at the Oxford Bar & Grill, but guests will find a few options. An extensive dinner buffet is available on Wednesday nights for $12.95 a person. And on Friday nights, Oxford Bar & Grill staff double-down on the buffet, usually offering upward of 30 food items and bringing out a carving station — prime rib, roast turkey and baked Virginia ham — all with assorted gravies and sauce selections. For $16.95 a person, the Friday buffet is available from 5 to 10 p.m., and also features a few fancier items, such as fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil salad, seafood Newburg, and marinated and grilled beef tips with caramelized onions and sauteed forest mushrooms. A weekend breakfast buffet is also offered from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. for $9.99 a person, and features eggs Benedict and made-to-order omelets.
Smith told us the restaurant — found toward the back of the casino on Route 26 in Oxford — recently expanded its seating capacity and added a new bar, prompting both a name-change from the previous “Oxford Grill” and the introduction of a new $5 menu of happy-hour specials. Offered daily from 3 to 5 p.m. and again from 9 to 11:30 p.m., fun snacks include fried pickle chips with ranch dipping sauce and jalapeno “bottle caps” with avocado lime sauce.
Despite the casino's obvious draw for its gambling offerings, Smith noted, “We want to up the ante. We want to become a dining destination.”
For more info, go to www.oxfordcasino.com or call 539-6700.
Oxford Bar & Grill’s rustic sausage, peppers & onions with zesty marinara
Yield 4 servings
1 pound penne pasta
4 links sweet Italian sausage
1 each red, green and orange pepper
1 medium red onion
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 quarts marinara sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
Shaved parmesan cheese
Cook sausage in the oven or on the grill until cooked through. Cool sausage and slice into 3/8-inch slices. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Cut peppers and onions into 1-inch squares. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Saute peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic until peppers and onions are tender. Add the marinara sauce, crushed red pepper and the sausage slices. Heat sauce and sausage through. Add pasta and toss all ingredients until mixed thoroughly. Plate and garnish with shaved parmesan and chopped parsley.
Yield 4 servings
6 tablespoons oil
4 boneless chicken breasts
2 cups water chestnuts
1-1/3 cup mushrooms
6 tablespoons chopped onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 to 2 heads Boston bib lettuce
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
4 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons hot mustard
4 teaspoons water
2 to 4 teaspoons garlic and red chili paste
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Make the special sauce by dissolving sugar in water in a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mix well and refrigerate for later use.
Make stir-fry sauce by mixing all ingredients together and mixing well. Set aside for later use.
Bring oil to high heat in a large saute pan. Saute chicken breasts on both sides until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and cool. As chicken cools, chop water chestnuts and mushrooms to the size of peas. When chicken is cool, chop to the same size as mushrooms and water chestnuts. Using the same pan that the chicken was cooked in, over high heat, place all ingredients in pan; add stir-fry sauce and saute for a few minutes. Serve mixture in a small bowl with special sauce and lettuce leaves on the side. Garnish with green onions and shredded carrots. Build lettuce wrap by placing desired amount of chicken mixture into each lettuce leaf, top with shredded carrots and drizzle with special sauce, according to taste. Enjoy!