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Freedom 467 miles away: How a quest for a roller coaster ended up a delicious memory 

Not knowing where we could find a good meal before leaving town for Las Vegas, I packed up a cooler and headed to my new favorite grocery store, Gather Natural Market in Atascadero. I shop there every week now.

I said hey to Brett, the owner, and picked up a stack of organic grab-and-go lunches made by Nautical Cowboy (one of our favorite local seafood restaurants): a pesto chicken sandwich on focaccia, an Indian-style curry wrap, a chicken caesar wrap, and a half roasted chicken—shareable size—with a green salad. The artisanal, organic meals are "locally sourced, nutritious, and delicious." We've had them many times already, and what I love is that I can find all the accompaniments in the same area of the grocery store: chocolate-covered mangoes, grapes, and various kombucha and coffee drinks.

Brett was perplexed. Where are you going? And why on Earth?

Two words: the Adventuredome.

click to enlarge OUR LAST ORGANIC BITE Leaving Atascadero for Las Vegas, we packed the cooler with grab-and-go Nautical Cowboy meals from Gather Market in A-Town. From here on out, it's grease and sin, baby. - PHOTO BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photo By Beth Giuffre
  • OUR LAST ORGANIC BITE Leaving Atascadero for Las Vegas, we packed the cooler with grab-and-go Nautical Cowboy meals from Gather Market in A-Town. From here on out, it's grease and sin, baby.

I don't gamble. I don't smoke. I haven't been drinking much lately, and I'm a bit of a freakish germophobe, but I took my entire family to Las Vegas at the end of August. It was my youngest son's 13th birthday, and all he wanted to do was go on a roller coaster. Magic Mountain and Great America had been closed since last summer, and though he said he'd settle for waterslides, The Ravine in Paso Robles has also been closed due to the pandemic.

As you know, there is painfully no fun to be had in SLO County. For six months now, we've all been losing our minds, and for some of us, our sense of good judgment. My kids and I have been taking little trips to the beach and lakes and Lake Tahoe and all that, but everywhere we go its rules, rules, rules, and quite frankly, I'm over it. I don't like to break rules, but I read somewhere that you are morally obligated to break the bad rules.

We needed to leave the state for some freedom. Sin City? I was OK with that at this point.

I did my research and found the closest open theme park: The Adventuredome at Circus Circus was located 467 miles from SLO County ... a less than six-hour drive. We'd stay two nights at the casino hotel, spend one day at the theme park, and the second day at the casino pool and Splash Zone—yes, they have water slides too.

With cocktail servers.

I've learned that many of our best local chefs have gotten their start in Vegas. And for every casino, there's at least one signature restaurant. For the Bellagio, I hear you need to go to LAGO by Julian Serrano, and then there's Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen at Caesars Palace. At Circus Circus, where we stayed, they have The Steak House.

When I dragged my family out of the theme park for a midday bite, the main reason we decided not to eat at The Steak House was because we spotted an $85 steak on the menu behind the glass. As my husband and I looked down at my middle son with expensive taste (who will order steak and lobster the minute I bend down to pick up a dropped napkin) our eyes agreed we needed to search for Plan B. Due to COVID-19, the buffet I had possibly visited back in the '90s was one of the few things in Vegas that was closed.

One of the many security guards told us we were fools to go anywhere but the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge. He said he just ate there for breakfast, and he was going back for dinner.

click to enlarge DISCO CEILINGS The Peppermill on the Las Vegas Strip is open for every meal. The place is a must-stop when you visit this city, where no one seems to be panicking about anything. - PHOTO BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photo By Beth Giuffre
  • DISCO CEILINGS The Peppermill on the Las Vegas Strip is open for every meal. The place is a must-stop when you visit this city, where no one seems to be panicking about anything.

We walked across the Vegas Strip to a place with pink and blue and neon all over that had been in the movie Casino and featured in Carlos Santana's "Feel It Coming Back" video. The place was so popular and bustling we had to stand by the slot machines in the air-conditioned entry as the host team called names on the waiting list like auctioneers.

It was then we realized we were in an institution—a landmark that has been around for almost 50 years. We were led past an open kitchen and diner-stool seating to a cozy booth under a kitschy hanging Victorian lamp and a pink tree. The lighting was dark and the vibe was all day and night happenin'.

This place felt trusty and safe, cool, efficient, and, most of all, fun—there were more than 150 items on the menu.

click to enlarge BAR SEATS I was floored by how many turns the diner-like bar seats could take. People flowed in and out of the Peppermill in a steady stream while the cocktail waitresses kept those drinks coming. - PHOTO BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photo By Beth Giuffre
  • BAR SEATS I was floored by how many turns the diner-like bar seats could take. People flowed in and out of the Peppermill in a steady stream while the cocktail waitresses kept those drinks coming.

We all settled on lunch: Baja and California burgers, a Philly cheesesteak with sweet potato fries, and chicken wings. Nearby, couples took turns on shared bowls of tropical cocktails. The signature drink is the Scorpion: 64 ounces with no fewer than six liquors, recommended for five or six people to share.

Yes, there were some plastic partitions, and the servers wore masks, but nobody, and I mean nobody, in Vegas was worried about getting the corona.

The portions were huge, and the food delicious. I could see why the security guard frequents the joint.

The staff had service down to a science: friendly and attentive, and electric-blue-mini-skirt chic. The hostess, an older gal with a smoky voice, came to check on us and I told her how great our service had been. She told me her wait staff hadn't started out that way that day. She had a girl faint in the morning. Two others rolled in late.

"They party too hard," she said, shaking her head.

OK, backing up a bit: The Las Vegas scene inside the theme park was magical. We got there right at the opening for rides, and there were barely any lines at all. The children ran freely around with smiles, pure joy, and happiness. The same went for the waterslides and pool, which were a bit crowded in the 107-degree heat.

And still, my kids said later that the magic of the Peppermill was their favorite part of our whole trip.

We'll be back during the next pandemic for sure. Δ

Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is ready for the next food-driven road trip. Send your foodie suggestions to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

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