A Taste of Pawn Plaza

Sampling the offerings at Rick Harrison’s new mini container park.

Television is a fickle game. So when you get a hit show, especially a hit cable show, the smart thing to do is exploit it for all it’s worth. That’s the line of thinking that brought us Honey Boo Boo talking keychains and Duck Dynasty Chia Pet beards. Fortunately, Pawn Stars’ Rick Harrison has done something a bit more significant with his fame by building the new Pawn Plaza adjacent to his Gold & Silver Pawn shop.

The two-story complex is set up like a small version of Downtown Container Park, made up of small multicolor boxes that hold each establishment. The restaurants are located on the first floor, and since most are too small to dine in, there’s an outdoor courtyard with tables and chairs. The largest of the dining spaces, Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke Barbeque, also operates a bar on the second floor, where you can enjoy food from any place within the plaza. I recently took a tour and sampled a few bites from each spot.

open seating for all.  |Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Open seating for all. |Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The first thing any health-conscious eater will notice about Pawn Plaza is there’s virtually nothing available that’s good for you. I’m not suggesting the food isn’t high quality. It’s just that you won’t find anything remotely reminiscent of a salad or a vegetable juice anywhere. But if you’ve seen the way the guys eat on the TV show, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

First up on my tour was Inna Gadda di Pizza, a nod to the classic Iron Butterfly song. The spot is run by 34th Floor Hospitality’s Ralph Cautela, who entered the restaurant business on the East Coast as a dishwasher before working his way up to pizza chef. Later, as the opening director of food and beverage at the Cosmopolitan, Cautela brought his East Coast spin on pizza to the so-called Secret Pizza shop. And he’s doing the same again here. The dough, the thickness of the crust and the cheese-to-sauce ratio are pure Big Apple street pie ($3/slice plus $.50 per topping), and the homemade meatballs make a great accompaniment.

Right next door is Smoke’s Poutinerie, a Canadian chain that recently began expanding in the States. As the name indicates, it specializes in the classic Canadian comfort food poutine. The menu features more than two dozen varieties, which I’m sure some will appreciate, but are part of a growing trend that prompted the Vegas Seven dining team to include “Imposter Poutine” in the We’re Sooo Over It category in our recent Restaurant Awards issue. I stuck with the traditional recipe: fries, gravy and cheese curds ($5-$11), which was delicious in its simplicity.

Ribs at Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Ribs at Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The aforementioned Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke Barbeque & Tavern is a spinoff of the Rollin’ Smoke on Highland Drive, just with the new landlord’s name tacked onto the marquee. The new spot doesn’t offer some of the original’s more extravagant offerings, such as the ridiculously over-the-top Outlaw Burger. Instead, the Downtown location concentrates on smoked meats, served alone, on sandwiches and in classic bar foods. I sampled the spare ribs ($19 or $32), beef hot links ($14), sliced brisket ($15) and chopped brisket point ($15), all of which were wonderfully spicy. To chef/owner John Holland’s credit, the amount of sauce applied to the ribs has been reduced, so you can actually taste that smoke. Only the brisket points were heavily seasoned with a lot of sauce and a peppery rub, but that served as a nice counterbalance to the others. I’ve frequently listed Rollin’ Smoke as one of Las Vegas’ top barbecue joints, and the new location (which offers a 20 percent discount to locals) is just as good.

For dessert, Pawn Plaza offers a pair of spots dedicated exclusively to sweets (as well as some nice cannoli at the pizza place). The first is the latest addition to the Rita’s Italian Ice chain. If you’re unfamiliar with the menu, it offers a take on Italian ice that tastes closer to sorbet than that which I remember from my youth, as well as frozen custard. Scoops come in various flavors and combinations. I had what they call gelati—not a proper gelato, but rather a combination of mango ice and vanilla custard. It was a great notion with the smooth, sweet soft-serve mellowing the bite of the mango.

For baked goods, check out Pawn Donut & Coffee. The offerings change daily, but on my visit, I got a kick out of a panda Boston cream doughnut ($2.25), which used icing and Oreos to replicate a panda face—as cute as it was satisfying.

Pawn Plaza brings a nice selection of dining options to a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that has long been lacking. Just don’t try to haggle with Rick and his crew over prices. Everything is clearly marked.

Top image by Krystal Ramirez 

Vegas Seven