Every new FireKeepers recipe has to go past Executive Chef Brant Coulter’s desk. And it takes a lot of recipes to keep FireKeepers on top of the dining game in Southwest Michigan.
Coulter’s in charge of the seven restaurants associated with FireKeepers Casino and Hotel. They range from the comfort food of Cafe 24/7 in the casino to the wood-fired pizzas and baked goods of satellite restaurant Fire Hub.
Coulter says it’s impossible to choose a favorite. “I'm proud of all my children,” he says. “But the great thing about the casino environment is you've got a little something for everyone all the time.”
He has a team of 11 head chefs, who take care of everything food-related, including room service and banquets.
While each restaurant has its own speciality, there’s a common theme among all the flavors: really good ingredients and top-of-the-line equipment. Coulter estimates that 98% of the food is made from scratch. Even the buns used for the burgers are made in the FireKeepers bakery, led by Casey Konkol.
Coulter’s team is always on the lookout for quality ingredients. Take the meat at the flagship restaurant Nibi, for instance.
“The steak program here is very strong,” Coulter said. “We use Allen Brothers out of Chicago and we're one of the few restaurants in the state of Michigan to offer Allen Brothers steaks. It is all USDA prime or above.”
For those not in the food business, Allen Brothers is one of the largest purveyors of prime steaks in America. They’re the ones who get first pick of the steers. Usually, you have to go to New York or Chicago to find an Allen Brothers steak.
Nibi’s signature is a 21-day dry aged steak, but they also have an A5 Japanese Wagyu.
If Nibi – led by Chef Mason Rice – is about critically acclaimed fine dining, then each restaurant has its own flavor.
Smoke ‘n Fire focuses on barbecue, led by Chef Kyle Rice. Coulter recommends the smoked brisket, which has been cooked for 8-12 hours. Besides the smoking process, the flavor comes from an original blend of spices and a choice of BBQ sauce, or a burboun or chili glaze.
Dacey’s Taphouse – led by Brandon Lester – is about more than sports TV and draft beer. Beyond the iconic large pretzel centerpiece, try the Vietnamese steak tacos with shaved ribeye, pickled red onions, jalapeno, cilantro lime sour cream and topped with cotija cheese. Or if you like spicy food, try the Nashville hot chicken. It comes as a fried chicken sandwhich flavored with hot sauce, so it’s not as messy as wings but just as likely to bring tears to your eyes.
Cafe 24/7 serves up American comfort food, led by Andrew Miller. That means the meatloaf is a must-try on the menu. It’s served with mashed potatoes and carrots, covered in gravy, just like Grandma used to make.
Chi Mon-ee – led by Amanda Smith – doesn’t sacrifice taste for speed. Even a plain cheeseburger has a special sauce with a secret recipe. Or ask for the burger of the month. Either way, Coutler says, you should order it as a triple to get the complete burger experience.
“The best way to finish with good food is to start with good food,” Coulter said. But it also takes teamwork, people who love to cook bouncing ideas off each other and testing every flavor.
At the end of the day, it’s about making sure people are fed. Amber Ballard, public relations and social media manager for FireKeepers, says the dining experience goes full circle.
“We provide the dining experience to all of our guests. But we're also utilizing it to help all of our neighbors in need at the same time,” Ballard says. “It's like a full circle experience for everyone in our community. Because we do take the leftovers from banquets or restaurants, anything that's been prepared but not served…we take it, flash-freeze that at the end of the day or at the end of the service and repackage it for the Food Bank. So they distribute those ready-made meals to the families in need every week.”