Zingerman's cofounder Paul Saginaw headlines Circa’s dining lineup on downtown’s Fremont Street.

By Andy Wang
Updated January 22, 2020
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Casino mogul Derek Stevens criss-crossed the country in search of culinary talent for his forthcoming Circa resort. But after visiting Miami, New York, Chicago, Boston, L.A., and San Francisco, he realized that home is where he should be looking.

Home is Las Vegas, of course, where Stevens found chefs Barry S. Dakake, Dan Coughlin, and Rex Bernales to run Circa’s steakhouse, Asian restaurant, and barbecue joint. But home for Stevens also means Michigan, where the Detroit native grew up and went to college. So Circa, the 777-room, 1.25-million-square-foot property scheduled to open in December on downtown’s Fremont Street, will have a restaurant collection that also includes a 24-hour delicatessen from Ann Arbor sandwich legend Paul Saginaw and a sports bar from Grace Keros and Chris Sotiropoulos, the siblings who run Detroit’s iconic American Coney Island.

Steelman Partners

Stevens, who bought a 50 percent stake in the Golden Gate casino in 2006 and completed his conversion of the Fitzgerald’s casino into The D in 2012, says the revitalization of downtown Vegas and the energy here reminds him of downtown Detroit and other on-the-rise areas like downtown Los Angeles.

“We really thought there would be a great kind of resurgence downtown,” Stevens says. “The customers were evolving. When we designed what we wanted Circa to be, we felt that five restaurants with diverse product offerings are what we should focus on.”

Saginaw, who co-founded Ann Arbor mainstay Zingerman’s in 1982, also feels a sense of pure possibility in downtown Vegas as he works to open his first restaurant outside Michigan.

“I’ve rented a condo that’s literally an eight-minute walk down Fremont Street so I can spend 12 to 18 hours a day here,” Saginaw says. “This has been on my bucket list forever. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Las Vegas and I’ve always gravitated toward downtown. And my great uncle was Charles ‘Chickie’ Sherman, who was one of the biggest bookies in the history of Detroit, so I grew up around a gambling culture.”

Here’s an exclusive first look at Circa’s dining lineup:

Saginaw’s Delicatessen

You’re going to use two hands to get it up to your mouth, and the Russian dressing is going to roll down your forearm,” Saginaw says of the overstuffed sandwiches he’ll serve at his 24-hour deli.

Saginaw’s “classic kind of Jewish-style delicatessen” will have corned beef supplied by Detroit’s Sy Ginsberg, who’s been selling corned beef to Zingerman’s since the beginning. A respected Vegas baker, Carlos Pereira at Bon Breads, is working to create rye bread that’s comparable to what’s in Ann Arbor.

There will be Reuben sandwiches with corned beef, pastrami, or turkey. Saginaw’s will also have roast beef sandwiches, fried chicken sandwiches, Cuban sandwiches, shrimp cocktail (made with a recipe from Du-par’s, which used to be at the Golden Gate), Caesar salad, Cobb salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, matzo-ball soup, chopped liver, latkes, and more, including rotating dinner plates like meatloaf and fish and chips. Breakfast all day will include French toast, pancakes, a breakfast burrito, and, of course, corned beef hash along with vegetarian hash.

Steelman Partners

Saginaw, who is 68 and such a beloved figure in Ann Arbor that he and fellow Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig gave a 2015 commencement address at the University of Michigan, knows he doesn’t have to work anymore. But he’s ready for a new adventure in Vegas.

“It’s funny because three of my very closest friends, who I’ve known since I was four years old, have all retired, and they all look at me like I’m absolutely insane,” he says. “I feel as much, if not more, energy than I’ve ever had.”

Barry’s Downtown Prime

Veteran steakhouse chef Dakake, who formerly ran the kitchen at Palms’ N9NE Steakhouse and Scotch 80 Prime, has served many celebrities and A-listers over the years. Stevens is excited to have a chef who understands the rhythms of Las Vegas.

“It’s not just about having a dinner reservation at 7 o’clock,” says Stevens, who’s building the world’s largest sportsbook at Circa. “You may wait until the end of a football game and then go cash your ticket for 50 grand before you go to dinner.”

But while Dakake and partner Yassine Lyoubi have catered to a lot of high rollers, they want Barry’s Downtown Prime to be more accessible than Strip steakhouses.

“It’s going to be much more affordable, but it’s 110 percent on the level and style of cooking I’ve done in the past,” says Dakake, who plans to serve dry-aged beef, American and Japanese wagyu, fresh fish from around the world, and local farmers-market produce at the restaurant.

PUNCH Architecture

Dakake and Lyoubi, who’ve formed Make It Happen Hospitality with Marco Cicione and Donnie Rihn, also want to offer throwback glamour at Barry’s Downtown Prime.

“We definitely want to bring some tableside service with a twist,” Dakake says. “We want to pay homage to the 1930s and 40s, old-school Vegas: spectacular service, uniforms, pricing, food.”

Victory Burger and Wings

Grace Keros and Chris Sotiropoulos, who have an outpost of hot dog destination American Coney Island at The D, will run this restaurant on the top level of Circa’s three-level sportsbook.

“They’re doing a high-end sports bar that’s really focusing on burgers, chicken sandwiches, and chicken wings,” Stevens says.

There will be TVs and a glass wall, so guests at Victory Burger and Wings can keep track of all the big games and also look down at the action in the sportsbook. There will be five specialty burgers, and the signature secret-sauce-topped Victory Burger will feature a half-pound patty made with a blend that includes short rib and brisket. You can check all your bets while you sip selections from an extensive beer menu. The space will also include a radio/podcast studio.

8 East

Dan Coughlin, the chef at downtown’s popular Le Thai, will serve modern spins on dumplings, skewers, and other dishes you might find at metropolitan food markets around Asia.

“I thought it was important to endorse a restaurant that grew up in downtown Vegas, kind of like  my company,” says Stevens, who’s frequently eaten lunch at Le Thai. “But we didn’t want to cannibalize Le Thai.”

So Coughlin’s pan-Asian cooking at 8 East will include Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai dishes. Sonny Ahuja and Don Welch of downtown’s Bin 702 are putting together a beverage menu that will have Japanese whiskeys, sakes, and specialty cocktails.

Project BBQ

Food-truck star Bernales will go brick-and-mortar with this Carolina-style barbecue restaurant that will have whole hogs on the smoker every day. Beyond pork, Project BBQ will serve brisket and chicken. There will be smoked-meat tacos and a Garbage Bowl with housemade potato chips covered with smoked meats, barbecue sauce, beer sauce, cheese sauce, bacon, and coleslaw.

“I wanted to do something where we had a direct connection to Fremont Street,” Stevens says.

So the restaurant will be in front of the resort and include picnic tables where guests, with drinks in hand from Circa’s bar on the Fremont Street Experience, can enjoy live music and overhead light shows.