Culinary innovation meets homestyle cooking at Starlight Casino

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      In many ways, MATCH Eatery & Public House, located at the Starlight Casino in New Westminster, isn’t your typical dining destination.

      On a Tuesday night, MATCH’s dining floor is filled with a diverse crowd. Some are there for a quick bite before returning to the games on the casino floor, while others are ready to watch the game on the big screen. No matter what brought them to MATCH, everyone is eager to try the fun, nostalgic food that the restaurant prides itself on.

      Seated comfortably in the restaurant, you almost forget that MATCH is part of a broader vision: the complete entertainment experience of Starlight Casino. Tucked away beyond the casino’s table games and slot machines, MATCH positions itself as an essential part of a night of dining, dancing, and fun on the casino floor.

      Gateway Casino Corporate Chef Matt Graydon describes MATCH’s atmosphere as that of a contemporary gastropub, with sports playing on the TVs and live music on the weekends.

      He says that the company strives to showcase the talent in the kitchen through food that has a global feel. “We want to make it inviting, so whether you’re in a business suit or just got off a construction site, everyone can get together at MATCH and experience the same thing—that sense of oneness,” he explains.

      The New Westminster location can seat up to 650 guests.

      My visit to MATCH busted many of the casino floor myths that follows casino eateries. Quickly dispelled are my visions of sad, wilted burgers, pushed around the floor on utilitarian carts. Instead, I'm greeted by a refreshingly simple and robust culinary vision: experiment, make great food, and make it for everyone.

      “I think the biggest misconception people have when they come to dine at a casino is they think it’s just something that’s accommodating,” head chef Rick Tite explains. “They think ‘I’ll just come there to get a hot dog or a bag of chips.’ That’s really not the case.”

      The culinary staff of MATCH aim to provide a contemporary, dining experience at all the locations they serve, which include Langley, Squamish, Vernon, Kamloops, and Edmonton. Families and foodies alike are sure to find something on the menu that they can enjoy. Tite says “People can come here and have nachos, burgers, but they can also come here and have a great sit-down, higher-end meal.”

      The eatery itself is massive. It boasts 650 seats spread across various rooms, an all-season patio that expands in the summer, a sleek Smirnoff room for parties, and a deluxe sport lounge where guests can watch sports and UFC. On the weekend, the restaurant hosts free live entertainment, establishing itself as a destination for a complete night out.

      On the menu, diners will find elevated spins on traditional, well-loved comfort dishes. Many of the recipes, Graydon explains, came to life on weekends in his backyard while experimenting with friends, many of whom are also chefs. The Chicken & Waffles sandwich—succulent buttermilk marinated chicken breast between two Belgian waffles, topped with BLT fixings and a scene-stealing maple bourbon aioli—was conceived on one such afternoon.

      The Chicken & Waffles sandwich’s bacon and maple bourbon aioli is worth the visit all on its own.

      When we step into the kitchen, Tite has already taken up residence on the line, carefully and expertly putting together MATCH’s signature dishes. Tite shares that he’s used to cooking at casinos and has helped develop menus at many restaurants throughout his career.

      Graydon’s culinary background is hyperlocal, starting in the busy kitchens of White Rock’s waterfront. Both chefs share a clear love for treating simple ingredients with respect, and their philosophy is deceptively simple as well: buy local, seasonal products. For culinary director Brian Everett, the bottom line is always “Let’s get the best quality ingredients for our guests.”

      MATCH’s other signature dishes fall along the same lines: favourites, made with quality ingredients and executed with flair.

      The Sunny Pepper burger, a robust ground-chuck patty boasting candied pepper bacon, peppery arugula and smoked cheddar and topped with a sunny egg, feels like a dish your barbeque-happy dad dreams of serving. The elements are simple, but the finished product is elevated in a way your dad—for all his talent—would need years of culinary experience to pull off.

      The deconstructed Hail Caesar! salad, with its quartered romaine hearts and Graydon’s signature Caesar dressing isn’t what you expect of a restaurant Caesar salad, either. Made with roasted grape tomatoes, confit garlic, Grana Padano parmesan cheese, and balsamic reduction, it’s the best Caesar salad I’ve ever eaten.

      That’s the beauty of MATCH’s food offerings: they sing familiar, well-loved songs. As Tite succinctly puts it, the dishes are “comfort food done simply, but done properly.”