‘A fun project,’ Renowned chef develops new gastropub menu

Published 7:24 am Sunday, November 7, 2021

NATCHEZ — After a career in fine dining, renowned Chef Regina Charboneau of Natchez has taken her first foray into creating a casual dining menu.

It’s been one of her highest-pressure jobs ever, she said, but has been equally rewarding.

At the request of Kevin Preston, president of Magnolia Bluffs Casino, Charboneau developed the menu at the new Playmakers’ Sports Book Bar and Grill. Those involved are calling the concept gastropub with a Southern flair.

Open only a few weeks, Playmakers’ is serving up guests from an extensive food and drink menu that includes scratch-made dishes ranging from traditional burgers made with a blend of chuck, brisket and short ribs to chicken pot pie with a bacon-biscuit crust to magnolia fried chicken with long-time Chef KP’s greens and mac and cheese.

“It’s been a fun project. And it’s been great to work with the staff here. I am continuing on for a while to train the staff on the new menu and the excitement level has been great. They are joyful to work with and eager to please,” Charboneau said.

Working with an experienced staff has been a tremendous help, she said. Each of the food and beverage staffers has worked at Magnolia Bluffs for eight to 10 years. Tracey Bennett, food and beverage director, has been at Magnolia Bluffs for almost seven years.

“That tells you what kind of employer Kevin Preston is,” she said. “He appreciates his employees. And in talking about what he wanted for this restaurant, he stressed doing things right. The quality of the meat and the fish is great. This place is really state of the art. I’m not sure you can find anything like it anywhere near.”

The renovation of the sports book area, as well as the bar and grill, has been extensive and includes one of the best views of the Mississippi River found anywhere, she said.

“He wanted to create one of the best possible experiences for customers. Magnolia Bluffs is a casino first and foremost, but he is taking the food seriously. He has made a huge investment into this concept,” Charboneau said.

Sports are key at Playmakers’, which features comfortable sofas and chairs and more televisions than one can count. Jimmy Ott of 104.5 ESPN Radio of Baton Rouge holds his radio show from Playmakers’ each Saturday and Sunday.

Playmakers’ features a special from 4 to 9 p.m. each day of the week. Sunday is spaghetti and meatballs for $14.

“We brought some friends down here for the Saints game and ate meatballs and watched the game. It is such a comfortable, fun environment,” she said.

Other daily specials include Monday red beans and rice for $8; Tuesday fried pork chop plate for $12; Wednesday is 10-inch pizza for $8; Thursday is burger of the week for $9; Friday is shrimp, chicken and sausage jambalaya for $12; and Saturday is steak night, sold at market price.

Playmakers’ is open seven days a week from noon to 9 p.m.

“The entire casino is no smoking and it’s just a clean, pleasant place to meet friends, eat good food and watch sports,” Charboneau said.

It’s catching on as a convenient place for a good, inexpensive place to have a delicious lunch.

“We have a Korean chicken wing with a sweet heat sauce and surprisingly, one of our best selling salads is grilled romaine leaves with prosciutto, shaved parmesan with a lemon dressing and croutons,” she said.

The drink menu and wine list is as extensive as the food, Bennett said. One of the best selling drinks is the cotton candy-strawberry mojito.

Magnolia Bluffs opened a small sports book three years ago when sports betting became legal in Mississippi.

“We have done considerably well with that,” Preston said. “Once COVID became somewhat of a thing of the past, I decided to take out our buffet, steakhouse and bistro and make it an all-in-one sports book and sports bar and grill. I want everyone to feel comfortable coming in and eating and watching sports. And if they want to place a bet on their favorite team, that’s good, too. We want to make sports betting not as intimidating as some think it is.”

The audio and visual aspect of Playmakers’ is state of the art.

“You don’t see stuff like this except in Vegas. We went all out,” Preston said. “I’ve known Regina since I came to Natchez and she has been helpful with us for the last 11 years. Now she’s gotten more involved than typical. The bar and grill now complement the sports book. We want customers who are driving in from Texas or Louisiana or here at home to have a great experience.”

Having an attractive price point for food and drinks was important to Preston, too.

“We wanted to make sure we are serving really, really good food at very reasonable prices. We want our customers to enjoy a good time in a great environment,” he said.