HIT THE JACK­POT IN TU­NICA

EVEN IF GAM­BLING’S NOT YOUR THING, THIS CITY HAS TONS TO OF­FER

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Cover Story - By Jen­nifer Biggs

NOT EV­ERY­BODY KNOWS this, but you can spend a week­end in Tu­nica and not spend the whole time on the gam­ing floor.

No, no, I’m not talk­ing crazy — it’s true. In fact, if you look at the nu­mer­ous ameni­ties the casi­nos of­fer, you might find your­self head­ing south for rea­sons com­pletely un­re­lated to a jack­pot. There are spas, golf cour­ses, na­ture trails and one of the largest sport­ing clay cour­ses (that’s skeet shoot­ing to most of us) in the coun­try, shop­ping, and, of course, plenty of din­ing.

There are nine casi­nos in the Robin­sonville area — we call it Tu­nica but, in fact, most of the action takes place a good 10 miles or

more north of the town. The en­trance to the Har­rah’s 2,000-acre com­plex is a true stone’s throw from the DeSoto County line, just barely in­side Tu­nica County.

Har­rah’s owns the casino of the same name, which was pre­vi­ously The Grand, as well as the Horse­shoe and Sher­a­ton casi­nos. The oth­ers are Hol­ly­wood Casino, Sam’s Town Ho­tel and Gam­bling Hall, Fitzger­alds Casino and Ho­tel, Bally’s Tu­nica, Casino Strip Re­sorts, and the Gold Strike Casino Re­sort.

Recre­ation

Wil­lows Sport­ing Clays and Hunt­ing Cen­ter is one of the largest east of the Mis­sis­sippi, with 14 shoot­ing stands over the range. Read the ac­com­pa­ny­ing story to find out more.

Tu­nica River­Park is a gem nes­tled next to the river. The mod­ern build­ing houses a two-story mu­seum fea­tur­ing four aquar­i­ums and nu­mer­ous ex­hibits de­voted to, among other things, the river, the blues, cot­ton and even the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors.

A nearly 2-mile eco trail paved through the wet­lands of­fers an up-close look at the nat­u­ral flora and fauna of the area. You can gaze on the river from the build­ing’s prom­e­nade, or even book a sight­see­ing or din­ner cruise on the Tu­nica Queen. Call (662) 357-0050 or visit tu­ni­cariver­park.com.

Golf cour­ses abound in Tu­nica, which makes per­fect sense as there’s plenty of room for them on the Delta.

The Tu­nica Na­tional Golf & Ten­nis Club is a $12-mil­lion, tour­na­ment-level 18-hole course that also fea­tures a golf academy, a 20,000-square -foot club­house and four in­door clay ten­nis courts. Call (662) 357-0777 or visit tu­ni­ca­na­tional.com.

River Bend Links

at Casino Strip Re­sorts is a Scot­tish links-style, par 72, 6,900-yard course de­signed for golfers of all lev­els. Call (662) 363-1005 or visit river­bendlinks.com.

Cot­ton­woods Golf Course at Har­rah’s Casino is a 7,000-yard, 18-hole, par 72 course. Call (662) 357-6079 or visit har­rah­stu­nica.com.

Din­ing

There are more than 50 restau­rants in the casi­nos, rang­ing from cof­fee shops (there’s a new Dunkin’ Donuts at Har­rah’s), sports bars, buf­fets and up­scale steak houses and other restau­rants. Some of the no­table buf­fets are:

It’s all Paula all the time at the Paula Deen Buf­fet at Har­rah’s. Tele­vi­sions broad­cast her shows, mu­rals re­flect her his­tory, the food sta­tions are named af­ter those dear­est to her, and there’s a gift shop full of aprons, cook­ware, knick­knacks and such. It’s Pauladise.

If you’re even vaguely fa­mil­iar with Paula, the food comes as no sur­prise. There are two down-home cook­ing sta­tions, heavy on com­fort foods such as fried chicken, fried cat­fish, mac and

cheese, mashed pota­toes and casseroles. There’s a seafood sta­tion that fea­tures char­grilled oys­ters and shrimp along with other items; a large salad bar; a smoke­house sta­tion with bar­be­cue pork, brisket, sausages and plenty of sides; and desserts galore. Go hun­gry, leave stuffed. Make Paula proud. Break­fast, Mon­day through Satur­day is $8.99 and lunch is $12.99. Din­ner is $17.99 Mon­day through Thurs­day and $22.99 on Fri­day and Satur­day, when a seafood buf­fet is in­cluded. “Sun­day Sup­per,” which starts at 10:30 a.m. on Sun­day and runs all day, is $17.99.

The Epic Buf­fet at Hol­ly­wood Casino is a pop­u­lar spot on Thurs­day nights, when steak and crab legs — both king and snow — are all you can eat for $17.95. The Fri­day night seafood buf­fet is also $17.95; at other times, it’s $14.99.

You won’t for­get the name of the all-you-can-eat restau­rant at the Gold Strike Casino Re­sort: It’s called The Buf­fet, and on Fri­day and Satur­day nights the steak and lob­ster buf­fet ($21.95) in­cludes beer and wine on the house. Same for the cham­pagne brunch ($15.99) on Satur­day and Sun­day.

The Vil­lage Square Buf­fet at Horse­shoe Casino also has a Fri­day night seafood buf­fet with lob­ster and crab legs, as well as a var­ied buf­fet through­out the week. Break­fast is $8.99 and lunch $9.99 ev­ery day ex­cept Sun­day, when brunch is $14.99. Din­ner is $16.99 Sun­day through Thurs­day and $21.99 on Fri­day and Satur­day.

At Sam’s Town Ho­tel and Gam­bling Hall, The Great Buf­fet fea­tures fea­tures Corky’s bar­be­cue and a Fri­day and Satur­day night seafood buf­fet for $20.89. The din­ner buf­fet other nights is $16.49. Lunch is $9.89 Mon­day through Fri­day and $10.99 on Fri­day and Satur­day. Bet­ter din­ing in­cludes:

Jack Bin­ion’s Steak House and Mag­no­lia Grille, both at Horse­shoe, the for­mer a DiRoNA re­cip­i­ent (Dis­tin­guished Restau­rants of North Amer­ica) and an “Award of Ex­cel­lence” win­ner from Wine Spec­ta­tor.

At Har­rah’s, ’37 is the place to go for bet­ter din­ing. The name comes from the year Har­rah’s opened. Mu­rano’s of­fers slightly lower prices and an Ital­ian menu.

Hol­ly­wood boasts Fair­banks Steak­house, an­other DiRoNA re­cip­i­ent and Wine Spec­ta­tor “Award of Ex­cel­lence” win­ner.

Hmm. An­other Wine Spec­ta­tor “Award of Ex­cel­lence” win­ner is Chicago Steak­house at Gold Strike. Who knew Tu­nica had so much good wine?

Un­wind­ing

Casino Fac­tory Shops, 13118 U. S. 61 N., in­cludes more than 40 out­let stores such as the Gap, Old Navy, Izod and Nau­tica.

Kid’s Quest and Ar­cade at Har­rah’s might not be your way of un­wind­ing, but leav­ing your kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years in a fully su­per­vised, fully fun fa­cil­ity while you hit the gam­ing floor or the golf course prob­a­bly is. Call (662) 357-6060.

Bel­lis­simo Spa & Sa­lon at Har­rah’s of­fers feel-good ser­vices for women and men. Mas­sages range from a 20-minute up­per body or hand and foot mas­sage for $45 to the 80-minute hot stone mas­sage for $145. You can get fa­cials, man­i­cures and pedi­cures, re­lax in the hot tub and take a dip in the frigid im­mer­sion pool. Body scrubs, wax­ing, hair ser­vices, sauna — ev­ery­thing is there for the pam­per­ing. Visit har­rah­stu­nica.com or call (800) 946-4946.

At Golden Re­flec­tions Spa at the Gold Strike, in­dulge in a milk and honey wrap, a mas­sage or a mini­fa­cial. Call (662) 357-1111 or visit gold­strike­mis­sis­sippi.com.

Both spas fea­ture fit­ness cen­ters, as does the Horse­shoe , where you can also sched­ule a mas­sage by ap­point­ment and a steam room and sauna. Call (800) 303-7463 or visit horse­shoe­tu­nica.com.

Sleep­ing

Each of the casi­nos has at least one ho­tel (Har­rah’s has three, in­clud­ing one with Paula Deen suites that are dec­o­rated in her style and in­clude pic­tures of her in the room). You can find out more by call­ing the phone num­bers or vis­it­ing the Web sites listed with this story. Keep your dates flex­i­ble to get the best deals.

Gayla Pe­gram cuts the hair of Fran Gar­ri­son, of Dou­glassville, Ga., in Bel­lis­simo, a world­class spa and sa­lon within the Ter­race Ho­tel at Har­rah’s Tu­nica.

Once you’ve stuffed your stom­ach with cat­fish and mac and cheese, the gift shop at the Paula Deen Buf­fet lets you stock up on cook­ware and knick­knacks.

Pho­tos by Mike Maple/The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Denise Flynn fires up some oys­ters at the Paula Deen Buf­fet at Har­rah’s casino in Tu­nica. The buf­fet fea­tures down-home cook­ing, seafood and desserts.

A day spent shop­ping and din­ing in Tu­nica is rea­son enough to re­lax in one of the many lux­ury ho­tels, like this Paula Deen suite at the Ve­randa Ho­tel.

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