Soon to be rebranded as Virgin Hotel, it seems hard to believe that Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been part of the Las Vegas landscape since 1995. From countless shows in The Joint and weekends at Rehab to Magic Mike Live, the resort on Paradise Road has played a prominent role in many tourists’ memories of Sin City. For those more interested in food, particularly sweet things, it may also seem difficult to imagine that almost everything on property comes from the mind of one man: Executive Pastry Chef Mickey Harden.
In his current role for six years, and mostly working behind the scenes, Chef Harden first became interested in the culinary arts at a young age while watching his grandfather own and operate a local butcher shop. It was during an apprenticeship at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs that the chef got his first taste of cooking for a crowd. Over the course of a 22-year career, he has prepared dinner at New York City’s James Beard House – for a President, plus professional athletes – and collected numerous awards, including certification by the American Culinary Federation as an Executive Pastry Chef.
Harden currently oversees five restaurants, plus catered events like the AVN as well as room service – no small task, to be sure – and it is by way of Fuel Café that many are introduced to his work. From croissants and danishes to subs and sandwiches, and even the full array of breads and buns, everything baked comes from Mickey’s bakeshop. Open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily, consider this your grab n’ go option for sustenance or just caffeine. If you see one of the seasonal cinnamon rolls available, don’t hold back – a recent November visit featured a pumpkin spice version that included sugared pecans and cinnamon-bourbon frosting.
Chef Harden’s work is also prominently featured at Pink Taco. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch crowds continue to flock here for a variety of unique Mexican flavors, but for those in the know there are also several hidden gems to be found at the end of a meal. Fans of fruity flavors will find lots to like about Pink Taco’s pineapple flautas, which feature crisp pastry and vanilla ice cream, while chocoholics should show no remorse in ordering the black n’ tan pudding mixing Abuelita with caramel. For those seeking something a bit more traditional, the Churros may just be Sin City’s best in terms of not only taste and texture, but also presentation, as a diagonal stack hangs over toffee, crème anglaise and raspberries.
Traveling from Latin America to the East, Mickey and his team’s work also make an appearance at FU. Underrated not only for Chef Ming See Woo’s unique Asian fare, but also for cocktails based on the zodiac, FU allows diners to indulge in banana spring rolls or cookies that are tempura-battered and fried. Perhaps not “authentic,” but nonetheless delicious. Be sure to inquire as to whether the white chocolate bread pudding is available, should you stop by, and consider ordering one per diner, as few will want to give up a bite of something so buttery and indulgent.
Trekking back to the States, it seems likely that most that have entered Hard Rock are at least aware of Mr. Lucky’s. Themed as a classic American diner, this 24/7 location resides directly off the gaming floor, and from breakfast to dessert, Chef Harden has a hand in almost every course. Housemade Parker House rolls? Mickey did that. Buns for beef and cheddar or Nashville hot chicken? But of course. Cookies and cream pancakes, or peanut butter and jelly cream puffs? Order both, and add on sticky toffee bread pudding, too.
Rounding things out with a true Las Vegas steakhouse, by this time it probably comes as no surprise that the Hard Rock bakeshop is prominently featured at MB|Steak. Though many, of course, come for drinks at the bar, or top-quality meats from Chef Patrick Anthony Munster, it is beginning with complimentary cheesy monkey bread that this spot from the Morton family showcases Mickey’s talents. Adding brioche toast beneath foie gras and buckwheat blini for caviar, those in the know will wisely save room for dessert. While it is suggested that each dessert option is “for two,” even the average couple will have trouble conquering triple chocolate truffle cake covered in ganache, though it won’t be for lack of trying. The same goes for Sin City’s best Carrot Cake.