Jackpot! Recreation, relaxation and dining in Tunica

 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.

Photo by Mike Maple, Photos by Mike Maple/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

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.

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.

 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.

Photo by Mike Maple, 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.

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

Gayla Pegram cuts the hair of Fran Garrison, of Douglassville, Ga., in Bellissimo, a world-class 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

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CASINOS

Bally's Tunica: 1450 Bally's Blvd.; (662) 357-1500. Visit ballystunica.com.

Resorts Casino Tunica: 1100 Casino Strip Blvd.; (662) 363-7777. Visit resortstunica.com.

Fitzgeralds Casino and Hotel: 2120 Lucky Lane; (662) 363-5825. Visit fitzgeraldstunica.com.

Gold Strike Casino Resort: 1010 Casino Center Drive; (888) 245-7529. Visit goldstrikemississippi.com.

Harrah's Tunica: 13615 Old Highway 61 N.; (800) 946-4946. Visit harrahstunica.com.

Hollywood Casino Tunica: 1150 Casino Strip Resort Blvd.; (662) 357-7700. Visit hollywoodcasinotunica.com.

Horseshoe Tunica: 1021 Casino Center Drive; (800) 303-7463. Visit horseshoetunica.com.

Sheraton Casino Tunica: 1107 Casino Center Drive; (800) 391-3777. Visit sheratontunica.com.

Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall: 1477 Casino Strip Resort Blvd.; (662) 363-0711. Visit samstowntunica.com.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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