Outside of Cleveland, Michael Symon is best known as a host on ABC’s The Chew and a grill master with a cookbook called Carnivore. But in his hometown, Symon and Italian food go together like cavatelli and Sunday gravy. The Iron Chef, who first made his name at Cleveland’s Piccolo Mondo and Giovanni’s, grew up cooking Sicilian dishes with his mother and grandmother. So for his only East Coast restaurant, Symon went back to his roots. Angeline, named after his mother, opens at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City on Saturday, May 6.
“People in Cleveland connect me with Italian food because that’s what made me famous as a chef, before I started doing my own places. That’s what put me on the map,” Symon says from a booth in Angeline a few days before the restaurant’s opening. “When [business partner] Doug [Petkovic] and I opened our first restaurant, we made it very meat-driven American, which is everything we’ve done to this point — but I grew up eating Italian food.”
The two-page menu at Angeline is smaller than you might find at a typical Italian-American eatery in Philly, though Symon says it feels big to him. “I’m usually like, ‘eight appetizers, eight entrees, see you later,’” he laughs. “When you have a hundred dishes, who can make a hundred dishes well? One of my good chef friends used to always say, ‘never trust a restaurant with a menu bigger than your underpants.’”
Angeline covers the classics, with plates like spaghetti and red sauce, linguine and clams, chicken parm, Mom’s Meatballs, Mom’s Lasagne, and a family-style Sunday supper, available every day, “that will be similar to how my Sunday table looked as a kid,” Symon says. There’s also a menu section devoted to food coming off the wood-fired grill, like brick chicken in a marsala sauce, plus ribeye, swordfish, and porchetta (roast pork).
Symon’s wife, Liz, designed the 223-seat Angeline with New York’s Parts and Labor Design. A bar area faces the casino floor, with the main dining room, done in dark wood and green leather, behind it. To the left is a smaller dining room, with flowered wallpaper and lace curtains, that can be closed off for private events, and to the right is a peek into the kitchen. A temperature-controlled wine wall (there are more than 400 bottles on the wine list) is glassed off at the back, highlighted by an antique-looking decanting contraption.
“It was all Liz. This is our 21st restaurant, and she’s done the design for all of them,” Symon says of the space. “She wanted it to feel timeless, like if you walk into it in 1950 or 1960, it feels cool, and if you walk into it in 2040, it’s still going to be cool.”
The cocktail program is by another long-time collaborator, David Earle — “the smartest bartender in America,” Symon says. In addition to his mixology pedigree, Earle is an author and a professor of English literature at the University of West Florida.
He took inspiration from travels in Italy for Angeline’s cocktail list, which ranges from the heavier Manhattan Figura, a version of the classic with balsamic fig tincture, chocolate bitters, and basil; to the mid-weight Borgata Spritz, a caramel-y take on the Italian staple; to the Spumoni Rose Cocktail with pistachio oil and Rooh Afza syrup from India. For a digestif, there’s a flight labeled Strong, Bitter & Sweet.
“I wanted to try to capture the flavors of the Mediterranean and work off some of the really wonderful Italian liqueurs, amari, and grappas,” Earle says. "I’ve been working with Michael for years. I have this long history with him, enough so that when I hear he and Liz are opening up an Italian restaurant, I know exactly what they’re going to go for.”
Angeline is on the casino floor, next to Bobby Flay Steak (“Bobby is my best friend. We vacation together,” Symon says of his fellow Iron Chef. “If I forget to order something for Angeline, it’s really easy when your best friend’s restaurant is next door and you can run over — he won’t judge if I forgot to order basil.”). The space was most recently used for private events, except the front area, which was the bar 28 West. Borgata’s other Italian restaurant, Fornelletto, on the lower level, is now closed.