Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is full of celebrity chefs, but there is something particularly special about Michael Symon.
Yes, he’s an Iron Chef. But so are Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Geoffrey Zakarian.
And like the other renowned chefs in the building, he clearly has passion for his food, his restaurants and his brand.
But anyone who meets Symon immediately falls in love with his down-to-earth personality and charm. And unlike a lot of other celebrities, his personality on screen matches the guy you meet in person.
Angeline, his gourmet Italian restaurant in Borgata, shows off multiple sides of his personality: his Italian heritage, his love for family – the restaurant is named after his mom and his wife Liz helped design the space – and, most importantly, his ability to connect with diners through an overall experience, highlighted by his extraordinary food.
Now, nearly two years after opening his first restaurant in Atlantic City, Symon is adjusting, making little tweaks to Angeline now that he understands the Atlantic City market better and knows the people coming to his restaurant.
“It’s Atlantic City, and we just can’t make enough chicken parm,” says Symon, with a laugh. “It’s unbelievable. Of all our entrees, nothing touches chicken parm. I can put out a dish and say, ‘Oh my God, I am so proud of this dish. This is the best dish I ever made in my life,’ and we will sell 70 chicken parms and 10 of those. But that’s OK. We just go and make the best chicken parm we can.
Symon isn’t kidding. As simple as it may sound, Angeline’s chicken parmesan ($29) is one of the best you will ever have, thanks to the quality of chicken and the love put into it.
“It’s about where we source our chicken,” he says. “We only use fresh mozzarella. No processed cheese. No bagged cheese. We use fresh basil. The Pomodoro sauce is made with San Marzano tomatoes. It’s the little things that make the difference. We put a lot of pride into our chicken parm and every dish. Atlantic City loves its Italian-American cuisine. That’s what they love. The classic Sicilian dishes I grew up with sell OK, but not like the traditional Italian-American dishes. And at the end of the day, we cook what the customer wants to eat and we do the best version of it possible, and we are proud of it.”
That style of cooking is what is mostly highlighted in Angeline’s fantastic new offering called “Symon Says Thursdays.” Available during operating hours Thursday in the bar only, guests can feast on $10 menu items including chicken and meatball parm sliders, an Italian sausage hoagie with peppers and onions, a beautiful charcuterie board with paper-thin prosciutto, homemade arancini, the best roasted sweet and hot peppers with burrata you will find on the planet, tagliatelle Bolognese featuring homemade pasta, grilled lamb chops, hot peppers stuffed with Italian sausage, a classic Caesar salad and an Italian cold cut hoagie with garlic aioli and balsamic and shallot vinaigrette.
“You have to continue to grow year by year with your restaurant,” Symon says. “Fortunately, we have been very busy and we wanted to do something for one night so people can get a snack and drink without spending an arm and a leg. I think it will help people understand us better.”
Although some of the items like the Italian hoagie may seem out of place for a swank joint like Angeline, Symon says it’s because it won’t be your typical Italian sub.
“We often get the question of why does your food cost more than Joe’s Italian down the street?” he says. “It’s because we use meats that have been raised properly, organic vegetables … all those kinds of things so that diners can experience, see and taste the way it should be.”
Other Symon Says Thursdays specials include $4 beers, $10 handcrafted cocktails (see sidebar) and $10 wines by the glass, a great selection of whites and reds.
“I think people who know me know that I enjoy having a cold beer at the bar with a snack,” Symon adds. “And that’s what we are able to accomplish with our Thursday happy hour. Sure, I made my mark as a chef with high-end food, but I still love the casual things in life, too.”
But Angeline is still a stunning place to enjoy its regular menu. The room, a collaboration between Symon’s wife Liz and the New York-based Parts and Labor Design, doesn’t resemble any Italian restaurant you have ever seen, starting with its welcoming New York-style, old-school-meets-modern-pub at the entrance. Venture farther into the main dining room and be wowed by the intricately tiled ceilings and floors, open kitchen, giant wine wall and funky, modern furniture featuring caramel leather banquettes and an overall appearance that can be mistaken for an upscale steakhouse. It all comes together with the 24-seat private dining room that feels like you’re eating in Symon’s mother’s own dining room thanks to its floral wallpaper and lacy drapery. It’s there that you’ll want to dig into Symon’s Sunday Supper ($54 per person), a family-style feast of prosciutto and the aforementioned roasted peppers, Caesar salad, garlic bread, cavatelli, sausage and peppers, Mom’s meatballs, rapini with garlic and chilies and homemade strawberry cassata cake with almonds.
“This is what I grew up eating every Sunday,” Symon says.
It’s dishes like that where Symon really proves he is returning to his roots. Despite all of the modern flair that cost millions of dollars to create, it’s the return to roots and then elevating his own culinary expectations — like any Iron Chef should — that really makes Angeline special.
Like Symon said, most gravitate toward the familiar dishes on the menu, many of which were Symon’s mom’s recipes, including the lasagna ($29) with meat sauce, ricotta and mozzarella and thick lasagna noodles; homemade meatballs ($28); and the best arancini in South Jersey ($12) with red sauce and smoked mozzarella melted inside.
Angeline also offers much more than a trip down Symon’s memory lane, offering dishes that are certainly different than what you will find in most other Atlantic City Italian eateries.
On the appetizer side, baked clams ($15) are served with clam and sausage stuffing; grilled octopus ($17) is accompanied with potatoes and puttanesca sauce; and spicy lobster ($29) is perfect and simple with tomato, chili and grilled bread.
Symon says the pastas top the menu as far as sellers, and most are made in house, including the cheese ravioli Bolognese ($28); linguine with clams and pancetta ($32); paccheri ($42) with lobster, chili flakes and tomato; and the bucatini with short rib ragu ($30) and chili flakes.”
“All of the pasta dishes have been very popular,” Symon says. “The classic sauces like alfredo and Bolognese, and the braised short rib sauce which has been one of the best sellers since Day 1.”
A wood-fired grill menu section is worth the trip alone for the wood-fired swordfish ($39) with shaved fennel, orange, olive and mint; whole grilled branzino ($41) with shaved celery and mushroom crudo; .grilled veal tenderloin with king crab, citrus sauce and capers; and two steaks — a grilled prime ribeye ($52) with salsa verde, and a grilled prime strip steak ($50) with porcini crust, garlic and aged balsamic that is General Manager Frank Ritz’s favorite dish on the menu.
‘We have a couple of steaks that I am really proud of,” Symon says. “I know there are two world-class steakhouses in Borgata, but I would put these up against anybody’s in the country. They are all prime, dry-aged and cooked on that wood-fired grill for perfection.”
With a new menu, new Thursday happy hour and an exploding TV career that includes Symon now being “Good Morning America’s” top chef for regular appearances, things are looking good for Symon … and Angeline.
“God willing, I will be at Borgata for a very long time,” he says. “We have a great relationship and have won some nice awards and accolades since opening that we hope to continue to do. The greatest thing for me is that when I go in there, I recognize a lot of familiar faces. That’s the reward for me. Yes, people come in for the casino and we have a lot of tourists, but those repeat visitors are the ones who make it special for me.”
The cocktails of Angeline
Longtime Symon collaborator Dr. David Earle has created an inventive and whimsical mixology program. Here are some of the drinks you will find on Symon Says Thursdays $10 cocktail menu:
A classic Manhattan with subtle hints of fig, spice and basil with Woodford’s Reserve Bourbon, Alesia Chinato Vermouth, Balsamic Fig Tincture, Chocolate Bitters and basil.
The Lola Cocktail:
A crisp, clean and refreshing cocktail with vodka, lime and a touch of floral made with Ketel One vodka, lime juice, Rothman Crème de Violette and mint.
A spinoff of the classic Campari and OJ with a finish of fresh lime made with Campari, fresh lemon, simple sugar and fresh orange juice.