Buffalo Wings, Milan Style – NYTimes.com


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An all-you-can-eat meat platter at Carolina’s.

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Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

Chic Milan goes through food trends almost as frequently as it does clothing collections. In recent years, dressed-up hamburgers have been one of the city’s favorite meals. But lately, many Milanese restaurateurs have begun branching out into other forms of Americana, serving up spot-on recreations of such un-Italian recipes as Buffalo wings, apple fritters and pulled pork sandwiches.

In particular, a number of new restaurants are focusing on American barbecue in its many forms, fueled in part by a popular TV show, “I Re Della Griglia” (“The Kings of the Grill”), as well as numerous barbecue-focused Facebook groups and cooking competitions dedicated to grilling. But other forms of simple American cooking are also gaining in popularity.

In addition to the four restaurants below, fans of la cucina Americana might try pubs like Bench (Via Ascanio Sforza 17) in the trendy Navigli district, and Ribs and Beer (Via Riccardo Pitteri 110) in the scruffy but fun Lambrate neighborhood, as well as the older California Bakery (Corso Como 5, and other locations). Like those restaurants, the following recent arrivals all have English rather than Italian names, as well as American-inspired décor and service. All are relatively inexpensive, ranging from upscale fast food to midprice meals. And though these restaurants serve American dishes, they do so with a decidedly Italian sense of style.

Carolina’s

American food is often thought of as finger food, so tables at Carolina’s are stocked with plenty of moist towelettes. But in a small homage to the restaurant’s homeland, they are stacked inside tiny moka pot espresso makers.

That’s one of the few Italian references to be found in the restaurant, where a poster of Chuck Berry and a soundtrack of jazz and rockabilly tunes welcome diners to a moody, semilit temple of “smoked things.” The American influence even extends to the two Italian beers on draft. Yes, this might be local birra artigianale, but it certainly tastes like an American craft brew.

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Diners at Carolina’s.

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Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

The New World approach is clearly appreciated, however, and Carolina’s is often packed with a young crowd. Since it opened at the end of 2014, Carolina’s has become one of Milan’s go-to (if not only) destinations for barbecued beef brisket, available as both a sandwich and as tacos. The former is sublime: a fat sandwich of thick-cut slices of hearty dark bread and tender strips of slow-cooked beef, dressed up with a dose of sweet and sour red-cabbage coleslaw.

Among tacos, the pulled pork version combines super-juicy shredded meat with smoky black beans, sour cream, guacamole and sliced radishes, wrapping it all up in two small flour tortillas, with a couple of lime wedges for a blast of fresh juice. They are delicious, both hot and cold, juicy and creamy at once, emerging as a pan-American meal that seems to bridge North Carolina and Southern California in each bite. Other meat-focused main courses include barbecued pork belly and pork ribs, as well as sausages and nachos.

Overdose on protein, but do leave room for dessert. There must be a thousand imitations of so-called American cheesecake in Europe, but for me, the version at Carolina’s tasted closest to the original: a crunchy graham-cracker crust covered with dense, sugary cheesecake and bathed in a coating of tangy, red-fruit coulis. Like all authentic American cuisine, it was oversize, oversweet and — on the heels of a 2,000-calorie supper — over the top.

Corso di Porta Ticinese 6; 39-02-8942-0241; carolinas.it. An average meal for two including drinks is 60 euros, or about $66 at $1.10 to the euro.

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Corey McCathern from Corey’s Soul Chicken.

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Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

Corey’s Soul Chicken

In Milan’s Chinatown, Corey’s Soul Chicken appears at first to be nothing more than a modest cafe occupying the ground floor of an unassuming gray building facing a pleasant pedestrian zone. Inside, meals are ordered, paid for and picked up from a counter. Food arrives on plastic plates, atop plastic trays, accompanied by plastic forks and knives. Beer is available in bottles. If you’re feeling fancy, you can ask for a plastic cup.

A second glance, however, suggests that there is more to the restaurant than you first imagined. Those cool decorations on the walls? By the African-American artist Ealy Mays, among others. The fridge? Stocked with Flying Dog Pale Ale and other American craft brews, none of which are particularly commonplace in Italian fast food restaurants.

And then there’s the fried chicken, which is much more than just fried chicken. The crust is as thick and crunchy as a couple of saltine crackers, almost completely greaseless and just slightly peppery, functioning as a protective coating that keeps the flavorful meat underneath tender and juicy. The menu includes boneless chicken strips, wings and thighs. All are excellent, and all are coated with the same extra-thick, extra-crunchy crust. You might be in the center of Milan, but you may be dreaming of a church picnic in Louisville.

Beyond the chicken, Corey’s also serves pitch-perfect sides. The creamy potato salad, filled with chunks of red pepper and egg and brightened with a dash of mustard, is pleasantly cooling in case you add too much hot sauce to the wings. The greens — broad spinach leaves, cooked just until wilted — are not far from Italian contorni. But Corey’s has to be the only restaurant in Milan that serves real barbecued beans: sour and sweet, with a profound depth of flavor and a vinegar-sharpened back-bite.

“I really wanted to bring and represent black American culture here,” said Corey McCathern, the restaurant’s owner. Originally from Kentucky, Mr. McCathern worked for years as a model in Milan before opening his restaurant in mid-2013.

“When I started, the people here never even knew what potato salad was,” he said. “Now I have customers who just come in for the potato salad.”

Via Paolo Sarpi 53; 39-02-842-129-63; coreyssoulchicken.com. An average meal for two, with a couple of beers, is 25 euros.

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The kitchen at God Save the Food.

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Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

God Save the Food

Not barbecue, but this three-year-old cafe close to the Porta Genova railway station still shows off a clear American influence. When first asked, a Milanese friend said that God Save the Food had “NYC style,” adding that it had “many critical points on bad manners.”

I didn’t encounter any bad manners on my visits, though on one Sunday the restaurant was so packed — with preternaturally beautiful people, no less — that the phrase “fire hazard’’ took on new meaning.

But on an average weekday, God Save the Food is a friendly place with lots of light and a clean, minimalist design. Its street, Via Tortona, is home to modeling agencies and photography studios, and the restaurant often seems to serve as a canteen for the fashion industry. As a gesture to the clientele, the menu includes 14 fruit smoothies as well as supplements that are supposed to function as antioxidants, energizers and aphrodisiacs (maca root, anyone?).

For those of us who consume solid foods, the main menu focuses on modern American fare, including an excellent roast beef club with thinly sliced, tender beef strips on three pieces of toasted white bread dressed with chopped pickles, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes.

The lunch menu includes surprisingly good fajitas: grilled strips of chicken, onions and red and yellow bell peppers placed atop a large tortilla with scoops of black beans, somewhat tasteless guacamole and sharp white cheese. Despite the weak avocados, it tasted just about perfect, with a proper bitter bite from the blackened onions and peppers.

The menu comes into its own on weekends, when it offers a relative rarity in Europe: a real American brunch, which also brings in that busy (but beautiful) crowd. Pancakes, served six ways, are blini-sized, thick and delicious, especially in the version with fresh fruit — red grapes, pink grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries and apple — whipped cream and maple syrup. Less well-translated are the hash browns, which include a crunchy white vegetable — kohlrabi? — that clearly does not belong there. A side of bacon is crisp and smoky, properly served in a generous stack. The bacon and the buttery eggs Benedict might make you think you are in a roadside diner back home. The air-kissing crowd will quickly disabuse you of that notion.

Via Tortona 34; 39-02-8942-3806; godsavethefood.it. An average meal for two is 70 euros, not including drinks.

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Baby back ribs at Hats-Off.

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Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

Hats-Off

On Via Circo, a tiny lane named after the nearby ruins of a Roman-era circus, this eight-month-old restaurant belies its ancient setting in a city once known as Mediolanum, which roughly means “the settlement in the middle of the plain.” Bowlers, top hats and other old-fashioned headgear hang from the ceiling as low-wattage lamps, providing a moody atmosphere that is augmented by the dark gray walls and crimson ceiling.

While Hats-Off might feel like a dive bar, its primary vice is the fancy hamburger, including variations topped with white truffles and fontina cheese. Beyond the burgers, however, are other specialties of the American kitchen, some of which are so accurately prepared that they may trigger a moment of childhood nostalgia. How can someone in Milan get American flavors so right?

When the owner Cecily Zalevsky emerges from the kitchen, she might stop by your table to tell you how she grew up in Florida, and that the years she spent cooking around the United States explain many of her menu choices and cooking techniques.

Hats-Off does not serve the only baby back ribs in Milan, but these extremely tender racks are certainly some of the best in the city, slow-cooked for more than six hours, starting at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and increasing in stages to 330 degrees, when they are finished with a coating of a sticky, lightly spicy barbecue sauce. Reassuringly black edges dot the corners and jutting ends of the ribs, providing a contrastive crunch to the very juicy bites of pork.

Less recommended was a so-called hot dog, which has since been taken off the menu. The deep-fried onion rings, though, were coated in a thick, crunchy, beer-based batter that would make civil engineers jealous of its structural integrity. They are accompanied by a sweetly spicy, honey-mustard dip.

The real stars here, however, are the wings: barbecue wings, not Buffalo, cooked until the meat slips from the bone and topped with sweetly spicy sauce. There are four spicy dipping sauces for those who need more bite, including one that is a fiery Buffalo style. The kitchen even packs a secret weapon for its fries and burgers: a perfect imitation of Cheez Whiz, made from scratch.

Via Circo 1; 39-02-4946-1832; ristorantehatsmilano.com. A typical meal for two is 60 euros, not including drinks.



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