The summertime means a constant back and forth with most heading to the seaside towns that are just a drive away from the City of Brotherly Love, and with restrictions easing there are many reasons to head down to the shore—some more delicious than others.
One of those reasons at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa comes in the form of a brand new restaurant: The American Bar & Grille which was created, owned and operated by MGM Resorts International and Borgata. The new eating concept showcases the work of Executive Chef Aram Mardigian and opened last Saturday to the public. What’s most enticing about this new spot isn’t the menu or even the fanfare of finally getting to eat with less restrictions. It’s actually the way of thinking about what American cuisine truly is and how the cultures of the globe and seasonal influences inspire the foods in our country more than you would think.
Chef Mardigian is the perfect person to helm the new restaurant just by looking at his resume. The New York native grew up around Albany in an Italian-Armenian family, who also happened to own a restaurant. It was there that Mardigian found his love of cooking while working at his family’s business.
“There was always a lot of great food growing up, it was a big part of our life and our family,” says Mardigian. “At an early age I was exposed to foods from all over the world, which was really cool. I didn’t realize that at the time, but I took that with me and it’s part of who I am.”
Working in the kitchen on the East Coast grew into a love and fascination for food out West, specifically in Hollywood with Wolfgang Puck. After being introduced to the Austrian chef’s influences, Mardigian decided to load up his car and drive to California—he had everything packed into his car but a job. Eventually he did make contacts in Tinsel Town and was able to work under Puck for years, graduating from making apps to eventually Sous Chef.
From Southern California, Mardigian then went on to work for Puck opening restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas and in Northern California. After having the opportunity to come back to the East Coast in South Jersey however, Mardigian jumped at the chance.
“South Jersey has always been a place that we loved. We would come here in the summers and go to Ocean City for vacation when we were teenagers, and to be able to come back here was great. The Borgata was a perfect place, for me anyway,” he explains.
Before opening the American Bar & Grille, Mardigian worked with the different culinary programs at the Casino with Chef Thomas Biglan and spent time working in some of the VIP clubs. “It was really great to get to know people in the culinary department and just generally in the hotel that I really didn’t have a chance to work so closely with in the past,” Mardigian says. “It was really eye-opening, and what an amazing machine—it’s really inspiring to see how everyone works together as one team.”
Now Chef Mardigian has the opportunity to take everything he’s learned and open the Borgata’s latest concept.
“We have what we’re calling the American Bar & Grille…That’s interesting to me,” says Mardigian. “If you were to ask somebody what was American cuisine is 50 years ago, it would be pot roast and hot dogs and apple pie and things like that—all great stuff, but today it’s different. The world is different, America is different and American cuisine to me, is heavily influenced globally, which makes it so much more interesting. The cuisine should mirror the public I would think, and that’s really the reality of what it is and that makes it great for me as a chef to be able to interpret that on the menu. We have influences from Japan, Germany, and of course, Italy, and the list goes on.”
Mardigian notes that his travels in search for seasonal ingredients also still acts as a major influence for how he still cooks today. He drove through Castroville in search of artichokes (the California town has a festival every year just for the veggie), picked peas in Half Moon Bay, and drove through Gilroy to smell the fresh garlic (there’s a whole association dedicated to the bulbous flowering plant in the West Coast town there as well.)
“There’s no way to cook for me besides seasonally. Nothing else makes really much sense to me. I’m not going to feature tomatoes in February because they’re just not that good… But it also makes it really fun to me, because you look forward to every season,” he continues. Chef also notes that specifically in New Jersey in the summertime, there are some key ingredients such as the tomatoes and sweet corn and even a Jersey fluke. “That’s something I enjoy and I love teaching it to my cooks, and they love it too. Everybody in the restaurant has the same philosophy and we all feel the same way. That’s really exciting to me and a thrill for me.”
Mardigian talks about what diners can expect food-wise this summer season at the American Bar & Grille: Light, fresh fare with some delicious highlights that span from locally grown zucchini, different summer squashes and onions with edible additions just needing some olive oil, garlic or fresh herbs to completely make the dish whole. Now, when the fall and winter come around, that’s when some heavier dishes with sauces will become center stage for the new eatery, but for now, diners have plenty of summer staples to choose from.
The new American Bar & Grille’s whole atmosphere is inviting. The colors are warm, there’s a fireplace to light the ambiance into a gentle setting, and it’s securely enough away from the casino floor to help keep the idea of a wholly unique experience in Atlantic City alive. The bar area acts as a place for conversation and drinks (which also helps incorporate the seasonal vibe, think a Jersey Blueberry Moscow Mule for one.)
But the food is still center stage.
For the summer menu, Chef Mardigian notes a few standouts—the tuna crudo which is made using a chili and ponzu sauce with it, or grilled fruit on top of their pork chop which also features a pureed blend of the fruit. There’s also simpler items ingredients-wise, but the flavors are out of this world, such as their chimichurri sauce on the steak that is made with just garlic and herbs, or the tomatoes that they roast in the oven at 200 degrees for three or four hours as a topping for their wood-fired pizzas.
“I think what’s really cool about our restaurant is that you can come in and have different experiences and it’s up to you. Because if you look at the menu, you can come in and have a really nice crudo plate, ribeye steak, filet mignon and a nice Alaskan halibut dish, or, you can come in and grab a salad and a burger or a pizza and sit at our bar, which has expanded,” says Mardigian. “The bar is a place to hangout and eat. There are more TVs now, so [you can] catch a sports game and grab a pizza from the wood-burning oven or a burger. You can have any experience you want here, and you don’t find that in a lot of restaurants. I think it’s unique to us.”
For more information on the American Bar & Grille at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, visit borgata.mgmresorts.com