The best fried chicken sandwich in New York is a chicken parm slider
A visit to a tasting menu in a food court
Editorial note: I’m not sure if I can officially call this a review. I paid my way but I was hardly a secret shopper. Mike is a friend from Twitter and the meal I had at his place was interesting enough that I wanted to write about it. It also took a bit longer than usual to write, hence the delay. SPEAKING of Snack Cart delays, I’ll be taking a break from this newsletter for a few weeks. Starting next week I’ll be filling in at TASTE, writing their Friday newsletter. If you want to keep a little Josh in your life, subscribe now.
If you want to get Mike Miranti even more animated than usual (which is extremely animated), ask him about his crushed red pepper. Even though it’s in the same spiral shaker you can see in slice joints all over New York, these flakes are authentic Calabrian chilis. They’re vibrant with flavor and when you say so, Miranti may, unprompted, send you home with a container of them. I’m at Mikey Pomodoro, one of the few food hall stands where the chef is behind the counter, eager to chat with you about ingredients. It has to be the only food hall stand with a tasting menu, which I’m here to try out.
Miranti was a front-of-house guy with a background in fine dining before the pandemic. “I am not a chef”, he insists at one point, also unprompted, waving his arms for emphasis (he is extremely from Forest Hills). Online cooking videos on social media turned into a pop-up at an illegal backyard speakeasy, which beget a stall at Smorgasburg. Since February, his permanent home has been Urbanspace near Grand Central. He’s been doing well serving chicken parm sliders and artichoke grilled cheese sandwiches to the Midtown crowd, but missed connecting with customers over the course of the meal the way he did in fine dining. So he had an idea: He has a counter, why not offer a not-chef driven dinner menu of the Italian-American food he serves all day.
The Piasanokase, a portmanteau of omakase and piasano, was born.
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Urbanspace is familiar to anyone who has been to a food hall in the past 5 years. It’s a food court, but hip, with a carefully curated list of New York and international restaurants. There’s a Roberta’s. Anchored in the center are a few bars and the lunch crowd transitions into happy hour smoothly. I make my way through Patagonia vests and Brooks Brothers shirts to a stool set for me at the counter of Mikey Pomodoro.
I’ll state the obvious: it’s weird to sit down for a 2-hour meal at a food hall counter. Throughout our meal, Miranti balances talking with me while taking regular orders. He is a charming and engaging partner across the bar, but it’s 6:30 pm in Midtown and the place is full of people drinking after work or stopping for food before they head back to the spreadsheet mines. Normal customers look sideways at me, a guy sitting at a stool with a glass of wine, though some with jealousy.
Once the food arrives, Miranti’s vision starts to fall into place. Bites from multiple pieces of fresh-made bruschetta alternate between the bright acidity of cherry tomatoes drizzled with balsamic reduction to deep funk from the masala mushrooms (a topping for one of his sliders, here standing ably on its own).
The antipasto platter is daunting and makes me wish I had brought someone with me. A lightly dressed arugula salad overflows with cheeses, pickled peppers, meats, and olives. Miranti gushes, “We just got this new sopressata from Levoni. It costs more but we tasted it and couldn’t NOT serve it.” Miranti is eager to break down the thinking that went into each ingredient on the plate. This is the food he grew up with and he loves it.
Next up is a dish with a simplicity and economy that would make a sushi-ya beam. To keep his eggplant parm vegan, Miranti makes it with aquafaba. That meant the restaurant had a bunch of chickpeas and needed to figure out what to do with them. The answer? Bury the lightly boiled legumes in a mountain of freshly ground cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. Chickpea cacio e pepe became a surprise menu hit. You’ll fume, because somehow this has three ingredients and tastes more like the platonic ideal of cacio e pepe than anything you’ve ever made at home.
Are there rice balls? Of course there are. But no softball-sized arancini, these are Roman supplì al telefono, round cylinders of rice and cheese. Tonight, he serves them on a bed of freshly made risotto that will become tomorrow’s supplì. The circle of life.
“This is the LAST meatball of the day. We were serving an order earlier and I shouted, ‘wait, no, leave one!’ But that means it’s the best one. It’s been in the sauce for hours and hours,” Miranti tells me as he slides the plate in front of me. The meatball rises from the sauce like a ziggurat, dusted with a snow of Parmesan and a passing cloud of fresh ricotta. I hum “Also Sprach Zarathustra” to myself as I pan my phone around for some closeup shots of the meaty monolith. The meatball, a slight variation on a Miranti’s family recipe that goes back generations, breaks apart with a spoon. It’s a bit under seasoned for my taste, but with a bit of fresh pomodoro sauce spooned on? Fuggedaboutit.
Finally come the sliders. The engine of the Pomodoro empire. These are maybe the best fried chicken sandwiches in New York city right now. Most chicken sandwiches are, let’s face it, a pain to actually eat. A bite pulls the chicken breast (or thigh) out of the sandwich, and sometimes the breading. Toppings and sauce slide and spill everywhere. It can be delicious but it’s always unpleasant. Miranti creates a blend of ground chicken, spices, and duck fat, shaping that into a patty which he breads and fries. The result, served on potato rolls with more of his fresh sauce and cheese, is the Platonic ideal of chicken parm in a completely different form. It also keeps its shape through the multiple bites it takes to finish. These “sliders” are a hefty 5 oz. Unlike some tasting menus you are going to leave this meal *full*.
The meal clocks in at $45 - a steal. Any missteps are due to the fact that this concept is only a month or two old and fewer than 50 people have had it. He’s thinking about a wine pairing with Urbanspace colleague Mayhem Beer and Sandwiches, which I enthusiastically endorse. It would match the food better and elevate the experience (I walked over and ordered a glass, taking Mike’s great recommendation). He’s only just getting proper silverware (my meal was served on plastic plates and utensils). I’m excited to see where it goes and urge him to learn further into the fine dining tropes. This is one of the most unique dining experiences in New York right now and the more he can play up the contrast, the better.
The pandemic decimated restaurants, but there are green shoots. Across the country new voices and new faces have, like Miranti, turned pandemic projects into new careers. They are rethinking everything about food. In Miranti’s case, he’s challenging us to consider Italian-American red sauce cuisine with the same intensity we would any other “high” cuisine worthy of a tasting menu. Even the hottest Italian-American places of the past few years are basically neighborhood joints with a much more aggressive door policy. He’s also rethinking what a restaurant is. In a previous era, he and his partner would have taken on crippling debt to open a full sit-down restaurant. Instead, they’re making fresh, from-scratch Italian dishes in a food court. Then saying he can deliver a gourmet experience here, too.
Dessert arrives. Three ingredients. Cream, whipped to stiff peaks, with sugar and a bit of vanilla. Gochisou sama deshita!
Mikey Pomodoro is located at Urbanspace, 230 Park Ave (ground floor), New York, NY 10169. They are open M-F 11am-8pm, though they recently started doing breakfast. To make reservations for the Paisanokase, DM them on Instagram.