To research regional American dishes for his upcoming Manhattan restaurant, chef Andrew Carmellini road-tripped around the country in search of spectacular flavors—and found just a few good ones. So he set out to invent his own.

By Food & Wine
Updated April 15, 2016

When he was growing up in Cleveland, Andrew Carmellini spent every vacation in a car. His father, Paul, was a dirt-track-racing fan who drove his family to events from Maine to California in their 1975 Chevy Impala. "I never got on a plane until I was 18 years old," says Carmellini, now the chef at New York City's sensational modern-Italian Locanda Verde. "But I went everywhere in the country you could get to by car."

Back then, he loved seeing the way road food changed regionally. So when he set out to research his American restaurant, The Dutch, in Manhattan's Soho, he insisted on taking road trips around the United States. Carmellini clocked thousands of miles tasting barbecue at shacks in Tennessee and Cuban food at storefronts in Florida. He found inspiration, but also a lot of bad food, at iconic places. "Canned baked beans, coleslaw from a jar, dried-out meat; I couldn't believe it," he says.

That's when Carmellini decided to take a fresh look at some of the country's classic dishes, both for The Dutch and for his cookbook, American Flavor. "I stopped focusing on where a dish came from and concentrated on making it delicious," he says. He punches up New England clam chowder by adding smoked whitefish from the Great Lakes area, chopped dill and a few dashes of hot sauce; he also mixes milk in with the cream so the soup is not too rich. He makes Texas-style chili with cubes of short ribs, beer, coffee and bitter chocolate, which gives it the deep flavor of a Mexican mole.

Carmellini even revives pork fried rice—a '70s favorite nationwide—mixing in Chinese sausage and pineapple to give it a Hawaiian accent. He hasn't cooked with Asian ingredients since he ran the kitchen at New York City's elegant French-American Café Boulud, where F&W named him a Best New Chef 2000. "I love Italian food, and I love French food," he says. "But American food gives you the freedom to use influences from everywhere. Especially if you've decided that you can be inspired by a place and its food but not be a slave to it."


© Quentin Bacon

Spaghetti with Fresh Soppressata

Carmellini's Italian family has a tradition of gathering in their Cleveland marble shop to make soppressata—a good 500 pounds of it—every December. A little of the well-seasoned meat always finds its way into the pasta sauce here.


© Quentin Bacon

Grilled Shrimp with Mom's Avocado-and-Orange Salad

Because his father, Paul, is from Miami, Carmellini visited Florida frequently as a child. His mom, Vickie, perfected a salad there using slices of the local avocados dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil. He adds grilled shrimp to the dish, which makes it even more Floridian.

Banana Pancakes with Orange-Maple Syrup

To make a citrus-spiked, not-too-sweet sauce for these outrageous pancakes embedded with caramelized banana, Carmellini cooks pure maple syrup with fresh orange juice.

Andrew Carmellini's Pick: Where to eat in Miami

Michy's Dishes like cobia with ginger-tangerine brown butter "capture the energy of Miami, but without being cheesy."


© Tina Rupp

© Quentin Bacon

Creamy Chicken-and-Mushroom Fricassee

When he was 18, Carmellini worked at the Homestead resort in Bath County, Virginia, where he learned to forage and cook with chanterelles and morels. His chicken fricassee—made healthier with low-fat sour cream and nonfat Greek yogurt—also includes plenty of sautéed shiitake mushrooms.


© Quentin Bacon

Sweet-Potato Meringue Pie

Carmellini's pie—with a Thanksgiving-style sweet-potato filling—is an homage to a woman he calls the Pie Lady of Davenport, Iowa, whom he found selling pies from her trunk.

New Mexico

© Quentin Bacon

Chicken Posole

Carmellini calls posole his "favorite food on the planet." He loves to make it with New Mexican hatch green chiles (available from using a recipe he perfected with help from the Mexican kitchen staff at Café Boulud. They invariably made the dish with veal head; he opts for chicken.


© Quentin Bacon

Pork-and-Pineapple Fried Rice

"Hawaii is really cool foodwise," Carmellini says. "It's fusion cooking at its best." He adds pineapple (the quintessential Hawaiian ingredient) and vinegar to his pork-studded rice for a wonderful sweet-and-sour flavor. "By the way, a fried egg on top makes it even better and more Hawaiian," he says.


© Quentin Bacon

Julie's Texas-Style Chili with Beer

On a trip to San Antonio, Carmellini discovered Texas-style chili—a powerful mix of toasted chiles, beer and coffee—then got the recipe from chef Julie Farias, whose family lives there.


Smoked-Whitefish Chowder

When Carmellini traveled through the Great Lakes region on a family road trip, he fell in love with whitefish, especially the smoked kind. "Why does New England get all the chowder, chowder, chowder anyway?" he asks. He's been making this recipe for years and likes it so much that it's part of his upcoming cookbook, American Flavor.

Andrew Carmellini's Pick: Where to eat in Michigan

Brown Fisheries: The Fish House Owner Buddy Brown sells exemplary smoked-whitefish chowder and Lake Superior fish.

Grandpa's Cider Mill "When it gets cold, all of Michigan comes out for cider and doughnuts."


Steamed Snapper with Tangy Peanut Sauce

"In New Orleans, all the menus have a pecan-crusted fish," says Carmellini. His recipe is quite different: Inspired by the city's surprisingly large Vietnamese population, he makes a peanut sauce for snapper with Asian ingredients like lemongrass and fish sauce.

Andrew Carmellini's Pick: Where to eat in Louisiana

Mahoney's Po-Boy Shop Carmellini has tried almost every po'boy on the menu. His favorite is fried-oyster remoulade.

Hoa Hong 9 Roses Louisiana has unexpectedly good Vietnamese food; this place has the best.