The Milan salad’s origin is hazy, perhaps a riff on one that’s been on the menu for decades at Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, or a take on a house specialty at Jimmy Neff’s in Center City, a long-ago coffee shop where the Kimmel Center now stands.
No matter. The salad found its groove and its name in the 1950s at Jimmy’s Milan, the erstwhile supper club at 39 S. 19th St., where Smiths is now.
Nearly a quarter-century after Jimmy’s Milan closed, the salad lives on. You can find it, with some modifications and under different names, at random restaurants: both locations of Cotoletta, in Bala Cynwyd and Fitler Square; Bridget’s Steakhouse in Ambler; Teca in West Chester and Newtown Square; Villa di Roma in South Philadelphia; and D’Angelo’s in Rittenhouse Square, where Jimmy’s Milan chef Tony D’Angelo still makes it.
The Milan is unapologetically retro. Think of it as a deconstructed BLT with shrimp. It starts with iceberg lettuce that’s tossed liberally with a dressing that’s a little bit Thousand Island and a little bit Italian, with perhaps a touch of Worcestershire. (Please don’t ask for dressing on the side.) On top are chunks of tomato, pieces of bacon, rough-cut hard-cooked egg, and peeled shrimp.
The dressing is the key, and that’s where Ann Conlin comes in. Her late husband, Jimmy DiBattista, was the son of the restaurant’s founder (who simply put “Jimmy’s” in front of the name when he bought the Milan restaurant in 1951), and she keeps the flame alive with bottled versions of the Jimmy’s Milan dressing, including a spicy version that she and her son, also Jimmy, created last year. Both varieties are not only delicious on salad, but also as a dip or sandwich spread.