When celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio was a kid, he was such a picky eater that his mom Sharon had to bribe him with a “Champion Eater” trophy to get him to finish his dinner. His older brother, Top Chef alumnus Bryan, was an athlete who wrangled his own trophies. Both have fond memories of getting home as the streetlights went on and sitting down to a pot roast dinner after a day of skateboarding and riding bikes.

Their new Las Vegas restaurant that has taken up a year-long residency at the Mandalay Bay resort, Retro by Voltaggio, is a culmination of those childhood memories and the brothers’ professional careers, a nostalgic nod to simpler times.

Entrance to the massive 9,000-square-foot space is at the casino level, and descends two floors down to the dining room either via a telephone booth elevator or via the staircase of the retro tower that feels like you’re walking into an ‘80s and ‘90s vintage store.  

There are blockbuster videos, nintendos, bikes, skateboards, original mobile phones and boomboxes, among other antiques curated by food artist Keith Magruder, who met the brothers when he worked for them as a dishwasher in the since shuttered Ink restaurant in L.A. Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk signed one of Michael’s very first skateboard decks, because he wanted a place in the illuminated memory monolith.


The Tower (Michele Stueven)

“The whole thing stemmed from the pop-ups that we were doing at Bellagio,” says Michael, who with his older brother have been working with the MGM Resorts group for the past seven years. “We wanted that residential feel. With  the food and decor, Bryan and I wanted to do something that was really personal for us that will be communicated in the experience without going over the top.  We remembered how when we were kids we moved around a lot and our parents would put us in a new home and the only thing that we were able to do was put our stuff up. And that’s what we did here.”

Even more personal is the menu, which includes classics like VoltaggioO’s, a new school version of the old school canned favorite made with housemade O’s from a custom pasta dye and arrabbiata butter poured over a giant meatball. The cheese and crackers are a soulful plate of cracklings, barbecue pork rinds, whipped brie and pimento vinaigrette. The Caesar salad comes with Parmesan churros.


Chicken and Dumplings and Voltaggios (Michele Stueven)

The chicken and dumplings made with pillowy gnudi, crispy chicken thighs, lemon-chicken jus and snap peas as well as the Wagyu beef pot roast of two-day cooked beef cheeks, Nantes carrots and cippolini onions are ceremoniously served in traditional CorningWare casseroles. The share plates on the table, with multi-colored folded napkins you’d find in a gaudy hotel dining room, are Fortessa ceramic versions of the flimsy paper plates the brothers spend childhood years eating from at backyard barbecues.

“Those life lessons as a kid that my mom instilled in me – like bribery –  were the  reward, ” says Michael, who with his brother Bryan started out their culinary careers as teenagers at a Maryland Holiday Inn. “I overcame my own fear of food by getting to eat some of these things like a Caesar salad or a really good pot roast. That wonderful discovery of food from the perfect bite of a little bit of potato, a small piece of carrot and beef juices started it all.

“I remember we’d go on vacation to Ocean City, Maryland  to one of those all-you-can-eat seafood restaurants and thought we were so rich,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I was allowed to eat as many soft shell crabs as I wanted. Those little moments make you reflect on what a big part of food can be in your life when you associate it with certain memories and places. We wanted to create that same environment and experience for all ages. Maybe for kids, too. We’ve had a lot of kids eating in the restaurant and they love the communal toy table that’s full of old toys, Rubik’s cubes and things that are not ipads or connected to a wire.”

Bryan (who actually preferred the Chef Boyardee ravioli) fondly remembers how those classic canned staples had a permanent place in the pantry out of necessity, convenience and budget. Active in sports, there were many a weeknight when the towheads and little sister Staci came home and popped open a can.


Bryan Voltaggio, left, and Michael (Courtesy MGM Resorts)


Bryan Voltaggio left, and Michael (Courtesy the Voltaggio brothers)

“When we were kids, dinner was often a fend-for-yourself type of situation,” says Michael, who together with Bryan opened STRFSH, the fast casual sandwich shop in Santa Monica that closed in 2021. “I remember taking some of those prepackaged foods that were in our pantry and turning them into other stuff.  What can I do with these ramen noodles tonight to make them different from last night? Even down to the construction of a sandwich. I remember the time I discovered when making a baloney and cheese sandwich, the difference it made putting the mustard on the baloney side and the mayo on the cheese side. It all sounds like remedial culinary talk, but when we were kids and had these things in our pantry, we wanted to make something different out of them from just what the directions said. Very early on, we started to learn and create our own cooking styles, which is communicated today in the food we cook now, starting with the foundation of an idea and constructing the dish on top of that idea, as opposed to wanting to do something with ramps and hibiscus leaves. There’s no foundation for that. So we start with a dish and let our imagination take over.”

Perhaps one of the most imaginative dishes on the Retro menu – mischievously sparked by the brothers’ obsession with liquid nitrogen – is the Caprese salad, a mozzarella ovoline pretending to be a tomato served with pesto and tomato toast. The mozzarella gets semi-frozen and dipped into a tomato sauce reduction that creates a pomodoro skin.


Mozzarella ovaline pretending to be a tomato and shrimp cocktail at Voltaggio’s (Michele Stueven)

While most of the dishes go back before the ‘80s and ‘90s, they are foods the siblings ate and later were tasked with cooking. Their first jobs were in a Holiday Inn hotel dining room, when Bryan was 17 and Michael was 15. They were responsible for creating the pasta special, vegetable of the day and soup du jour.   Bryan was ice carving in the back while Michael poached whole salmon and carved palm trees out of carrots and green peppers to decorate the brunch buffet. They started their careers back when everything was done from scratch, and went on to graduate from the best culinary schools in the country.

“I think life has become too complicated and when you have an opportunity to make people feel comfortable – inspiration without intimidation – we want to get back to the fundamentals of cooking,” says Michael. “We just want to make really good mashed potatoes.”

“It’s a small reminder of simpler times,” Bryan chimes in. “Everything is so fast and information is so available now. We want to give our guests the opportunity to reflect back and listen to the music. The playlist is all genres and sort of like when you were tuning on the radio in your car changing stations trying to find that one song you’re going to bob your head to. You couldn’t just go on Spotify back then and play what you wanted to hear. You were listening to top 40.”

Even if it’s at the risk of being kitschy?

“If somebody calls it kitschy, that’s a huge compliment,” says Michael. “Because that’s what it is. It’s fun. We’re communicating our life experiences from then until now both personally and professionally. Maybe nostalgia is a better word, but either way it means we did our job. It’s a bit of a risk, and it might be a little cheesy, but we’ve had so much fun doing this project. Bryan and I were in that kitchen from 8 a.m. till 3 a.m. most nights putting this menu together. We had standing time of 18 hours a day and hung out as brothers reliving so many memories.”


Retro cocktails: Gin & Juice , Appletini, Fuzzy Navel, Long Island Ice Tea and the Blue Hawaiian (Courtesy MGM Resorts)

























































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