Most Upper East Siders will tell you there is just one place to get the best sandwich in the neighborhood and possibly the best one of your life: Milano Market. The old-school Italian deli’s mammoth sandwiches, piled high with high-quality ingredients and perfectly pullable melted cheese, have made the eatery a social media darling. However, behind all the fanfare, Milano Market is hiding a dirty little secret.
As Upper East Site first exposed last month, during our investigation into four UES delis marketing themselves under 76 different listings on Seamless and Grubhub, so-called Food Service Establishments can avoid the watchful eye of City health inspectors — and their prominent, color-coded inspection letter grades — by registering their business with the State as a Retail Food Store, a designation intended for grocery stores, supermarkets, and the like.
ALSO READ | The Shittiest Overpriced Coffee on the UES, according to Upper East Siders
Presenting just a handful of shelves stocked with gourmet retail food products, like canned olives, beans and oils, to customers complementing their two walls of prepared foods, freshly made sandwiches, soups, single-serving soft drinks, pastries and imported cheeses sliced to order, Milano Market, located at 1582 Third Avenue at the corner of East 89th Street, has chosen to license the business with the New York State as Retail Food Store rather than as a Food Service Establishment.
A move that effectively dodges the more rigorous and more frequent sanitary inspections done by the New York City Department of Health.
That is despite the state application for a Retail Food Store specifically noting in bold print, “This license is ONLY for retail food stores that do not conduct any type of food processing operations (e.g., prepare sandwiches, cook food on premises).“
Making matters worse, Milano Market’s most recent inspection by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees Retail Food Stores, found “critical deficiencies,” noting that the delicatessen doesn’t even have the proper license with the State to serve prepared foods, which the deli promotes heavily on social media and its website.
Milano Market’s menu features an extensive list of entrees and sides cooked in the restaurant’s basement kitchen and dozens of sandwiches made to order intended to be consumed immediately. On its Instagram page, the deli promotes its fresh-made fare and sandwiches piled high with ingredients, even linking to its Uber Eats listing, where customers can order individually-portioned salads and pasta in addition to their popular sandwiches.
Upper East Site obtained the results of Milano Market’s most recent State inspection on February 15, 2023, which noted the restaurant was cooking and selling foods without having a valid Food Processing License, which is the permit required for Retail Food Stores to serve prepared foods. Think Whole Foods’ hot bar or the deli section at Key Food.
Besides not having the correct permits to prepare and sell food with the State, the inspector also found a laundry list of gross-out-worthy details inside Milano Market.
According to the inspection report, “15 [to] 20 fresh-appearing mouse droppings” were found in the basement near the loading area. “Dirt and grime” were found on the restaurant’s walk-in cooler floor, and food residue was on its storage racks. The inspector also found it to have insufficient space.
Milano Market’s basement kitchen walls were dusty, and the inspector noted a hole in the ceiling. An “accumulation of dark scrapable matter” was found on a meat slicer in the nearly 40-year-old eatery’s basement kitchen, though, thankfully, not on the part that touches food.
The inspector noted accumulations of food debris in the basement storage freezer, while an “accumulation of dried food residues” was found inside the display cases in the deli upstairs. Upper East Site also photographed this on a visit to Milano Market this month.
The report also states that “dried food residues” collected on a tabletop can opener in the kitchen and on the restaurant’s cloth oven mitts. Additionally, Milano Market also did not keep wipe clothes in the basement kitchen in sanitizing solution as required.
During February’s review by the State, the inspector found baked turkey sitting on top of a display case in Milano Market unrefrigerated, its temperature reaching a dangerously warm 45 degrees, which could help foster bacterial growth.
The inspector says he reviewed the ‘four-hour rule’ with management, which states that restaurants must discard perishable foods at dangerously warm temperatures after four hours. Staff then put the turkey in the refrigerated display case.
ALSO READ | Babka Beef Pits Michaeli Against Breads Over Creation of ‘Best of NY’ Recipe
Upper East Site also spotted cooked Turkey breasts on the display case, one above the glass sneeze guard, during a stop at the deli in mid-May.
Milano Market also received infractions for canned goods and bottled items “improperly stored on the retail floor,” leaving insufficient space inside the restaurant for customers and keeping a case of tomatoes “improperly stored uncovered,” raising the risk for contamination.
Photos show the deli still stores dozens of bottles of olive oil, jars and cans of tomato sauce on the floor of the crowded takeout spot, usually packed with hungry customers, the line snaking through the small store and sometimes down the street during the lunch rush.
The inspection report also reveals details about Milano Market’s retail food items, which include perishable items like milk jugs and non-perishable foods like those sold in a grocery store, from its limited but crowded shelves. The State inspector found the canned goods inside the deli had dust on them — not a sign of a top seller.
When Upper East Site took a look this month, we found that not only were the shelves and products dusty, but some products were also nearing their mid-June 2023 expiration dates.
Since Milano Market’s owners have chosen to license the business as a Retail Food Store with New York State rather than a Food Service Establishment with New York City, customers won’t notice a sizable green letter ‘C’ grade posted by its front door, warning them of the unsanitary conditions inside.
Milano Market must still post the New York State inspection results, which feature a much more diminutive letter ‘C,’ in a place where customers will see them. These instructions are even stated on the inspection form itself.
“Article 28 of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law requires a retail food store to post (emphasis theirs) a copy of the date and results of its most recent sanitary inspection in a conspicuous location near each public entrance,” the document states.
ALSO READ | Downtown Favorite Brooklyn Dumpling Shop Set to Bring the Automat to the UES
Head to the corner of East 89th Street and Third Avenue and you won’t spot the inspection report near the deli’s entrance. That’s because it is taped in the bottom left corner of the storefront’s large display window, as far from the door as it could possibly be shown.
It is also taped to the glass approximately 18 inches off the ground, closer to a toddler’s eye level than an average adult’s.
A review of Google Street View imagery by Upper East Site reveals that Milano Market appears to have kept its inspection results in this not-so-conspicuous location for at least the past decade.
Milano Market did not respond to Upper East Site’s questions about the deli’s most recent sanitary inspections but said, “We are a market, not a restaurant. We do not have seated tables nor a wait staff. We offer prepared foods (like any other market), sandwiches made in front of our customers (not the kitchen) and retail products imported from Italy.”
“Would you consider Whole Foods MARKET a restaurant? Neither do we,” the family-owned establishment continued, comparing their small storefront deli to the sprawling 39,000-square-foot supermarket a block south on Third Avenue.
New York State law defines a Food Service Establishment — the designation for restaurants that receive inspections from the local Health Department — as a place “where food is prepared and intended for individual portion service and includes the site at which the individual portions are provided, whether consumption occurs on or off the premises.”
ALSO READ | Your Favorite UES Restaurant on Seamless Probably Does Not Exist
When reached by Upper East Site, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets explained that the agency has oversight of Retail Food Stores as long as fewer than half of the business’s annual sales come from “food for consumption on premises or ready-to-eat food for off-premises consumption.”
It’s called the 50% rule. Once a business passes that threshold, it becomes a Food Service Establishment and falls under the jurisdiction of the NYC Health Department.
A document published online by New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets listing the rules and regulations for Retail Food Stores even states that Food Service Establishments include “delicatessens that primarily offer prepared food in individual service portions.”
Upper East Site inquired whether sales of Milano Market’s retail products comprised more than half of the deli’s annual revenue. We did not receive a response.
For updates around the clock, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook
Suggest a Correction
Copyright 2023 Upper East Site. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast, or redistributed.
I already had a spoiled Italian cannoli! Couple of months ago. Be careful folks!
I hope this article spurs Milano Market to clean up its act.
I have to point out, though, that most of its prepared foods are kept refrigerated.
And I have never, ever had a bad reaction to any food I’ve bought there the last 30+ years – something I can’t say about some very pricey restaurants!!