Our Gourmet: Ten tables in Italy at the foot of Manchester's Elm Street
Deep in the snow and ice of an old section of Manchester is a small Italian eatery that beckons with Old World charm and some of the tastiest Italian food around.
Mangia, on the east side of the foot of Elm Street, is a tiny little boutique restaurant which belies its location in a crowded patch of commercial establishments near Queen City Avenue. The windows are gaily festooned with little lights and the windows are all steamed up on these cold winter nights, inviting hungry diners in for warmth, good food and a sense of being transported to what looks and feels like Capri.
It is, undoubtedly, still Manchester, but allow yourself a moment's or an evening's fantasy and indulge.
Step through the tiny doorway and take a place at one of the 10 tables, smartly adorned with black and red tablecloths, wine glasses, small candles and gleaming hardwood floors; enjoy the Isle of Capri and wine decanter decorations, hear the traditional Italian music. It is warm and homey and very European.
Don't forget to bring your own beer or wine (there is a corking fee), but after that leave it to owner/chef Angelo Bruno to whip up fresh-made pasta, salads, soup and a variety of entrees — including The Challenger, where you simply make your own idea of dinner and he cooks it.
Pasta dominates Mangia's menu, but there are chicken and meat and seafood dishes available on the specials menu. Entrees run from $11.95 to $15.95, and the steam coming from the kitchen and completely fogging the front windows — and the steaming hot plates delivered to table — testify to Bruno's idea of scratch-made pasta dinners made completely to order.
We started with a super-fresh and nicely arranged Caesar Salad ($7.50 — plus 95 cents for anchovies, of course) which was so cool and fresh and nicely tossed with dressing and parmesan cheese and evenly distributed anchovies, it was as authentic as can be. It is the kind of salad that is more than a side dish. With warm toasted buttered and seasoned bread slices, croutons on the salad and an expert balance between thin and ever-so-slightly creamy Caesar dressing, it threatens to be a full meal. It was that good.
My Creamy Chicken Marsala was decidedly top-shelf. It was so hot and fresh off the stovetop I had to wait a minute or two before taking a full bite, and then I had to fight an urge to hurry to get all of it while it remained so enticingly hot. Two chicken cutlets covered with super-thin sliced mushrooms alongside a nice helping of penne pasta were plated with a light sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese and basil and absolutely covered with a creamy and slightly tangy Marsala sauce that might call for a spoon to get it all.
There were no spoons on the table and I did not waste time asking for one. The chicken was sauteed exactly right, still hot and juicy inside, and this dinner disappeared, sauce and all, full compliments to the chef.
We also enjoyed an order of Cheese Tortellini, which for pasta lovers offered a true taste of what homemade pasta is all about. The tortellini shells — in a Maria Rosa sauce topped with parmesan — were thin enough to be just a portion of each bite, giving way to the delicious blend of ricotta, and romano cheese and pecorino inside the tortellini. How often does one order a filled pasta and have the dough overpower the filling? Not here.
Bruno's tortellini — and probably all other pasta servings — allows the pasta to simply hold the ingredients, rather that dwarf them. Mangia!
In good weather, reservations are recommended at this tiny and delightful restaurant, where Chef Bruno will answer the phone and a small but expert waitstaff will serve all your needs, but not hover.
Parents can pay $6.95 for children's dishes that include pizza in ciabatta bread, cheese and butter pasta, meatballs in a stick, chicken fingers or ravioli or other small entrees, and small ones eat free Tuesday through Thursday, including gelato.
Remember the BYOB aspect, and your meal will be perfectly rounded out. And if you listen closely to the authentic Italian music in the background, one might expect Al Pacino to step inside at any moment. It is an intimate, thoroughly Italian dinner restaurant, and highly recommended.