Mangia, Nashville

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We kept hearing about Mangia from friends and yet didn’t fully comprehend the concept.  The genius behind the idea for Mangia is Nick Pellegrino,  who was raised in a typical Italian American family that held dearly to the same values I grew up with.   A table full of food that is made from scratch, eaten with family. That doesn’t have to mean you are blood related. If you were in our home, breaking bread with us, you were treated like family and always welcomed back. We had empty chairs at the table and places set for who just might pop in for dinner, because someone typically did.  It wasn’t just the food; it was all the joy and energy surrounding the satisfaction of being Italian well-fed.

A few weeks ago we finally experienced Mangia and we are grateful Nick found room for us at the last minute.

I say we “experienced” Mangia  because it goes beyond any expectation one might have when entering the door of a borrowed bistro utilized on the off nights at the Cool Cafe,  in a strip mall in Franklin.

You feel as if you are stepping into another world for a few hours. The kind of world that took place in my mom’s flocked wall-papered dining room or my great grandmother’s house that had sofas with plastic slip covers. If you’re old school  Italian American, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We arrived at 6:00 p.m.  with two bottles of wine, ready to eat numerous courses. We heard from from other bloggers and friends to expect to have fun, dance a lot, feast on crazy good food,  and share in numerous celebrations with strangers who came for graduations, anniversaries, retirement parties and birthdays. Who doesn’t want to celebrate food and wine with other people who are having a happy life moment?

Tables were set for approximately 70 people, all greeted at once  by Nick who had a seating chart, and quickly showed us to our table. We were seated with other guests, and by the end of the night, the people you are sitting  with are new found friends that feel like family. The proof is that we just received a picture, a thank you card and a “happy anniversary” wish from one of the ladies that was seated with us.

A server with a big smile comes to tell us what is in store and show us the evening’s menu.

She reminds us to pace ourselves, as we will be served 4 appetizers, 2 salads, 2 pastas, 3 entrees and 2 desserts. The new summer menu just started this weekend, so be sure to check it out on facebook. This means I have to make another reservation soon.

I take a look at the bread basket and do everything I can to not eat any, but I failed. It was worth it, because it had that authentic Italian taste and texture with much loved sesame seeds, reminding us of the bread in Sicily.

There are white table clothes, and an open kitchen. The mood is festive. There is music. We begin our appetizers and after a few bites of each, the wine begins to kick in, and the dancing begins. Nick has the magic touch to bring together the right staff to fill the air with a party spirit.

As he says, “it’s like an Italian wedding without the crazy relatives.” (Although a few crazy relatives are fun too).

If you love olives, this is a whole new way to love them. The asparagus were perfectly cooked and the prosciutto was heaven.

The added unplanned highlight of the night had to do with with the dance song at our wedding. The restaurant just happened to play it, which was the first time in 13 years we’ve got to dance to  an old Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons song, “Your just too good to be true.” Perfect as we were celebrating our wedding anniversary.

The mood and music were a festive throwback to the past in a Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra way.

All the while the movie, The Godfather, is playing silently on a large screen TV. (I still have a crush on the young Al Pacino).

The appetizers kept coming and were simply stellar.

I wanted to eat a lot olives and another piece of the ricotta bruschetta, but I carefully ate in small bites, because I knew there was much more to come.

These are what they refer to as “Italian” tater tots. They are much better.

If someone were to ask me what were the star dishes of the evening, I might say both salads. A good salad marks a meal and starts it off right.

My pictures (taken in a very dim light) do not do justice. They both had just the right and perfectly balanced dressing  and this is an area I’m picky about. We both agreed that they serve the best caesar salad in town.

The pasta courses arrive and the dish I’ve been waiting for. Shells in a short ribs bolognese. I will figure this out and make it at home.

There was another dish made with homemade pasta and artichokes. This was not my favorite dish of the night, but one of the table guests was happy to take what was left over home.

Zucchini has a secret ingredient and our server asked us if we could identify it. I did because it’s growing in my garden.

Three Amazing Entrees Were Served

Beef Tenderloin pizzola, Rosemary Chicken and Scallops with Orange Sauce meant there was something for everyone. My husband favored the Scallops. I was enamored with their signature Rosemary chicken, which was fall off the bone tender.   I didn’t post any pictures because they didn’t do justice to the entrees as the night got a little darker.

Save Room for Dessert

Charles Hunter III, a fellow food blogger,  worked non-stop all evening, He helps “chef” the open kitchen.

Strawberries with a Mascarpone Cream

Often, they serve a ricotta cake, but on this night they had fresh sweet strawberries with a mascarpone cream, followed by zeppole (hot, Italian donuts). Each dinner guest goes home with a little bag of hot Italian donuts. I  accidentally left my bag there, the only disappointment of the night. I could have taken a dozen home if he was taking orders. Just saying.

Bags of Zeppole guarantee that the last bite at Mangia is memorable and will entice you to come back for more.

Nick Pellegrino has stretched the idea of what a restaurant means  and has created a weekly food event, with fixed time, one price, where people can come (with their own bottle or three of wine) and become an Italian family, without the feud’s or turned over tables. That really happened in my family one or two times.

Was he crazy to dream this up, based on a modest amount of catering experience back in the day?

Nashville has said loud and clear that, while Nick may have been enticed here as a successful classical guitarist, we are happy that he picked up a chef’s knife, put an idea on the table and has succeeded in filling every seat with a waiting list, all accomplished through word of mouth.

What will Nick do next?

This is a man with a bright future in the food scene in Nashville. This past April, Lidia Bastianich teamed up with Mangia for a fund raiser for Nashville Public Television. Lidia, a restaurant owner in Manhattan,  is a living legend, hosting a cooking series on PBS,  and authoring several Italian cookbooks,  However, I remember her most for being chosen to  cook for the pope when he came to America. Enough said, right?  You can only imagine how great that evening was and the honor it brought to Mangia and Nashville. Read more about that night from fellow blogger, Lisa Mays at Wine with Lisa.

Food Artisan

In addition to creating the weekly feasts, they are producing their own mayonnaise.  Mangia Mayo is an all natural, low fat, low sodium, gluten free, roasted garlic,  fresh basil ailoi and is served with the lemon risotto cakes. It’s only sold at the Cool Cafe, for now.

They are also selling fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese for $8 a pound on Wednesdays at the Cool Cafe location. You may need to email them to place your order.

Mangia Means Eat.

In the spirit of an Italian, mangia also means eat, take in, soak up, nourish, and enjoy the pleasures of food and friendship.  Nick helps his guests live out this meaning every time he open the doors. This proves what I’ve known all my life.

When there is love and delicious food at the table, everyone wants a seat!

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  1. ooohhh the little bag of doughnuts to take home is such a cool idea. There are a couple restaurants here in Sydney too that are starting to send you home with a little food gift.

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