2017-06-22 / Key West Dining

Mangia Mangia brings pasta to the people

Florida Weekly Correspondent

The motto at Mangia Mangia in Old Town Key West is “Pasta to the people,” but the name of the restaurant (which translates to every Italian nonna’s favorite phrase: “Eat! Eat!”) says more than any motto ever could. Bike or walk by Mangia Mangia when the kitchen is firing and the alluring aroma of garlic will lure you right inside the doors to do just that – eat! Eat! From start to finish, any meal at Mangia Mangia will either make you incredibly glad you grew up Italian or incredibly jealous you didn’t.

Conch is ubiquitous on restaurant menus in Key West, but Mangia Mangia brings an Italian sensibility to the traditional conch chowder. The conch minestrone is a light start to an inevitably carb-heavy meal, combining conch, kidney beans and fresh pasta in a flavorful yet surprisingly non-briny clam broth. For those of you well acquainted with rustic Italian cuisine, pasta fazool never tasted so refined. The carpaccio di bue is another delightful light antipasto. Wafer-thin slices of beef loin get a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and are then topped with arugula, capers, radicchio, capers and shaved parmigiano cheese.

You’re wise to start light with the appetizers because Mangia Mangia is famous for its fresh homemade pasta. Fettucine (regular or spinach), linguine, spaghetti, pappardelle, rigatoni, fusilli and mostaccioli (more familiarly known as penne) are made in-house daily. Any pasta can be served with one of Mangia Mangia’s rich sauces – marinara, Bolognese (meat sauce), alfredo, pesto (made with pine nuts and walnuts) or creamy marinara sauce (the classic marinara hit with a touch of cream). Conventional wisdom says to combine pappardelle or fettucine with the meat sauce, fusilli with the pesto, and the spaghetti or linguine with the marinara or alfredo, but all of the pastas and all of the sauces are so delicious it honestly doesn’t matter which of the 35 permutations you choose. Pasta dishes can also be topped with shrimp, chicken, scallops or sausage.

In these gluten-phobic days, you would think that a restaurant that prides itself on making homemade pasta daily would be a celiac sufferer’s nightmare but in this case, you would be mistaken. All of Mangia Mangia’s pasta dishes can be made with gluten-free or egg-free pasta. And if you’re trying to get your greens, all pasta can be subbed out for zucchini ribbons (and for those of you already turning up your noses at the carbohydrate injustice, when zucchini noodles are tossed in Mangia Mangia’s delicious marinara or pesto, you won’t even care what the sauce’s vehicle is as long as that vehicle is driving straight into your gaping maw).

The buck doesn’t just stop at plain pasta dishes. The lobster linguine combines Maine lobster claw and knuckle meat with linguine in a creamy pink, four-cheese marinara sauce that is delicate enough to compliment the tender lobster meat without overwhelming it. The bollito misto di mare is an ode to the bounty of Neptune’s domain. Fresh scallops, shrimp, conch, salmon, mussels and mahi are sautéed in olive oil with fragrant garlic, shallots, pesto, thyme and white wine and served with pappardelle in an herbaceous clam broth. Eating this beautiful soup will make you feel like you’re dining at the god of the sea’s underwater dinner table.

The spaghettini alla carbonara is a traditional Roman take on the classic American combo of bacon, egg and cheese but served with spaghetti instead of a bagel. Spaghetti are tossed in a rich sauce of parmesan cheese, pancetta, black pepper and peas and finished off with a fresh egg that just barely cooks from the heat of the warm pasta, rendering the sauce creamy and satisfying. The spaghettini schmappellini might be tough to pronounce, but rest assured the dish tastes far better than it sounds. Spaghetti are tossed with asparagus, tomatoes, basil and garlic in a vegetable consommé and topped with delicious toasted pine nuts and shaved parmigiano cheese. Buonissimo!

It’s a wonderful thing that Mangia Mangia is within walking distance to just about everything in Old Town because, after finishing every single bite of food on your plate, you’re going to want to walk off as much of that meal as possible. But while you’re still seated in carbohydrate comatose bliss, indulge in a beautiful glass of Italian wine and do as the Romans do. And buon appetito! ¦

Mangia Mangia 900 Southard St. www.mangia-mangia.com

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