Back in March, I read an article about a new restaurant called Mangia Nashville in The Nashville Scene. The article was quite lengthy, but went into extreme detail about the history of the venture as well as in-depth reviews of the meal that evening. Being the avid food lover that I am, I called the number that was supplied only to find that reservations be done via e-mail. Expecting to hear back with good news, I found that there was almost a 2 month wait and the earliest they could accommodate me was on April 30th. This past Saturday, that time finally arrived and I am pleased to say that dining at Mangia Nashville was well worth the wait.
Mangia Nashville is operated by Nick Pellegrino, the mastermind behind the dining experience I encountered on Saturday evening. Mangia Nashville is not in its own building; rather it is located inside Cool Cafe in Franklin, Tennessee. Cool Cafe is a highly-touted “meat and three” owned by Nick’s longtime friend, Tim Ness. Together they bring to the Middle Tennessee public an authentic “New York-style Italian family dining experience” that is only open on Friday & Saturday evenings, with dinner starting at 6 PM.
For just $40 per person, you get to experience an Italian family-style dinner that consists of five-courses with a rotating menu every month. There is a menu on the table but you don’t actually select what you want to eat… rather your table is given everything on that menu to share amongst each other. The problem here is that Nick is lying (in a good way). Although he labels it as five-courses, what Haley and I experienced on Saturday is a 14-course dinner and it was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. As for drinks, fountain drinks and tap water is free but the bottle of San Pellegrino on the table costs a $5 cork fee. Mangia Nashville doesn’t serve any other drinks but you’re allowed to bring in your own bottle of wine for a cork fee of $5. Although I wish that they did serve their own alcohol, there is an arrangement with the liquor store next door for a 10% discount if you mention you’re dining at Mangia Nashville.
I mentioned earlier that the experience is family-style and it truly is. Tables can accommodate a range of four to ten people and depending on your dining party’s size; it’s highly likely that you’ll be seated next to total strangers. No other restaurant I know of locally gives you this kind of experience and personally I think it as a double-edged sword because you may or may not get along with your fellow table mates. Luckily for Haley and me, we got seated next to some extremely fun people that night: Dana, a local Franklin resident and her longtime friend, Janet.
Dinner first started out with a side of sliced bread already waiting for us at the table. For dipping, you have the option of using the bottle of garlic and rosemary infused olive oil or the Tuscan White Bean and Sage Dip. The bean dip reminded Haley of hummus and everyone at the table agreed. Although the bean dip was good, the olive oil was my preferred condiment for dipping the bread. Shortly after the bean dip was brought out, another appetizer (Roasted Red Pepper with Pine Nuts & Golden Raisins) was presented. The red pepper appetizer was cold in a vinegary marinade. The pine nuts added a nice nutty crunch while the golden raisins added a nice burst of sweetness to the dish. Two more appetizers soon followed: fried green olives stuffed with cheese and fried calamari with marinara and lemon wedges. The fried green olives were nicely coated with a seasoned breading. The sourness of the green olive masked the nutty cheese stuffing which I actually thought was an almond. The fried calamari was as good as anything I’ve had at any restaurant in the past. The breading was perfectly crunchy and the calamari pieces were hot and chewy.
For insalate, we were given the “Classic Caesar with Homemade Croutons” and “Arugula with Shaved Parmesan Cheese”. To choose a favorite here would be difficult. The Caesar had a nice coating of deliciously tangy Caesar dressing and the croutons were nicely seasoned and not overly baked. The arugula salad on the other hand, had just a touch of a vinegar-based dressing. Arugula is naturally bitter and peppery. When mixed with the bold, pungent flavor of Parmesan cheese made for a delicious salad as well.
For the pastas, we had the selections of Shell Pasta with Beef Short Rib Bolognese and Orecchiette Pasta with Broccolini and Sausage. Again, it was hard to choose a favorite because they were so different yet so tasty. On one hand you had the shell pasta which was mixed with a lightly seasoned tomato sauce and tender bits of rib savory meat. On the other you had a simpler dish of pasta mixed with tender pieces of broccolini and sausage where the natural flavors of the sausage enhanced the overall flavor of this dish.
Just when I thought I had enough, along came the main courses of not one, not two, but three items plus a side vegetable. First to our table was the Rosemary Lemon Bone-In Chicken Breasts. The chicken breast was very tender and juicy with a nice blend of lemon, black pepper, and rosemary flavors. The vegetable that was served was sautéed zucchini and garlic. Simply put they were the best dang zucchini dish I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t overcooked nor undercooked with just the right amount of seasoning.
Following the chicken was the Beef Tenderloin Pizzaiola: beef tenderloin perfectly cooked to a medium rare topped with a blend of mushrooms, onions, and red peppers in a tomato sauce. As much as I liked the dish, I would have preferred if the vegetables were placed on the side because I’m an enthusiastic meat lover and would have loved to taste the tenderloin alone.
Last up was the Eggplant Rollatini: thinly sliced eggplant rolled up and baked with a rich tomato sauce and delicious cheese. If I could make one comment about the meal thus far, I would say that I wish there was more Eggplant Rollatini to go around. Every other dish at this point had enough to feed at least one to two people a second helping. Sadly, the Eggplant Rollatini only came in 4 pieces.
The last course, dolci, was given to us with selections of Ricotta Cheesecakes and Zeppole. I personally liked the Ricotta Cheesecakes but the rest of the table just thought they were ok. The taste of the Ricotta Cheesecakes was similar to regular cheese cakes, but the texture was not as smooth and the flavoring was less sweet. Instead of eating just one cake, I ended up eating three. As the last course, everyone was given white paper bags with a warm heat emanating from the bag. The entire restaurant was given instructions to shake the bag vigorously prior to eating the contents. Inside there were two “fritters” around 2″ in diameter that was evenly coated with powdered sugar. Piping hot from the fryer, these little balls of dough were light, fluffy, and flawlessly sweet. They were such a hit with the crowd, everyone who wanted more was given extras to take home.
As much as I adored the food at Mangia Nashville, I have to take this time to comment on the other aspects of the restaurant. First and foremost, Nick Pellegrino is a wonderful host, an amazing cook, and a fantastic entertainer. Nowhere else have I seen the chef/cook so concerned with the well-being of his customers. On multiple occasions, Nick would not only converse with every table at least twice, but he and his staff had a grand time singing and even dancing to songs relating to New York and Italian cultures. Just from my observations alone, every person there was smiling and had a grand time. To add to that, our waitress was fun, energetic, and as cordial as you would expect in a restaurant like this and last but not least, our table mates Dana and Janet made for a wonderful experience that Haley and I will remember for a long time. If you love Italian food and great times, you owe it to yourself to give Mangia Nashville a try.
1110 Hillsboro Road, Suite B200
Franklin, TN 37064
Bill Total: $98.33 For Two (With Tax)