We had driven by Mangino’s Gourmet Market and Restaurant several times recently. No, not the old Mangino’s that has been on Saratoga Lake nearly forever and recently closed, but the new Mangino’s in Schenectady.
The old Mangino’s was on a lake in Saratoga. A large family-run business started by grandparents Albert and Adeline who immigrated from Naples, Italy. The new Mangino’s is owned and operated by grandson Nick Mangino, (chef/owner) and old friend/fiancee Bonnie Goodwin who orchestrates the front of the restaurant.
It is situated in Schenectady on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Prospect Street. Small, with four tables and a short counter on the lower main level, a second level seating is being renovated. The menu remains modest until they get the lay of the land.
Despite the differences, it is the parallels between the old and the new that define Mangino’s Gourmet Market.
The new venue offers the same sturdy sauce and homemade pasta as its predecessor. The owners also extend the same family warmth to customers.
The front of the blue painted brick restaurant with its small open porch (a patio is planned for the rear in the near future) and potted flowers smiles at the city street. A short ramp leads to the front door. A longer ramp travels down the outer stone wall to the main level. Black and white augment the stone and brick walls in a warm, cozy way. An octagonal retro black and white tile floor (laid by Bonnie) added an old-fashioned warmth to the room. Tony Bennett sang softly in the background.
Though currently limited, the menu exhibits enough variety to please everyone, regardless of their tastes or dietary restrictions. Both vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are offered by the open kitchen on the second level.
Frequent Guest is a fan of Italian Wedding Soup ($4), and his response to the first soup spoonful was, “Will you marry me?” Indeed the traditional baby meatballs in rich broth studded with carrots and bits of bitter greens (like kale or spinach) and small pasta (like acini di pepe) evoke love—which is how Dinner Guest felt about the soup.
His Meat Lasagna ($14) sported Rick’s house sauce made with fresh ingredients including pomodoro tomatoes and basil from a recipe handed down by his father and grandfather. Guest described the sauce as “a rich uniform blend” of meat sauce. The sauce is variously described on the menu as red sauce, tomato sauce and marinara. But what’s in a name? Mangino’s sauce was excellent.
I ordered a small house salad ($3.50) with anchovy-garlic dressing on the side. The ingredients of the standard salad were fresh and the creamy dressing only hinted of anchovy (“A little anchovy goes a long way,” Bonnie reminded me.)
I was prepared to be disappointed in my Short Rib with Cauliflower Mash ($19) because it was boneless. I’m a bone-in kind of a person; whether it is chicken, beef or veal, much of my dining enjoyment comes from wrestling the meat from the bone, even when the meat is prepared to its tender best.
I was happily surprised. The meat of the rib was succulent and fork tender, and the brown gravy added to the flavor. While slightly on the salty side, the mashed cauliflower was a revelation. Ever-so-slightly-chunky, the vegetable looked like mashed potatoes, but had the characteristic brassica flavor. With fewer than 150 calories a head, cauliflower is a nutritional bargain, even with a little butter.
I requested a sample of Mangino’s homemade angel hair pasta with a touch of their sauce, which I found to be outstanding in a home-style way. I’m guessing the key to any good kitchen lies in mastering the basics and then improvising — just a little. Mangino’s has mastered both.
Bonnie explained that they serve only two desserts right now, and both are provided by an outside company called Sweet Street. The plan is eventually to make their own desserts, based on original Mangino’s offerings.
One of the desserts was a chocolate concoction which we decided might be too heavy post-dinner. So we opted for Blackberry Hombre Cake ($7) with real whipped cream and fresh blackberries. The four-layer cake looked like a monochromatic rainbow with pale mauve on top and ending with deep purple on the bottom. The outer cake surfaces were frosted with rich butter cream icing, and encrusted with “sugar berries.”
It should be noted that Mangino’s is called Mangino’s Gourmet Market because it has a small retail outlet in the rear of the restaurant. But for me, the real attraction is the restaurant menu. I’m eager to sample Rick and Bonnie’s breakfasts and lunches in the near future.
Italian Wedding Soup got its name from the Italian name for it, minestra maritata, which refers to the “perfect marriage of hearty meat and healthy greens.” Eventually, the soup was served at weddings to give the new couple strength to endure the vigor of the wedding reception.
Mangino’s Gourmet Market
WHERE: 764 1/2 Eastern Ave., Schenectady, NY 12308, 518-377-5599, manginosgourmetmarket.com
WHEN: Mon & Wed 11 am -8 pm, Tue closed, Thu 8 am-8 pm, Fri 8 am-9 pm, Sat 10 am-9 pm, Sun 10 am-7pm
HOW MUCH: $57 (for 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 1 non-alcoholic beverage, 1 espresso) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: breakfast, lunch, dinner available, street parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, private parties, take out, alcohol pending, gluten-free and vegetarian items available, outdoor patio to come