Mangia: Welcome to the Family!
Pass the eggplant caponata, but save room for the chocolate-dipped cannoli, because there’s much more where that came from at Mangia, Nashville’s weekly tradition of fun dining. Take a five-course Italian meal with two to four items per course, add dancing, singing, The Godfather on DVD and a bottle or three of wine, and you’ll be lucky to make it past the pasta course. For Nick Pellegrino, the mastermind behind Mangia, the concept of bringing people together through food may not be new, but his execution is completely unique to Nashville.
Pellegrino, who grew up in an Italian family, dabbled in the culinary industry as a caterer, a side hobby he used to support himself during the early days of his musical career. After running a catering business in New York for two years, he moved to Nashville for music, but maintained a love for cooking.
“We’ve been celebrating holidays by cooking with our friends for over 17 years, and it has become a huge tradition for our family,” Pellegrino says. “Last New Year’s Eve, we were eating, drinking and having so much fun that I thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be cool if we could share this with other people?’ I didn’t want to open a restaurant, but I wanted to share the dining experience with Nashville. I thought of it as a weekly supper club.” What resulted is Mangia, a weekly dining event every Friday and Saturday night, held in Franklin at the Cool Café, which is closed on weekends.
Diners are welcomed at the door and escorted to their tables as Italian music plays in the background, setting the tone for an evening of entertainment. Food is served family-style and guests often share a table with other parties, a detail that makes some first timers hesitant. Fear not, because sitting with strangers is only temporary. Five courses later, you’ll be sharing your table with long lost friends, a phenomenon that is validated by Mangia’s tagline, “Welcome to the family!” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mangia allows you to BYOB, and that the liquor store next door offers 10 percent off to all Mangia guests.
There’s no ordering at Mangia, because everything you see on the menu is what you get. From the antipasti to the dolce, guests pay one price to enjoy every item of every course, resulting in up to 15 dishes to share with your table. Don’t assume sharing means nibbling, because each dish provides more than enough servings for each guest at the table, plus leftovers.
The fare is delicious, and the experience is amazing. I was in constant awe of the food, the presentation and the atmosphere. Most restaurants keep their kitchen under wraps, but at Mangia, chefs are stationed just feet away from patrons and are a fixture of the evening, interacting with guests and joining in on the entertainment, including the song and dance number that occurs after the pasta course.
Mangia is a three-hour affair that guarantees guests will walk away full, but hungry to return to enjoy the seasonal menu.
December is a very special month at Mangia as it celebrates the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve custom. “It is a Neapolitan tradition where one fish is served for each of the seven sacraments,” Pellegrino explains. “When I was a boy, my family would go to my grandmother’s, pack 50 people around a table and eat course after course until it was time to go to midnight mass. We would come back from church and eat dessert. It was an all night affair. I felt a sense of responsibility to continue the tradition with my family and friends. Now, we are bringing the seafood feast to Mangia every weekend in December.”
All Saturday reservations are booked for the month of December, but at press time, there are still Friday seats available, so you don’t have to miss the red snapper stuffed with orange slices or the house-made mini panettone on the menu this month. If you can’t get in during December, check back in January, when Mangia will feature their winter menu. Visit Facebook to view the most current menu each season.
Make your reservations by calling 615-538-7456 or through email at MangiaNashville@gmail.com. Buon appetito!
Photo by Michael W. Bunch
“I was putting up my Christmas tree when I got the phone call,” says Teri Johnson-Hiett, referring to the moment she found out she had breast cancer. It was right around Thanksgiving in 2005, eight short months after losing her mother at age 51 to the same disease. Teri was only 29.
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