In Italian, the word literally means “Eat!” In English, it is the perfect name for an Italian restaurant.
As I have crisscrossed Berks County, I am always looking for something different. A quirky restaurant, an odd menu item or anything else that makes a place stand out above the countless dining options in Greater Reading.
When Mangia first opened in the former location of the Mohnton Navy Yard Galley in 2010, it was very much like any other Italian restaurant in the area: delicious pasta dishes served in heaping portions, pizzas streaming through the ovens and out the door for take-out, an assortment of wraps and sandwiches and a dining room full of happy patrons.
While exceedingly popular, Mangia lacked that certain something to make it truly unique.
But the restaurant found its signature dish, one that you won’t find anywhere else in Berks County and beyond, with the introduction of the Pasta al Parmigiano Reggiano.
More than a menu item, Pasta al Parmigiano Reggiano is a dinner experience.
After the rest of our dinner party received their meals, my meal, or at least the elements of it, appeared tableside.
A pan with pasta and red sauce simmered atop a burner next to what looks like a giant wooden bowl. This bowl is actually an 80-pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Do not confuse this with the grated parmesan you buy in shakers at the grocery store. The cheese, according to Mangia owner Joe Folino who prepares the dish, costs about $20 per pound.
The top of the cheese is carved out to make a bowl-like structure, with shavings from the wheel in the center. Folino then takes a ladle full of grappa (an Italian liquor), heats it over the fire from the burner until it catches fire and pours it into the cheese, melting the shavings.
From there, the pasta and sauce are dumped into the Parmigiano Reggiano and tossed until the cheese is blended with sauce and coated on the fettuccini.
The result is a pasta unlike any other I have tasted. The cheese has a very sharp flavor, with the natural age coming through, giving it almost a smokiness. The red sauce does help to temper the cheese a bit, but its own flavors become lost.
Your choice of meat can be added to the dish, though it is served on the side rather than tossed in the mixture so as not to corrupt the natural flavors of the cheese wheel. My side of sausage turned out to be a perfect addition, adding depth and texture to an already inspired dish.
The dish, combined with either an appetizer or dessert, would probably have been enough for two people to share, but I have never been one for sharing, and our waitress was shocked to find that I had finished it and wasn’t going to be taking any home with me.
While you may need a big appetite, you don’t need a big wallet to enjoy the tableside show. The Pasta al Parmigiano Romano only costs about $16, with an additional cost for the meat. If you manage to make it through the meal wanting more, order an encore of bananas flambé, also created at your table, or try one of the other dessert options like tiramisu, cannoli or a chocolate lava cake.
After a one-of-a-kind Italian dining experience, there is only one thing left to say: