Sometimes things happen to take you back to the past a bit. Driving on the Southwest Freeway in Houston, we glanced over and saw Mangola’s on the feeder street. We used to eat at Mangola’s Italian restaurant years ago, and went for one thing and one thing alone. Mussels in white wine sauce. There were other things on the menu, of course, but I don’t remember noticing them. Served in a big cast iron kettle between us, we were always well-fed and seemed to take some home with us. I remember Mangola’s burning down, several years ago, but this was how I found that they had reopened some time ago.
Well, it’s a different experience now. Not bad, mind you, but different. It used to have the feel of a small Mulberry Street Italian restaurant in Little Italy… but now seems larger and more open since the renovation. At any rate, we stopped in with our Living Social certificate and were treated like big tipping regulars. New and shiny with white table cloths… but no fuss. House salads, served automatically with entrées are fresh mixed greens on a chilled plate with a house-made creamy Italian dressing on the side (again, automatically) in a non-pretentious little stainless steel cup. I didn’t get a chance to ask for the dressing on the side (which I seldom do, anyway) as I didn’t know the salad was coming. So far, it was like eating in an Italian restaurant in the 50’s or 60’s before the trendy northern Italian restaurant invasion.
Mussels with White Wine Sauce
Sad news is that our waitress never heard of them ever serving a kettle of mussels in white wine sauce. Damn. That was what we came for. “We DO, however have an appetizer of mussels” she said. We ordered that and found that while the chef and the waitress had a memory lapse, the mussels and sauce were the same and it was good enough to make tears well up in my eyes. Add the fresh garlic bread to “sop” with and the dish was complete.
Shrimp Fra Divalo
Next we ordered Shrimp Fra Diavolo and, frankly, were surprised at its depth. Nice. Really nice. The marinara was touched by just enough red pepper flakes to make your palate remember that it had recently done its job, but it wasn’t oppressive heat. The shrimp were large and were cooked perfectly… springy to the bite and not even slightly overcooked. The spaghetti was al dente and it was a truly delightful dish.
Spinach Manicotti, Mushroom Cannelloni and Eggplant
Where today would you find a combination plate outside of a Mexican restaurant? Had our next course not been 100% Italian, I would have expected Italian/Mexican fusion. We ordered a “Baked Pasta Combo #3” comprised of Spinach Manicotti, Mushroom Cannelloni, and Eggplant. Served in an individual baking dish, all was complimented by a rich red sauce and bubbling mozzarella and parmesan. I was not hoping to find something to gripe about, but if I had been… this wasn’t it either. Serious southern Italian comfort food, in my opinion. I was worried. This review was heading toward being a puff piece. Maybe they would mess up dessert.
Dessert was a crispy Cannoli filled with creamy ricotta and topped with a rich chocolate sauce and shaved chocolate. Our waitress served it for sharing and we did, with glee. Followed by espresso (which I would have loved to have hotter… there, I found something served there that wasn’t perfect), we had a delightful lunch at Mangola’s.
11786 South Wilcrest at Highway 59 south in Houston