Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Mangia in midtown

We stood in line inside Mangia, formerly the home of Java City, which on this chilly day was colder than it was outside. “I need more body fat,” one lunch pal said. “I need a blanket,” said another.

Mangia is in a midtown corridor jumping with lunchtime choices – Waterboy, Jack’s Urban Eats, Zocalo and the new Plan B outpost, to name a few. We admired the walls of antique brick as we waited to order sandwiches with clever names such as Hail Mary, Heat Seeker and Plain Jane (nicely priced at $7 to $9).

A brick wall is the only thing that separates Mangia from its sister restaurant, Paesanos, which has long offered a long menu of reasonably priced pastas, which are tasty enough, and pizza, which is some of the best around.

“Mangia” means “eat,” so we expected to see something with an Italian accent on the 15-sandwich menu board. Meatballs with marinara, perhaps, or fennel-flecked sausages. No go, but off to the side was a sign for a “Sicilian-style pizza,” the only item that came close (other than minestrone).

That surprised us, as Mangia is part of an Italian-themed restaurant group co-owned by Dave Virga and Mark Scribner. It includes three Paesanos (“countrymen”), one Pronto (“at once”) and two Uncle Vito’s Slice of New York (“pizza”).

“Our concept is Italian, and ‘Mangia’ is a great word that people love to say,” said director of operations Dana Scarpulla, on the phone later. “It’s a quick-lunch-centric gourmet-sandwich concept, and people shouldn’t overthink it, just enjoy the food.”

All righty, then. Another observation: Though Mangia stocks a dozen beers on tap and up to 30 in bottles, the place closes at 6 p.m. Which doesn’t leave much of a window for happy hour.

“You’d be surprised. People do enjoy beer during the day, especially on weekends on our patio,” Scarpulla said.

Beyond that, there is good reason why Mangia shortened its original closing time.

“We get requests on a weekly basis (to accommodate) special-occasion groups of 30 or more at Paesanos (next door),” Scarpulla explained. “So we’re putting together a banquet program to serve groups larger than we’re able to serve at Paesanos. It will fuse some of what Mangia does and some of what Paesanos does. But (during the day) Mangia will stay Mangia.”

Back at lunch, our pager went off, and we picked up our food, wrapped in paper and served on metal trays with plastic utensils. White-bean minestrone was steaming hot and delicious, with an exceptional broth. It was much better than the dry “superfood” salad of kale, beets, blueberries, strawberries, couscous and other ingredients that are good for us.

We sampled three sandwiches, liking the Hail Mary best: An Acme Bakery roll was stacked with juicy house-cured pastrami and melted Swiss, with Russian dressing and chipotle-spiked coleslaw. In second place was the Mojo Cubano, a good attempt at the real thing, which is sold everywhere as street food in Florida. Shredded pork joined ham, Swiss and jack cheeses, house-made pickles and mango-cilantro mayo on a toasted roll.

The sandwich special was Middle Eastern-themed chicken shawarma with kalamata olive spread, tzatziki sauce (yogurt-cucumber), cucumber, feta cheese, onion, tomato and lettuce. It sounded good, but fell apart into a mess; not helping was the stale, dry pita bread.

We’re not going to give up on Mangia, and have eyes on the New Orleans-style muffuletta (hold the mayo) and the Capitol Grinder, which is brisket with horseradish aioli (easy on the BBQ sauce).

Corti preps for St. Pat’s

A yearly ritual has been going on at Corti Bros. Market over the past couple of weeks in the prep area behind the meat counter. There, meat department manager and master butcher Mike Carroll has been trimming, injecting and barrel-brining briskets and other cuts of beef in his proprietary brine. It’s in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

In all, Carroll is corning 3,200 pounds of beef in various cuts (including Wagyu), plus 80 pounds of pork shoulder and 15 pounds of beef tongue. Prices range from $4 to $9 a pound, depending on the cut. Some of it is available now.

Ever the experimenter, Carroll has “invented” three new corned items:

“A lot of people think turkey is kind of bland, so I thought, ‘Why not corn boneless turkey breasts and see how they turn out?’ ” Answer: fragrant, tender and juicy, with a subtle flavor of pickling spices. Look for corned-turkey sandwiches at the deli, and whole raw breasts in the meat department cold case ($10 a pound).

Carroll is also toying with corned-beef “sausage” links, blending ground corned beef, caramelized white onion and house-made hash browns and stuffing the mix into natural pork casings; ($7.99, available now through St. Pat’s Day).

The third item is corned pork belly sprinkled with cracked black pepper, still in the early stages and not yet for sale. “It ties to the current trend of smoking or grilling pork belly in the backyard,” he said. “We haven’t tasted it yet, but it should work.”

Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800, Order corned beef at (916) 736-3805.