You can eat, eat without having to spend, spend Restaurant: Canton's Mangia Mangia offers good food at a decent price in a stylish setting.

September 20, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

When we arrived outside Mangia Mangia, a mural artist - who for some reason was working at night - was up on a ladder winding spaghetti made of hose around a giant fork. The whole front of Canton's newest Italian restaurant is one glorious mural of food. Too bad there isn't outdoor seating on the other side of the street so diners can enjoy it while they eat.

The good news is that the interior of the small bar-restaurant looks fabulous as well. It's funky but clever, with bold use of color, posh little light fixtures, a mosaic of antique doors on the walls, mismatched chairs and tables set with tea towels for napkins. Rarely has so much restaurant decor been accomplished with so little.

I imagine people come to Mangia Mangia the first time just to see what's inside an exterior like this. They come back a second time because the food is good and the price is right. They come back again if they don't mind loud rock and roll and smokers.

Mangia Mangia is a bar, but you'll see families with small children eating here - the kids having a brick-oven pizza while Mom and Pop enjoy one of the interesting sauces like duck breast with cremini mushrooms on their pastas.

Local celebrity chef Nancy Longo of Pierpoint restaurant was consultant and recipe developer for owners Richard Goodrick and Keith French. The trio have created a good menu, which makes use of trendy ingredients like portobello mushrooms and cilantro but has an appealing, down-to-earth quality as well.

Pizzas sport thin, crisp crusts and combinations of toppings like roasted vegetables with smoked mozzarella, where the smoky cheese complements the wood-fire flavor of the crust.

Pastas start with either linguine or the pasta of the day; you pick a topping from 16 sauces such as spinach pesto and mussels pomodoro, all reasonably priced. Basic sauces like the marinara are also very good. (Marinara over linguine came with my entree, a stuffed portobello napoleon.) On the minus side, a shrimp Diavolo sauce created from the marinara featured fat shrimp but too much red pepper for my taste.

Back to the portobello napoleon. A large mushroom was layered with slices of artichoke heart, crab meat, roasted red peppers and fontina, and baked so the cheese melted appealingly into the layers.

If you want something simpler, try a satisfying sandwich like the grilled chicken with prosciutto, tomatoes, spinach, melted provolone and roasted pepper mayonnaise. Crunchy "chips" made from fried and salted corkscrew pasta came with it.

The kitchen can handle more sophisticated food as well. The fresh fish of the day, Chilean sea bass, was moist and fresh, with a salsa that added vivid flavor. This was a beautiful plate. Alongside the fish were delicate sweet potato fries, thinner than a pencil, confetti bits of yellow pepper and startlingly green beans, tender-crisp and flavorful.

You could start your meal with Mangia Mangia's ambrosial mushroom ravioli. Yes, the ravioli had too much herbed cream sauce, but it's so good you'll forgive the kitchen. The delicate fried calamari is as fine as you'll get anywhere, and the fragile smoked tuna carpaccio with reggiano parmigiana and capers is out of this world.

With food this good in general, you hope for - no, expect - wonderful bread. Alas, the restau-rant's focaccia and rolls have very little character. Oh well, all the more room for a dessert of Italian cookies and biscotti, fresh-tasting cannoli or the decadent pralines and cream cheesecake.


Food: ***

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: ***1/2

Where: 834 S. Luzerne Ave.

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $4.25-$7.50; main courses, $8.50-$15.95; major credit cards

Call: 410-534-8999

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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