Paesanos Gives Birth to a New Child and Names it Mangia!

Words & Photos by Natalie Basurto

The original Paesanos in Midtown has a new neighbor, and it’s a part of the family. Opened Sept. 14 of this year, new sandwich joint Mangia! (1800 Capitol Avenue) has joined the six other locations owned by Paesanos’ David Virga and Mark Scribner that span Sacramento and its outlying areas like Davis and Elk Grove, including eateries Pronto and Uncle Vito’s.

Paesanos’ director of operations, Dana Scarpulla, said that when Java City, previous leasers of the space, were leaving, they jumped at the chance to open a new establishment in such close proximity to the original restaurant. Conveniently located right next door to the original Paesanos, old meets new in the historical building that once housed a grocery store and then a pharmacy.

Mangia!’s menu centers around their hot sandwich selection, all thought up by Executive Chef Jason Sondgroth. He’s not only responsible for the food at Mangia!, he’s the residential “food guy” at all of the locations.

He began planning the Mangia! menu with 30 sandwiches in mind and even brought in focus groups to narrow down the selection to the best and most popular.

“We took that opportunity to hone in…and we bought a $5000 smoker,” Sondgroth said. “It was a new toy so we pretty much experimented with everything under the sun and we came up with those two items that we liked the best and we ran with it.”

The two he’s talking about are the beloved specialty house smoked barbecue beef brisket, present in the Capitol Grinder sandwich and the house cured pastrami, which is offered in both the Hot House Pastrami and Hail Mary! sandwiches.

If you’re steering clear of carbs, you can have a sandwich’s contents served over a bowl of lettuce. Gluten-free bread and plenty of vegetarian options are also available.

“We have always tried to offer people with special needs diet options. We spent a lot of time last year creating a gluten free menu and gluten free pizza crust next door at Paesanos… It’s really important for us to have options for those people,” Scarpulla explained.

Other diet friendly options include the entree salads they offer, including Scarpulla’s favorite seasonal salad, the Fall Harvest. It includes roasted beets, green apples, candied walnuts, marinated carrots, dried cranberries and goat cheese on top of mixed greens with a honey-dijon vinaigrette.

“I can’t stop eating it,” she said.

Walk into the open-floor planned restaurant and right away friendly faces greet you, eager to take your order. Mangia! has a two-step ordering system that has been designed to streamline the order, Scarpulla said.

First, you will be greeted by a hostess. She will take your order, which will then reach the kitchen on colorful karabiners attached to a taut wire. Next, you pay at the register and receive a buzzer that vibrates when your meal is ready.

“In many cases by the time the customer actually finishes paying, the food is either done or near done,” Scarpulla said.

This system is a way of expediting the customer’s order, making it a quick spot to grab lunch when you need to head back to the office in a hurry.

Besides their wide selection of meat and vegetarian sandwiches, they also feature great breakfast options like their bagels stuffed with either veggies or smoked salmon, rightfully named the “loaded bagel” for their generous portions. Or, opt for the Mangia! Mia Breakfast Panini that starts with scrambled eggs and ends with your choice of toppings.

Eight ounce cups of a selection of deli salads are only $2.75 and their new creamy tomato basil and white bean minestrone soups are offered at $2.25, perfect for rounding out your sandwich enjoying experience.

Maintaining a low price point has always been an important staple throughout Paesanos’ restaurants.

“We want to be the kind of places that people can visit several times a month instead of just once. Keeping prices friendly for consumers is really important to us,” Scarpulla said.

Sondgroth explained that offering quality affordable food is “second-nature” to him. Making everything from scratch is also something he finds imperative to creating excellent dishes.

“We make everything in-house; everything except the mayonnaise and mustard,” Sondgroth said.

On two occasions I had the pleasure of dining there. Both times my meals were piping hot, fresh and flavorful. The first time, my friend and I grabbed brunch there. I ordered the Veggie Fire! loaded bagel, which was filled to the brim with fresh veggies. But diners beware: this is not first date food. I had sandwich fillings falling onto my plate and fingers, which I then gladly finished off, savoring every last piece.

I envied my brunch companion who had the smarts to order the smoked salmon loaded bagel. Luckily she let me have a bite, and for a moment I was in heaven. The salmon was incredibly flavorful and was complemented with cream cheese and salty capers. For $5.95, the strong temptation to go back for more doesn’t leave me feeling guilty for my wallet.

On my second trip to Mangia!, I enjoyed the Pesto Panini, which was brimming with grilled veggies and cheeses; it was so hot it almost burnt my tongue! I could have easily split the sandwich with a friend it was so big, but luckily no one was around to steal the other half. I looked forward to every bite.

I also enjoyed a vanilla latte an employee suggested to me. He said it was his favorite, and I’m glad I took his word for it. I was very impressed with the balance of espresso and vanilla flavoring as well as the creamy foam that topped it.

Since Java City sat at this spot for so many years, Scarpulla said they wanted to fill the coffee shop void. By offering delicious hand-crafted espresso drinks and drip coffee, they do just that.

The space hasn’t changed much from the previous inhabitants. Scarpulla said they didn’t have to do much more than cosmetic changes. They added a food production line and a space for the deli case and not much more to transform the former coffee shop into a grab and go dining experience.

The exposed brick wall on the far side of the restaurant is adorned with paintings by local artist Ted Weldon. They feature three of Sacramento’s iconic landmarks: The clock at Cesar Chavez Park, Memorial Auditorium and the Capitol. Weldon is also responsible for the large mural on the Uncle Vito’s in Davis as well as the one on the back of Jack’s Urban Eats.

No matter what you’re in the mood for, be it lunch, brunch, or coffee and a muffin, Mangia! has it covered. And when the prices are this low, it can’t hurt to try it out. Mangia! means simply “eat!” in Italian. Follow those instructions and you won’t be disappointed.