My boss likes to say, "things happen for a reason." So when we got to Hey Mambo, a new stylish place in the Brady Arts District, and there wasn't an available table, we ended up sitting at the bar.
Now of all the people who should know better than to show up at a restaurant on a Saturday night at 7:30pm, it should be me. After more than 40 years working in restaurants, country clubs and hotels I really know better. And yet, there we were.
So not only did we end up at the bar, but we were seated on the side of the "L" shaped bar that overlooked the pizza station. You know, like the last place in the restaurant to get filled up. Turned out to be the best seat in the house! Or at least the most fun! I love to watch an operation "happen," and this was the place for that.
The servers, the bartender and the kitchen crew were all within our view. Not to mention the stone pizza oven and the guys throwing the dough. Don't misunderstand, there is a LOT more to offer than pizza at Hey Mambo, as I will describe in a minute, but it looked and smelled fabulous.
The wood-burning oven was designed by owner Scott Moore, and is reminiscent of the New York style wood burners. A temperature gauge near the top read out a whopping 700+ degrees. They can crank out a pie as big around as a bass drum in 12-15 minutes. Not that I was timing it, but we were able to visit with the two young guys who were throwing dough and assembling some awesome-looking creations. Sorry to just throw out a list, but listen to some of these options: roasted red bell pepper, artichoke hearts, fried sage, roasted garlic, fresh basil, fresh spinach, meatballs, sausage, proscuitto, pepper bacon, luganega sausage, "night dried" tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh pesto ... I mean come on! How good does that sound? And that's only about half the list.
We finally decided that the following week would be pizza night, and chose to sample a Gorgonzola Torta, made with the king of bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, with ground onions and salt pork. It was a spreadable mix that went nicely with a Tuscan style Lahvosh, actually an unleavened cracker bread from Lebanon, and sweet fresh grapes. At $6, I thought I was reading the menu wrong. There was enough to take home and finish the next day, and still whet our appetites this night.
Our second appetizer was called Dattero Scialle.
This delectable dish consisted of goat cheese stuffed Medjoul dates wrapped in prosciutto -- an Italian cured ham -- and drizzled with a tepid honey and balsamic mixture that was the perfect compliment. Chef Kurt Fichtenberg did a great job not only of creating this excellent menu, but also of maintaining a consistency that tastes as good as it sounds.
Fitchenberg and Moore's friendship goes back to high school days, and both have been in the food business since then. Scott did long stints at Vito's Pizza and then managing Tucci's for nine years before helping his mother-in-law run the successful Lola's on the Bowrey. Chef Fitchenberg has put in time at Kampari, Polo Grill, Tucci's, Louisianne, The Celebrity Club and Jack's Lakeside Grill in Ft. Gibson.
The menu was completely written by the pair, and the Hey Mambo concept is a culmination of a dream the two have had for some time.
As you enter, a look to your left reveals a wine rack that spans the entire back bar, all the way to the top on the ceiling of what was once an industrial warehouse of some sort. If you look closely you can sort of see where two large garage doors may have once been. They are now nicely glassed in, and the whole place has an "upscale European industrial" feel, with a sloping dining room ceiling made of draped canvas that makes the room feel very intimate and cozy.
My wife went for her all time favorite -- an Insalata Caprice, made with slices of fresh Roma tomato, house made mozzarella, fresh basil and an incredible balsamic vinegar that was sweet and thick. Beautifully presented, it delighted her, and she claims it one of the best she has ever had.
The Panzanella Salad, a classic Italian bread and tomato salad is an excellent choice. At $6 each for the Caprice and the Panzanella, we were very pleasantly impressed. My entrée was a Pollo Bracciola, sometimes spelled braciole. Essentially, it is a thin slice of meat wrapped around a filling. This was a thin piece of chicken breast, pounded out to tenderize and make it thinner. Chef Kurt fills it with a baby spinach, Italian mushroom, cream cheese, toasted bread and fine diced prosciutto stuffing, flash bakes it, and serves it sliced with a pesto crème that was fabulous. It was complimented by a creamy pecorino polenta and Mambo's version of ratatouille, borrowed from Italy's neighbor just over the border. It was very reasonable at $12. I would have been happy with it if I had paid $16 or $17.
My wife chose a fettuccini and calamari dish with an excellent red sauce with Mediterranean flavors that was way above average. The calamari rings were sweet and tender, something that is not so easy to do. It is imperative the squid go in the sauce right at the end of the dish's assembly or it becomes tough and rubbery. A real deal killer. The chef obviously recognizes the importance, because it was perfect.
While nearly half the menu does consist of pizza offerings, there are a nice variety of entrees and pasta dishes that are definitely worth exploring.
Desserts are simple and straightforward, and the section is small and rather unassuming. We opted for the house made gelato of the day, a cinnamon gelato that tasted terrific, albeit a bit icy. Still it was very good!
As we sat there, ruminating about an excellent meal, the sous chef walked out and stood behind the pizza bar, sort of surveying the room. We struck up an easy conversation with him, and learned the he was the architect of all the gelato flavors. He had just finished a batch of gingerbread gelato, and offered us a taste, which we readily accepted. It was amazing. I don't know how he did it, but not only did it have the flavor of gingerbread, but we were convinced it tasted like baked gingerbread. It had that fresh caramelized taste that comes from an item that has been freshly baked.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the truly excellent service we received from everyone, but especially from the bartender that doubled as our server. She was really excellent, explaining everything, offering opinions when asked and encouragement when we ordered certain items. She probably has a well-rehearsed response no matter what you order, but it seemed genuine and everything we ordered she made us feel like we had picked the best thing on the menu. She was conversational, professional, and helpful without being chatty, and we really enjoyed her.
As I have mentioned before, it is really nice to see businesses go in and succeed in the downtown area. Based on our recent visit, Hey Mambo will definitely succeed!
114 N. Boston
HOURS: Lunch and Dinner. Call for specifics
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