You don't have to tell me twice. And surely no one will drop into Mangia Mangia! with any other intention.
The name is as cute and simple as the interior makeover of faux grapevine trim, white Christmas lights and Hobby Lobby-esque art, which has transformed the Arby's-turned-Chinese-spot into a reasonably convincing, mid-range gourmet pasta eatery. There's even a pixilated (as in lazily enlarged from Google images) portrait of a voluptuous Sophia Loren à la 1972's Man of la Mancha framed above the men's room urinal.
Perhaps I wouldn't be so stuck on that botched, busty bitmap, an homage of improper resolution, if it weren't such a useful metaphor for highlighting just how close Mangia Mangia! comes to looking like the real thing.
As with Sophia, the anatomy's in the right place — the pasta's on the plate with protein on top — but there's something slightly awry in the sauces and underlying flavor. Call it a culinary pixilation.
And it unfortunately extends into service, too. Otherwise friendly waitresses who appear to know most of their customers by name (easier, but still impressive, in a town of 7,600) failed to notice spotty silverware, tomato sauce-flecked coffee mugs, and the need to drop necessary utensils with several courses.
At dinner, with only a quarter of the dining room filled, our course timing was disastrous. A nice Ciabatta bread that would have been pleasant to dip into our not-quite-garlicky-enough Mussel Mariniere ($9) cream sauce arrived at the beginning of our following salad course (included in entrée price; $7 to $8 à la carte). And midway into Caesar and Venice salads, our waitress informed us the entrées were coming, so we scrambled to make room. A menu featuring one $19 plate (a veal marsala we didn't try) demands something approaching fine dining service.
For their part, the salads were decent, with fresh and tasty greens, toppings and dressings. The Venice sports red onion, artichoke, tomato, croutons and Asiago sprinkles under a competent balsamic vinaigrette. The pastas on the whole lost focus somewhere in the pan, with flavors neither fully extracted nor fused to their full potential. Though not all of them were bad, the fettuccini Alfredo ($10) did score below average, suffering from the flavor of inexpensive cheese and, again, a need for more garlic. A bland chicken add-on didn't help.
The penne pasta pignoli ($11) tasted most like whatever component you forked in each bite: sun-dried tomato, spinach, pine nuts, garlic bits. The sausage puttanesca ($13) owes its success to Denver's 84-year-old Polidori Sausage company, which supplies excellent hot Italian links plated with peppers, onions and tomatoes. Mangia Mangia! also deserves credit for a gluten-free pasta option: outstanding, non-gummy rice noodles.
Lunch brought a respectable corned beef and sausage Reuben ($8) that could have used only a little more sauerkraut. A meatball sub special ($5 with fries or pasta salad, either a good choice) lacked sufficient seasoning in the meatballs, and the marinara proved standard. A veggie melt ($8) of the usual suspects topped in melted mozzarella and basil-bereft pesto aioli soaked quickly through its baguette, creating a soggy, utensil-necessary sandwich.
Desserts ($5.50 to $7) include decent homemade cannoli and average sourced tiramisu and cheesecake.
With a little tweaking, Mangia Mangia! can easily remedy its current shortcomings. My advice: Focus Focus!