While Hey Mambo offers a variety of Italian appetizers and entrées, the pizza is the star at this hip new addition to the burgeoning Brady Arts District.
“Kid, you good a-lookin’ but you don’t a-know what’s cookin’ till you hey mambo.”
At the moment, I’m listening to Rosemary Clooney belt out her version of “Mambo Italiano” as a bit of writing inspiration. It sure seems appropriate in this case, as Hey Mambo opened recently in the up-and-coming historic Brady Arts District.
Owner Scott Moore chose an unassuming corner in a formerly unassuming part of downtown for his first solo restaurant venture. He definitely has the pizza experience, after working at both Tucci’s and Vito’s Pizza. He even recruited chef Kurt Fichtenberg, who helped open Tucci’s, to create the modern Italian menu.
First and foremost at Hey Mambo is the pizza, and the restaurant definitely has the oven with which to perfect it. The wood-fired brick oven (pecan is the wood of choice) can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for achieving a crisp, chewy crust, with those delicate burnt bits that make good pizza great.
My sister, Mary; her fiancé, Bryan; and I were all craving pizza when we popped in for lunch not long after Hey Mambo opened, all settling on a slice and a salad. The Mista salad ($5), a rather flat iceberg wedge topped with Giardino dressing (a creamy, cheese-based dressing), soffritto (a raw mix of finely chopped carrot, celery, red onion and bell pepper) and bacon bits, was an OK starter, while the pizza was the true star.
My wedge of the popular Center of the Universe pizza ($9.50 for a slice), named for the architectural anomaly just up the block, was delicious, topped with Mambo pesto cream, artichokes, spinach, bacon, prosciutto, Roma tomatoes and feta cheese. I was wishing I had another slice. Mary enjoyed a slice with jalapenos and mushrooms (her own creation), while Bryan chose house-made pork sausage as his topper. The crust is tender yet chewy, with just enough “burnt” spots from the oven to generate great flavor.
Our appetizer, garlic cheese knots served with pomodoro sauce ($5), was tasty but came out with our pizza, to which it played second fiddle.
Other lunch offerings include stromboli ($8), cacio grigliato (grilled cheese, $6) and a personal baked ziti ($8). All pizzas from the dinner menu are offered both whole and by the slice at lunch.
The three of us, plus my husband, Tate, returned for dinner recently to see how the entrées stacked up. First off, our server brought us glasses brimming with flatbread-dough breadsticks. We handily finished them off, as they were the perfect pairing with red wine and beer.
Unlike lunch, appetizers were the clear winners in our books, and thanks to our server, we truly benefited by receiving a spare order of bruschetta ($7), mistakenly ordered by another table — two thick slices of house-made ciabatta bread topped with a flavorful tomato mixture doused with red wine, garlic and briny capers. We also shared the pizza margherita appetizer ($8), a super-thin and crispy version of the classic pizza, topped with the traditional Italian flag colors of basil, tomato and mozzarella.
We ordered a variety of dishes with the intention of sharing it all. A cheese calzone ($10), filled with house-made ricotta and Parmesan cheeses (we added sausage for an extra $2) and served with a side of marinara, could easily be split between two people as an entrée. We also chose the gnocchi alla sugo ($10).
Pollo bracciola ($13) consists of a pounded chicken breast stuffed with a mixture of sautéed mushrooms, spinach, cream cheese, breadcrumbs and diced prosciutto. It is then rolled up, baked and topped with Mambo pesto cream. The polenta it is served upon was nice and creamy, but the chicken was a bit rich — we couldn’t finish it all.
A’gnello ($15), rosemary-braised lamb shank — a bargain in my opinion — was flavorful and tender, but the roasted potatoes served alongside had seen a bit too much oven time.
Moore and Fichtenberg built the rustic floor-to-ceiling wood wine-storage wall themselves, while the rest of the space received a somewhat modern treatment with stainless-topped tables, black-and-white chairs and a funky “unfinished” particle-board ceiling.
Desserts (all $5) include vino pasticcino (wine cake), a house-made gelato of the day and cheesecake. A slice of ganache cake is also available for $8. A special dessert the night we visited, a pumpkin cheesecake brownie with gingerbread gelato ($7), was delicious but only offered through Valentine’s Day. You’ll have to see what they create next.
Overall, we really enjoyed Hey Mambo and will definitely be back. In the words of sweet Mrs. Clooney, “It’s a so delish a ev’rybody come copisha!”
114 N. Boston Ave.
Cuisine — Pizza and Italian cuisine
Capacity — 100 inside, plus room for 30 on the patio
Setting — Brady Arts District
Chef — Kurt Fichtenberg
Owner — Scott Moore
Prices — Lunch: $3.50-$9; dinner: starters and salads, $5-$9; pizzas and calzones, $9-$24; entrées, $10-$35
Credit cards — All major accepted
Reservations — Highly suggested on weekends
Hours — Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday; dinner: 5-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, with pizza served until 2 a.m. in the spring and summer; brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday.
Dress — Casual
Noise level — Moderately high
Handicapped access — Yes
Smoking — No
Parking — Parking lot adjacent to restaurant/street