By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published May 06, 2015 at 2:36 PM Photography: Rick Rodriguez

Over the past few years, I’ve read and heard only a few reasons to drive down to Kenosha for food. Earlier this year, I visited Frank’s Diner for breakfast, had a burger at Captain Mike’s for lunch and explored Tenuta’s Deli (think Glorioso’s but with more inventory) and Kenosha’s downtown in between breakfast and lunch.

One place on my list – Mangia Wine Bar, located at 5717 Sheridan Rd. – was closed the day I was in Kenosha. Luckily I had plans last month to catch up with a friend who lived in Racine, so we decided to visit Mangia.

I’ve been a fan of Chef Jason Gorman from his days at Dream Dance in Potawatomi and Smyth in the Iron Horse Hotel. Gorman also worked with Chef Peter Sandroni at La Merenda for a short time before taking a position as executive chef at the Art Institute of Chicago to work for well-known chef and restaurateur Tony Mantuano.

A year ago, Gorman became the executive chef at Mangia Wine Bar in Kenosha, which is owned by Chef Mantuano, his wife Cathy and his sister Sue Mantuano-Tishuk. Per their website, Chef Mantuano, his brother Gino and their father Gene "Gig" Mantuano opened Mangia in 1988.

Mangia Wine Bar received a major remodel a little over a year ago and features a wood burning pizza oven behind the bar, where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail while pasta and pizza dough are being made just a few feet away. The combination of Executive Chef Jason Gorman and a wood burning pizza oven warranted a drive south for pizza. Co-ownership in a restaurant from Chef Tony Mantuano was an added bonus. 

On my visit, I had the opportunity to meet Chef Mantuano, who happened to be there while his wife Cathy, who is a wine expert, was facilitating a tasting in the bar. My visit was already off to a great start.

My friend and I sat and reviewed the menu. We couldn’t try everything, but we certainly wanted to try an appetizer or two before the pizzas. Nonna’s meatballs are made from scratch using pork shoulder from Maple Creek Farms. They were a delicious start to the dining experience and were complemented by spring pea bruschetta and a board topped with a soppressata salami and aged pecorino.

Next up were the pizzas. All of the pizzas are around 11 inches in diameter, and the crust is made from fresh dough featuring Italian imported Stagioni 00 flour and fermented for 48 hours, a Chef Mantuano recipe.

Mangia Wine Bar’s oven is kept between 700 and 800 degrees, which allows them to create a spotted "leoparding" char on the crust, a traditional approach to how the pizzas are made in Italy.

Our pizzas arrived as advertised, complete with the spotted leopard char and a crisp outer texture with a soft and light inner texture.

The pizza special for the night was bacon and ramps. I ordered that one, while my friend selected Sue’s Favorite topped with asparagus, ricotta from Clock Shadow Creamery, fior di latte mozzarella made from Wisconsin artisanal cow’s milk and a cage-free egg.

We broke the egg on Sue’s Favorite and spread the yolk and egg around to add that flavor to as much of the pizza as we could. In place of sauce, I tasted a little olive oil and garlic on the crust. The ricotta and mozzarella complemented each other well, while the chopped asparagus spears and crisp crust provided a texture contrast to the soft cheeses and egg. 

The bacon and ramps pizza was our favorite of the two that night. The combination of flavors from the bacon, house made pomodoro sauce and fior di latte mozzarella put this pie over the top for me. Mangia makes their sauce by pureeing canned San Marzano tomatoes and adding raw garlic, fresh basil and salt, another recipe from Chef Mantuano.

While the dough and sauce recipes were sourced by Chef Mantuano, Chef Gorman and his team finish the pizzas as they wish, while using locally sourced, fresh ingredients which are also in season. Chef Gorman also creates the rest of the menu, including the pastas and appetizers.

Mangia Wine Bar sources ingredients directly from as many local farmers and butchers as possible. For example, their pork comes from Waukesha’s Maple Creek Farms, lamb from Delavan’s Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, veal from Strauss in Franklin and duck from Hartford’s Morningstar Family Farms.

Aside from the pizza special, the current pizza menu lists six pizzas averaging $15, including a traditional Margherita; a Smoke and Cure with artisan pepperoni, smoked garlic, pomodoro sauce and fior di latte mozzarella; the Salsiccia with house made fennel sausage; and the Magic with River Valley mushrooms, fontina, Wisconsin parmesan, balsamico and scallions.

The pizzas, as well as other menu items, change with the seasons depending on what ingredients are available from the local farmers. In addition to the scratch made pizzas, Mangia Wine Bar’s menu features pastas, breads and desserts all made in house and from scratch. Mangia asks that customers let their server know of gluten, or other, allergies, so they can do their best to accommodate. Thankfully I have no allergies.

I didn’t get to try any of the pasta dishes, but I am definitely going back for them, and I look forward to seeing what pizza specials await on that visit. Hopefully, I can get there this summer to enjoy their patio, too. If you’re a fan of Neapolitan style pizzas and pastas made from scratch, Mangia Wine Bar is worth a visit.

Rick Rodriguez Special to
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I plan to stay in Milwaukee forever. I'm the oldest of three children and grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood. My family still lives in the same Riverwest house since 1971.

I graduated from Rufus King High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a business degree.

My true passion for Milwaukee probably started after I joined the Young Professionals of Milwaukee (now called FUEL Milwaukee) which just celebrated its one year anniversary at the time. The events that I attended, and sometimes organized, really opened my eyes to what Milwaukee had to offer, as well as its potential for the future. So for the past, present, and future FUEL Milwaukee corporate sponsors out there, that organization does produce results (editorial)!

I love all of the Milwaukee Sports teams, professional and amateur. I love the Milwaukee arts scene and all of the festivals. I love that you can find a free concert in the summer just about every day of the week. I love the various neighborhoods around the Milwaukee area and the unique characteristics that they offer. I love the people who take the time to tell us about those unique characteristics. I have to hold my breath and count to ten when someone tells me that there is nothing to do in Milwaukee. Then I prove them wrong.

Most of all, I love the Milwaukee dining scene. I love how it continues to evolve with modern dishes and new trends while the classic restaurants continue to remind us that great food doesn't have to be "fancy schmancy." However, I also love the chefs that create the "fancy schmancy" dishes and continue to challenge themselves and Milwaukee diners with dishes we've never seen before.

Our media provides attention to the new restaurants, which is great, but I don't like seeing the older great restaurants close their doors (Don Quijote, African Hut) because they've been forgotten, so I try to do my part to let Milwaukeeans know that they're still out there, too. I do that through social media, online reviews, and a dinner club I run for my friends, where we visit restaurants they haven't heard of before or try ethnic cuisine they haven't had before.

My dream is that one day I can mention a great experience in Milwaukee and not have someone respond with "have you been to Chicago?" I don't like those people very much.