You won’t see tumbleweeds drift down Old Main Street at Rocketts Landing, but at times, you might think it could happen in the stillness of this East End community.
There’s a sense of waiting for something — anything — to happen, because, let’s face it, a couple of theme-based restaurants in a sea of condos does not a true mixed-use community make. The arrival of Stone Brewery Co. in Fulton will stoke a big fire, but it seems that there’s already a spark with the area’s latest restaurant.
Mbargo opened in the fall in the 3,000-square-foot cavern left by M Bistro and Wine Bar. Owners Steve Goodwin and Amy Roman, whose husband, Mo Roman, owns Pie in the Fan, created not only a restaurant, but also a market and deli that caters to the residents above and around them. It’s certainly more casual. And while it can still be a destination — such as the nearby Conch Republic and the Boathouse — it has a sustainable, everyday purpose as a spot to grab a bite on any given night, a watering hole with 16 beers on tap and a quick stop for basic home essentials without having to drive to the Bottom.
This market-bar-restaurant formula has worked well for Union Market in Union Hill, and Mbargo is following suit with a focus on practical rather than gourmet. Paper products, dish soap, and canned and boxed food neatly line shelves, though much of the space is devoted to beer and wine — you can take both next door to the restaurant.
The deli is open by day in the market space, and serves hot and cold sandwiches, panini and pizza, whole and by the slice. The Sicilian ($8) exemplifies a sandwich done well, with a focus on quality ingredients. Layers of Genoa salami, ham and hot coppa are topped with bright arugula, sliced red onion and splashes of herb vinaigrette. It’s heaved onto a sub roll from local bread-maker Flour Garden Bakery, and it’s hearty — one half of the sandwich along with the bag of chips is sufficiently filling.
The pizza by the slice ($2) is a great deal. The dough is handmade: Crust edges are thick, rustic and just chewy enough. I order a whole funghi pizza ($13), heavy with mushrooms, taleggio, garlic and herbs. Again, strong, quality ingredients prevail here. It’s pizza done right.
Pies are available at dinnertime, too, but the rest of the menu expands into full-fledged Mediterranean fare punctuated with Italian, Greek and Spanish influences. Meze include shrimp scampi ($8), crustaceans sautéed in olive oil fragrant with chili and rosemary, perfect and spicy for dipping toast points, though the shrimp lack a firm, crisp texture. Chicken and ham croquetas ($6) are patties instead of bite-sized morsels and, in a world of things I thought I’ve never say, could use more bready filler to hold the meat together. Beef meatballs ($7) come four to a plate and are coated in a thick apricot jam peppered with pine nuts that swirls the circumference of the dish. I enjoyed the presentation as well as the simplicity and sweetness, but couldn’t help but think it would be that much better with a true glaze, one that’s thinner and less overpowering in texture and gooeyness.
There are twists on traditions here that work well. Mbargo’s Greek salad ($8) replaces iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers with spinach, grapes and chopped olives. The sweetness and brine of those last two ingredients together is astoundingly bright, and red onions and feta give the salad its familiar zip. The beef bavette panino ($12) is a variation on the gyro that admittedly doesn’t hold together well — the bread is pita in flavor but comes in two slices and not a pocket. It’s messy, but it’s also delicious. Flank steak is sweet and peppery, but calmed by fresh, yogurt-chive relish.
If you’re a fan of sausage, you’ll love the entrée selection. Pork shows up on three of four main plates. I try the penne with sausage and mussels ($18). These are hearty hunks of meat and mollusks and quite frankly could stand on their own — no pasta, no chunks of tomatoes, just herbs and white wine sauce. The pillowey gnocchi ($14) is made in-house and smothered in mushroom ragout. It’s massive and hearty, and it’s an exercise in self-control to not sift through the sauce for every last bit of the dumplings.
A similar feat of amazing texture is found in the cheesecake ($6). Heavens, this is rich. And thick. And it’s baked in a chocolate-chip-cookie crust. I’m not one to leave dessert behind, but I had to pack this one up for later. The lucky ones who live across the street can roll themselves to their couches. The rest of us will have to shlep it home in our cars. S
4821 Old Main St.
Mondays-Thursdays 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.