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Mangia, Mangia, Italian Grill -Hershey

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When my brother's family is in Lebanon visiting my father, we always struggle to find a convenient place to have dinner that is a reasonable distance for them and for us in Northwestern Lanc. Co. T.J. Rockwell's is popular, always crowded, but just . . . . well, blech (to all of us, except, maybe, the kids.)

Mangia, Mangia Italian Grill is a place along Rt. 743, south of Hershey that we have passed a hundred times and never looked into. However, the parking lot is always full, making us think they are doing something right. So we called to see if they could handle our group of 9 and then headed over.

It was a Saturday night, and parking was hard to come by, but we found spots and got inside. We were greeted warmly and seated at our prepared table immediately. There were lots of other family groups and the atmosphere was bustling.

It is a BYOB, and we brought 2 bottles of wine (one that my husband and I had opened the night before and each had one glass out of.) They brought us glasses and took the kids drink orders very quickly. Then we were told about the specials.

We were given plenty of time to peruse the menu and get the younger kids settled. We got 2 orders of fried calamari for the table and one of hot chicken wings. I didn't take a look at the kids menu, as mine were ordering off the regular. One child got the kids portion of spaghetti and meatball. I overheard part of a conversation about the other young child in our group. From what I could tell, he was not interested in the kid's menu, so they were very accommodating and ordered him a half portion of the ravioli on the main menu with a tomato sauce (rather than the walnut and pesto it typically comes with.) My daughter got the regular spaghetti and meatball and my son ordered a pizza with sausage. We had another adult get the spaghetti and meatball, one get the spaghetti fruitti di mare (also in their red sauce), I got the raviolone with toasted walnuts and pesto. My husband got veal Milanese and my sister in law got pollo Florentina.

The calamari was under seasoned, but the aioli made up for it. As long as you dipped, you were happy. I didn't have a wing, but everyone that did seemed pretty happy with them. They looked meaty. Hot was ordered, but I was assured that they weren't really "that hot."

I was extremely pleased with my ravioli. Just a simple filling of ricotta, the sauce was more of a broth flavored with pesto and topped with the toasted walnuts and shaved pecorino. It was delicious and the server told me it was her favorite dish in the restaurant. The only negative was the sautéed summer squash on the side. It just didn't fit with the dish and was a bit undercooked for my taste, besides. I didn't feel guilty not finishing it, since I had ordered a side salad in addition to my meal. I did note that salads did not come with the pasta dishes, which is unusual for this type of restaurant.

My husband and sister in law were equally happy. Everyone that got a red sauce dish felt that the sauce was missing something. It just lacked flavor. But the other elements of their dishes were good. I heard comments ranging from excellent meatballs to perfectly cooked seafood. My son's pizza also looked spectacular, I have to say. If I had been disappointed with my own meal, I would have been stealing slices. The crust had perfect color and looked nice and crisp. The sausage was my preferred sliced rather then crumbled. He didn't talk once his food arrived, so I take that as a good sign.

This place is definitely going onto our regular rotation. Easier to get to for us then Harrisburg, Lancaster, or even downtown Hershey. I see this as an alternative to McCleary's (in Marietta) for us when we want to take the kids out to a nice but casual meal. The service was great. And while not ALL the food was spectacular, this is the kind of family owned restaurant I'd like to see more of in our area. A real Italian restaurant, rather than just a pizza place.

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