Local Spotlight

Mangiamaccheroni: A Sicilian Seafood Pop-Up Promises Gioia di Vivere

It's Thursday evening at Camerata, the new wine bar adjacent to Paulie's, and Felipe Riccio, a young chef who works behind the bar, has just poured me a sample of a Gravner wine from Italy. After he provides a comprehensive description of the wine, including how it's made and some of the complexities it displays, he tells me, casually: "We're doing a Mangiamaccheroni pop-up at Paulie's on September 29th - you should come."

"Mangia ... could you please repeat that?" I said.

"Mahn-jee-ah-mack-uh-rohn-ee," he says slowly. "It means 'Pasta Eaters.' It was a term coined in the early 20th century in Napoli to describe these people who would eat pasta in the streets."

Pop-ups seem to be happening everywhere these days, some for a reason, others just because. There's the Depressed Cake Shop which also took place at Paulie's, which was organized to raise funds to support mental health at the Montrose Center. There are the monthly Blacksmith pop-ups. There's the Killen's Barbecue pop-up in Pearland, Patrick Feges' barbecue pop-up at Anvil, pop-ups at Glitter Karaoke, at Grand Prize Bar. The list goes on.

Mangiamaccheroni actually held its first pop-up at Grand Prize Bar this past June. 23-year-old Riccio, a graduate of the culinary program at HCC who has worked at Bryan Caswell's Reef and Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan's fine dining restaurant, The Pass, came up with the name, which speaks to his Italian roots and the movement called Gioia di Vivere (Joy of Life), which became popular after postcards illustrating the pasta eaters began circulating throughout Naples and Italy.

Ricchio's enthusiasm is infectious, and you get the sense that the pop-ups are more to promote this Gioia di Vivere than anything else. For that first pop-up in June, he and partners Bart Benton, 26, a cook who used to work with him when he was a sous chef at Reef, and Matt Wenaas, 29, a home cook and Riccio's girlfriend's brother in law, donated all tips - which was matched by a local company to the tune of close to $4,000 - to the Houston Fire Department to help the families of fallen firefighters.

For the September 29 pop-up, all tips and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the newly established Houston Sommelier Association. The menu will feature seafood dishes from Sicily's culinary heritage.

Eating Our Words was given a sneak peek at the menu, and it includes tuna rillette with preserved lemon served with whole Panuzzo Sicilian bread; a marinated octopus with roasted potato and black olive oil; and a thyme bucatini with mussels and pickled friggitelli on a coppa and pomodori sugo. In all, the team will offer five plates, which will each cost $12.

I won't give it all away, but if you love Italian food, and you want to experience some authentic Sicilian, make sure you come hungry and early to Mangiamaccheroni Sicilia. You'll not only get what will undoubtedly be delicious food, but you'll be supporting this new cadre of young chefs who really want to share this Gioia di Vivere, this Joy of Life, through their food.

Event: Mangiamaccheroni Sicilia Date: Sunday, September 29, 2013 Location: Paulie's Time: 6 p.m. until sold out

For more information, and to join the event, visit Mangiamaccheroni's facebook page.

Original artwork for the event, designed to resemble postcards from the Mangiamaccheroni era, was created by Hayley Wallace, an industrial design student at the University of Houston.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham