Ten-Buck Lunch: Eggplant Parm at Mancini's

After a shaky start, an exceptional sandwich

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By David Hammond

For years, I'd walked by Mancini's, never much tempted to go in, though at twilight during the summer the folks sitting outside there seemed quite happy to be eating there.

In my quest for a good ten-buck lunch, I stopped by one day last week. At the start, things did not go well.

If you've been to lunch at Mancini's, you know you have to wait in line, give your order and then grab a seat while you wait for it to arrive. I stood at the counter for a long time. After several minutes, I noted the time, and it took about 12 minutes of standing in line, with one other person in front of me, to give my order. It was another 20 minutes or so before my order was delivered to my table.  If you don't have a full lunch hour, this kind of wait could be a problem.

The reason for the wait was that they were training a new hire (this fact was revealed as the evidently much more-experienced waitress explained the long wait to another customer). I felt sorry for the kid; he was trying hard, and it seems like lunch-rush is an very challenging day-part during which to train a new employee. The kid was way in the weeds, and we all knew it. It was kind of painful.

Still, I asked him for my fries "extra crispy," and that's just how they came out.  More significantly, the eggplant parm sandwich was exceptional.

The origins of eggplant Parmesan are unclear. The sandwich seems to have originated in or around Naples, but the name suggests it may be been conceived farther north in Parma. I'm going to vote for southern Italy as the place of origin, as the eggplant first appeared in that part of Italy, where it arrived from the East. Furthermore, the first known recipe for eggplant Parm was Ippolito Cavalcanti's Cucina teorico-pratica, published in Naples in 1837.

The eggplant parm sandwich at Mancini's is huge, so you have to eat it with a knife and fork, which is my preferred method of eating, now. Nice touch: inside bun is toasted so it doesn't get too soggy.

 After enjoying my eggplant parm sandwich, I confirmed with the more experienced server that it was made in house, "to order,"  a fact I was pretty sure of from my first bite. It was a huge slab of eggplant, lightly battered and fried, and served under tomato sauce and cheese. The fatter slice of eggplant is important because it decreased the ratio of fried surface to vegetable, so you get a good taste of the plant.

Regarding my initial comment about the long wait in line, I'm guessing I got Mancini's on a bad day, but I have a feeling their eggplant parm is pretty good any day, and even with fries and slaw, it comes in just under $10. 


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