FENWICK ISLAND – Authentic Italian family recipes served at Mancini’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Restaurant have kept the Trattoria a successful year-round business for almost two decades.
Gabriel “Gabby” Mancini opened Mancini’s in Fenwick Island on Mother’s Day in 1995 to fulfill his dream of running an Italian restaurant. Prior to Mancini’s, he operated a sandwich shop, Beach Eats, in the 94th Street Mall for 13 years.
“I was 25 years old … I raised a family and saved my pennies,” Mancini said of the time he ran Beach Eats. “I had always wanted to open an Italian restaurant because I spent time in Italy, and I liked what I saw there with brick ovens, the quality of food and the ambiance.”
Mancini’s grandfather, Biagio Mancini, came to the U.S. in 1911 from a village in Italy, San Victtori del Lazi, and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he became a tailor but eventually moved to Baltimore.
“That is how my father came to Ocean City. Right after the bridge was built in 1953, my father built the Paddock night club in Ocean City, so I have a real long history in Ocean City. My father and mother loved it here,” Mancini said.
Mancini went to Italy in 1977 attending college in Bologna.
“They [Bologna] have some of the best food in Italy, and it was a great experience to be there and see it,” he said. “I was there for a year and when I came home all that was stuck in my mind for a very long time was ideas of things that I wanted to do and ways I wanted to do it … A lot of the recipes here [at Mancini’s] are family recipes.”
While Mancini’s is known for their brick oven pizza, there is certainly much more to the restaurant. Styled after the classic Trattoria of Italy, Mancini’s offers a full menu including appetizers, classic soups, traditional salads and imaginative entrees. Seafood is a specialty with a full complement of fresh fish, shellfish and crabmeat dishes available.
“We have been successful ever since day one because the food is so good. Basically my criterion is always, ‘Would I serve this to my grandmother?’, and if I wouldn’t then we don’t serve it. We have a very loyal clientele,” Gabby said. “We don’t consider ourselves a Ristorante because in Italy we are a Trattoria; the food is the same, the prices are better and the ambiance is casually elegant.”
Mancini’s offers several specials nightly, such as a Scallop Florentine appetizer with spinach and melted cheese, and entrees like Eggplant Parmesan, Salmon encrusted with pesto and pine nuts, Flounder Francese and Seafood Marinara with shrimp, scallops and clams.
“We are known for our sauce and our meatballs, so something as basic as spaghetti and meatballs is great here,” Gabby said. “We don’t cheat on our ingredients. We use extra virgin olive oil,Parmigiano-Reggiano, gorgonzola cheese, and whole milk mozzarella on our pizza … everything we make here is from scratch.”
When Mancini’s opened, there was an ongoing controversy in Italy over what is considered an authentic pizza, and the Naples Pizza Association was founded to certify authentic Neapolitan pizza. Using the guidelines set forth by the association, Mancini’s serves truly authentic Neapolitan pizza that is dinner plate sized featuring hand rolled dough made daily and is baked at 800 degrees in a wood-fired imported brick oven.
“We were trying to be as authentic as possible, and I think we come very, very close. As a matter of fact, one of my proudest moments here in the restaurant is when an Italian comes in and really enjoys our pizza and pasta. One of the best compliments is when they say ‘it is almost as good as my moms’,” Gabby said. “That’s our philosophy in a nut shell. It is what we have been doing for 20 years and the only way I can gauge our success is that we are busy and we have been here for 20 years, year-round.”
Mancini’s wine list is handpicked by Mancini himself and offers a little bit of everything for a variety of tastes. Mancini’s cocktail list now includes a Peach Bellini made with local Bennett Orchard peaches as well as strawberry infused vodka mixed with pink lemonade and a watermelon mojito that guests are raving about.