Ford City's A Mano features cuisine 'by hand'
Angelo Mantini appreciates the strong ties between families and food and has traveled far and wide to gain a better understanding of them.
Prior to launching his own epicureal enterprise, this local son went much further than over the river and through the woods to learn and master the art of grandmother's cooking.
The obvious outcome of his journey is A Mano — Artisanal Pastas and Catering, at 717 Sixth Ave, Ford City.
Mantini explains the name. “Translated from Italian, Amano means ‘by hand,' ” he said. It's not hard to see how appropriate the name is.
Approaching the shop, a modest black-and-white sign on the building underplays what awaits inside. Entering the shop, the light, bright interior and wonderful aromas of baking bread and other unseen goodies give the undeniable impression that something new is going on here.
Meeting the proprietor is almost guaranteed, as Mantini is essentially always there. He enlists the help of a few part-time culinary students but is otherwise often captain and crew. He said the support of family has been crucial to his success thus far.
“My mom has been such a help to me,” Mantini said. “My brother Michael is also getting training through the Progressive Workshop (in Kittanning) to work here, which is cool,” he adds.
Mantini immediately acknowledges the arrival of customers with a welcoming voice and infectious smile.
The preparation process is open for observation, as the custom-made tables and ovens are centrally located. One particular table appears to be an oversized wooden shelf that runs most of the area's length. “That's my pasta bench,” he explains. And, he should know, as he built it.
Like the bread baked here, Mantini totally renovated his place of business, A Mano — by hand. “I learned a lot about carpentry from my dad,” he explains.
A quick study and skilled multi-tasker, Mantini has amassed a large, working base of knowledge in many areas.
After successful completion of a degree at the Culinary Institute of America, New York, Mantini spent the next three years applying those credits in restaurants in the greater New York City and Washington areas.
“Working for my aunt in Virginia was wonderful,”Mantini said. “But, I felt that I needed to go to Italy. I went there, planning to stay three months, and ended up staying three years.”
Framed photo enlargements that hang in his shop help to tell his story. From curing Italian ham, known as prosciutto, to rolling dough with a pin as big as he is, Mantini's study abroad experience was an education he says could not be duplicated in the classroom.
Not only did his trip expand his culinary world, but it expanded his definition of family. A grandson of Italian immigrants, Mantini knew of relatives that still resided in Mergo, a small town located in the province Le Marche. This is primarily where Mantini gained experience with all aspects of the food chain, from crop planting and animal raising to serving prepared food in the family's restaurant, Casa Martelletta.
What were once distant cousins are now reunited relatives. Mantini has reciprocated the welcome that he received, hosting several cousins and friends on their visits to Western Pennsylvania.
Mantini returned to Ford City in 2011, ready to solo. Since A Mano's opening in June, Mantini has expanded his menu and services. Still available are the mainstays of pasta and bread. “I bake on Wednesdays and Fridays,” he said. “I only bake rye bread every other week, and there are people who know that.”
Customers can call in advance to order specific items or to check on his inventory. People make requests through social media as well; otherwise, it's “first come, first served.”
Mantini's work space is not designed to accommodate in-house dining. Takeout is the norm, although Mantini will bring it to you through his catering sevice.
A recent critique from the consumer of one of A Mano's catered meals, which included sun-dried tomato tortellini and ricotta and spinach ravioli, among other delicacies, drew nothing less enthusiastic than, “It was so delicious.”
Angelo Mantini's longterm goal is to open a full-service restaurant. Would-be diners should not despair about the wait. Considering what he has accomplished by the age of 27, the longterm could come sooner rather than later.
Diane Orris Acerni is a Leader Times correspondent.