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Irvington News
Lifestyles

Mambo Italiano Opens in Irvington’s Competitive Market

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April 1, 2024

By Shana Liebman–

 That Family Feeling (the Main Street, Irvington sandwich spot with a mean Reuben) has been replaced by a new Italian restaurant, Mambo Italiano — opened by two former employees.

Dani Berarducci, the weekend cook at That Family Feeling, says the idea for Mambo Italiano started when the owners announced they were moving on to another venture. “The place was offered to me and my coworker, now business partner, Ana [Rusch], who was managing the restaurant.”

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Although Berarducci and Rusch have culinary backgrounds — Berarducci in catering and as a private chef, Rusch in restaurants and baking — neither had ever owned a restaurant. The offer, however, was too good to refuse.

Because of their shared Italian heritage (Berarducci’s family is from Napoli and Abruzzo, and Rusch’s roots are Sicilian), they decided to make the new restaurant Italian “as authentic as we can make it for American standards,” Berarducci says. “Mambo” is Berarducci’s nickname.

“Ana and I curated the menu based on what we grew up eating, what we thought people would enjoy–and also what we wanted people to try. The most unique thing is our rigatoni with honey anchovy sauce,” she says.

The small, seasonal menu includes dishes like tagliatelle with Bolognese and ricotta, roasted cauliflower with yogurt sauce over black bean puree, a porchetta-like sandwich, and braised chicken over creamy polenta. The pasta is homemade, as are the soft rolls, which come with sundried tomato butter.

“I’m proud of all our dishes, but the lasagna is my favorite,” Berarducci says. “It’s comfort at its finest, but the flavor components are more complex than you’d think.”

Some dishes are still a work in progress. The basic Caesar salad is slightly overdressed, and the homemade meatballs are juicy but slightly bland. The kid’s menu might be the best deal in town with cheese ravioli or rigatoni with meatballs for $10.

The narrow layout of the restaurant means that an open kitchen occupies half the space, which has been an issue for Mambo’s predecessors. But with tables along the opposite wall, stools at the bar, and a cleverly placed couch near the door, Mambo cozily seats 30 — which aligns with Berarducci’s vision of Mambo as a casual trattoria. “We want you to feel like you are home. The space is small, but we love the intimacy of the dining experience,” she says.

The bright lighting, which was in sync with That Family Feeling’s deli-like vibe, is somewhat harsh for a leisurely dinner, (though in fairness, the space’s setup means that the overhead lighting also illuminates the open kitchen.)

Despite these few growing pains, there is good momentum for the first-time restaurant owners. Mambo’s first few weeks were busier than anticipated–so much so that they had to cut back on their lunch service to conserve energy for dinner. They also hope to get their liquor license soon, which means they can host regular happy hours. Plus, the menu will change seasonally, as will the weather, which will encourage all those holed-up foodies to venture out.

The question is: will Mambo Italiano be able to compete with neighboring Italian restaurants? “To be honest, I haven’t thought much about the comparison,” Berarducci says. “Our menu is different than the restaurant down the hill, and I think that’s a good thing.”

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