The Taste: Charlie Priola shares his family vision for Charlie’s Bar at Mangia
Jan 26, 2016 12:54PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Charlie’s Bar has been a local staple since 1997, recreating a good bit of the experience from a few restaurants the Priola family has owned in Annapolis, the most revered being Maria’s, a longtime staple in downtown. Charlie’s Bar at Mangia boasts one of the best views in the city overlooking Ego Alley but without the distraction of signs and wires.
It has been called a “neat location with three floors,” but somehow most people seem to overlook the stairs, which has owner Charlie Priola sending smoke signals out his ears! “Yes, Charlie’s Bar at Mangia does have an upstairs complete with skylights.” We recently spoke with Priola about everything Mangia.
Your restaurant’s name is modified between Mangia and Charlie’s Bar. What is the story?In 1997 I opened what was, then Mangia, just a pizza place with a beer and wine license. When a group of restaurateurs in downtown Annapolis got together and changed the city ordinances to allow all restaurants to stay open until two a.m., I got a full liquor license and then became Charlie’s Bar at Mangia.
What is Mangia best known for?P-I-Z-Z-A, without a doubt! It’s New York style and we do a few things that make our pizza so exceptional that people from all over the world, who ate it as kids, come back and bring their children. The recipes come from my father and we’ve used them for over 40 years. One big ingredient we add is…the love! There are also a couple other items we put in the crust, we just don’t tell. We do use fresh yeast while most places use dry. Our pizza is hand-tossed and baked in a brick oven my family had specially built in New York. Three different stones are used in the ovens which allow just the right heat transfer.
How did you come to have that location in downtown Annapolis, which was Maria’s?I’m from Brooklyn, New York, where my parents landed after leaving Sicily and traveling through Germany to Brooklyn. My father wanted a good life for us and heard about an opportunity in one of the country’s first enclosed malls in Glen Burnie. My dad, Guiseppe, opened a pizza shop there. Later he learned of a spot in downtown Annapolis, got a lease, and opened Marina Italian Delight with just 18 seats and serving only pizza. In 1989, the restaurant expanded and became Maria’s, a white tablecloth restaurant named after my mother, who ran it for 40 years.
In 1996, a small spot was available across the way in downtown, which we opened as Mangia Italian Grill. For 18 years, I worked at Maria’s, while running Mangia as well.
After 30 years running Maria’s with my family, the lease came up for renewal. My father had just passed away and we decided it was time to sell the business, which we did.
Your ground level seems very quick and casual. Is the atmosphere the same upstairs in Charlie’s Bar?Upstairs is much more a sit-down dining experience, but friendly, casual, and still a sports bar. We have red checked cloths topped with white paper. It’s funny how long it takes to acquaint people with the upstairs—so many don’t have a clue. To help encourage upstairs dining, we have Monday through Friday lunch specials, which include soup or salad, a selected entrée, and a beverage for $13.95.
What is your earliest memory in the kitchen? Do you have an affinity for Italian cuisine?It’s always pizza. When I was six, I was helping my dad in the restaurant and I was too short to reach the counter. He pulled over a couple of cases of #10 can tomatoes for my “stool.” There I was at six, making pizza!
But growing up, it was always about food and family. Sunday was family day and you didn’t plan anything else, but eating with the family. The meals were home-cooked Sicilian style, using few spices. “Sicilian apps” were always part of it, with Soppasseta, cheeses, olives…you know, the antipasti. Then there was the first course-pasta, followed by veal and so on.
Where do you want your future to go in the food world?I will always have a restaurant. I absolutely love, love…adore the kitchen, even though I have worked as general manager for many years. I love to cook and I do all the cooking at home for my family. I even made pure real ingredient baby-food for my boys by cooking and pureeing fresh food and then freezing it in ice cube trays. My 10-year-old twins, Guiseppe and Giovanni, have experienced this “kitchen love” even after the baby food. Guiseppe loves it like his grandfather. Giovanni, not so much!
Our customers have asked for another Maria’s and right now we are having a great time keeping mom busy with “Maria’s Night at Mangia,” once a month. Mom is hostess, standing and greeting folks, with platters of Caprese, roasted artichokes, and peppers. We trade the checkered cloths for white linen, show a select wine list, and offer a set dinner menu with a choice from four to six appetizers, two salads, two soups, eight special entrées as well as dinner specials. We can seat 65 people max, so reservations are an absolute. Since Maria is 102 now (laughs), this could go on another few decades!
Seafood MarinaraServes 2
This showy and delicious pasta dish is fitting any time of year.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cups good quality tomato sauce
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 6 fresh littleneck clams
- 6 fresh mussels
- 6 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 ounces calamari, cleaned and blotted dry
- 8 bay scallops, rinsed
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 8 ounces linguine, cooked and drained
In a large skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Stir garlic cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and red pepper flakes. Bring sauce to a very gentle boil and stir in the clams. Cook until clams just begin to open; stir in mussels, and cook another 3 minutes. Add shrimp, simmer for 2 minutes, then add calamari and scallops, cooking until just tender. At this point, clams and mussels should be open, remaining seafood tender, not rubbery. Do not overcook!
Stir in parsley and toss. Serve over linguine arranging clams and mussels around the edge of pasta.
As a food writer, blogger, food stylist, photographer, Rita Calvert has partnered in writing cookbooks and developed product lines to showcase the inspiration, art and nourishment of food. She is an advisor for the food world. The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up! is her most recent book with co-author farmer, Michael Heller. After owning a successful restaurant in California, she has now been an Annapolis resident for close to 30 years.