By the time someone hits 50, he or she will likely have accumulated enough memories to tab a particular period “the best time of my life.” Having reached that mark in January, Joe Vargas felt compelled to use those words when describing the effect that owning Mangiamo 444 has had on his existence.
“I’m able to feel at ease here because I’m preparing food that’s close to me and making sure we run a family-oriented business,” he said.
Dubbed “Joe the Boss,” the overseer, whose daughters, Josephine and Tatiana, help to helm the location, rules not with an iron fist but rather with a cordial heart that nurtures an affinity for Italian cuisine. Having learned the trade through his late father-in-law, Bruno Scarsini, Vargas has logged more than two decades as a commended culinary figure, with Mangiamo 444 marking his second opportunity as an owner.
“I remember telling him, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it,’” the businessman said of his young adulthood decision to feast on the task of becoming a kitchen dynamo. “I’ve had so many amazing experiences through my travels, so I’m glad I made the best out of his offer to help me.”
Along with time in Philadelphia, the Fairmount native built a great name for himself in Florida, where residents adored the dishes the executive chef made at Steve Martorano’s (a Grays Ferry native and Neumann grad) Cafe Martorano. While the Sunshine State proved a delightful destination, the one-time boxer believed he could create a knockout spot back home and after landing an executive chef position for the city’s British Airways First Class Lounge, he found himself blessed to add Mangiamo 444 not only to his résumé but also to his opportunities to preserve traditions.
“I’m Hispanic, but regardless of that, Italian food is a joy for me because it sparks and keeps alive family customs,” Vargas said. “Plus, this is food you can eat every day. Try saying that about stuff from most other cultures.”
That love for creations from the Land of Love allows Vargas to fill the 70-seat space with ease, and, as 2017 looms, he is looking to expand the menu by pondering more vegetarian plates and gluten-free pastas. Those additions, he hopes, will join this week’s Chicken Cutlet submission as well-received options that cater to his love for South Philly-style goodness.
“It’s healthy and refreshing,” he said. “It’s not difficult or heavy, and it’s something that you can make at any time.”
2 six-ounce chicken breasts, pounded
2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs
Two eggs, mixed well
1/4 cup of flour
1 whole tomato, sliced
1 cup of spring mix
1/4 cup of sharp provolone
2 ounces of olive oil
2 ounces of balsamic glaze, either homemade or store-bought bottle
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of granulated garlic
2 ounces of blended oil for frying
Put the salt, pepper, and garlic on the pounded boneless chicken breasts. Flour them, place them in the egg mixture, and then finish with the breadcrumbs.
Heat a small pan with the oil, and, when hot, cook the cutlets until golden. Make sure you cook both sides three to four minutes. Use a paper towel to dry them, and place on a plate. Add the spring mix, the tomato slices, salt, pepper, and oregano. Top with the olive oil, deglazed balsamic vinaigrette and provolone. ■
444 N. Fourth St. • Opened: March 28
Owners: Joe, Josephine and Tatiana Vargas
Photos by Tina Garceau