Fox 11's Dinner Out feature has taken us to a shopping mall, a strip mall and now an industrial park. Industrial park? Yep, that's where Stella Jahanbin cooks and serves up traditional Italian fare at Mangi Con Amore in Laguna Hills.
She started as a hobby cook. Hit by hard times, she started to package her Italian cookies, her tiramisu, her pasta and sauces. Then she sold them at Farmer's markets all over Southern California. At one point, she and her husband Victor were selling the goods at 17 markets.
In 2011, they opened Mangi Con Amore in an industrial park, a stone's throw from the 5 freeway.
The joint is open Monday through Friday only and is busiest for lunch. Later, people may come to eat, but they're more likely to pick up the pre-packaged pasta. sauces and dessert for "dinner in."
To dine with Stella, is like coming to her home. The little cafe is decorated with tapestries depicting Italian villages, the flag of Italy and a collection of old timey espresso makers. The tables are covered in green checkered tablecloths and fresh flowers.
And, the food? The food is just like mom makes, that is, if you're mom is a native of Bologna, as Stella is. Her meat sauce or rather ragu as she is likely to correct you is simmered for hours. There's no garlic and no sugar in the sauce; instead any hint of sweetness is because the tomatoes, only if they're good, come straight from the Farmer's market.
In fact, Stella is all about the Farmer's market. On the days, she sells her packaged goods there, she buys all her produce for the week. That means, the freshest cucumbers, carrots and kale for her salads and soups. She buys fresh lemons and oranges for her homemade salad dressings. Everything she makes or serves is prepared without preservatives and isn't over salted.
Take for example her soup. I tried the Minestrone; chock full of zucchini, red potatoes, carrots, kale and celery in a vegetarian base. The soup is hearty and clearly low in salt. What saves the soup from blandness are Stella's fresh dried herbs and a hearty sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Her salads are vibrant in freshness and color; crispy greens topped with even crispier shredded carrots, sliced English cucumbers and red and yellow peppers. The popular turkey salad has sliced turkey and Muenster cheese, then it's topped with dried cranberries, chopped almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Stella's fresh citrus dressing comes in a container on the side, but I found the salad delicious without it.
She also serves sandwiches and paninis. The sausage and peppers sandwich includes a split and sautéed sausage, made off site to Stella's specifications. The roll is also baked off site but with Stella's recipe. The sandwich is covered in melted cheese, the sautéed onions, red and yellow peppers (never green, Stella told me, she thinks the red and yellow ones are tastier) and the sausage. This is a juicy, drippy big bite, slightly sweet thanks to the caramelized onions. Served on the side, another bow to freshness, Stella's daily made quinoa salad, lightly dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil. She admits quinoa is not traditional Italian, but she wants to serve healthy fare. But if her quinoa isn't traditional, her pasta and sauces most definitely are. Straight up traditional.
Her ravioli is stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, or spinach and asparagus, no meat. But her meatballs and ragu make up for that, if that's your craving. She also has a beef lasagna which one of her patrons told me is so much better than any American version he'd ever eaten. The pasta layers are thin and delicate. Each layer has two different kind of cheese, sauce and meat.
Stella cooks with love and hopes her patrons will eat with love or to be authentic, mangi con amore.
MANGI CON AMORE
26941 Cabot Rd Suite 107
Laguna Hills, CA 92657