Manjelou’s Pizzeria, 8135 Maryland Ave., 863-5064

New to Clayton’s scenic Maryland Avenue is Manjelou’s, a casual pizza/pasta spot. It sells pizza, whole-pie or by the slice, salads, gourmet Italian-style sandwiches and some appetizers. The location is terrific, with an attractive brick patio and nearly a dozen wrought-iron tables outside. And considering the lunch traffic on that street, pizza is bound to be a great idea.

    Inside, the place could use some updating. It replaced a deli-style restaurant, and unfortunately the decor has not changed much. The walls are orange, with unappealing black metal tables and chairs and ceramic tile flooring. Furthermore, the ‘open kitchen’ has diners facing a chrome menagerie that adds nothing to the ambience.

    But the menu is attractive, especially since you can get pizza by the huge slice (one-sixth of an 18-inch pie), and you can customize pizza on either a hand-tossed crust or a Chicago-style deep-dish one. Cheese can be either mozzarella or provel, with pizzas coming in three sizes and prices, from $14 to $24. Additionally, the sandwiches, called ‘Sammies,’ are tempting with specialty sausages from the Hill, roasted peppers and fresh breads, including ‘pretzel bread.’

     We started with a couple of appetizers. The Parmesan Bumps ($6) were triangles of pizza dough rolled in garlic butter, baked and dusted with parmesan cheese. They were light and tasty, and not at all greasy. And while I usually cringe when I hear the words ‘garlic butter,’ these were not over garlic-y. My one complaint, though, is that the parmesan tasted commercial rather than like freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano.

    The Portabella Ravioli ($7) were tasty. Round, large raviolis (probably not house-made) had been dipped in coarse meal and deep fried to yield a piping hot and flavorful treat. They came with marinara or meat sauce for dipping. Both sauces were good.

    Of the seven specialty pizzas (you can also customize a pizza), we had the Sicilian with hand-tossed crust ($16 for the 14”). It had mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, feta cheese and fresh basil. It was good, especially the fresh basil, which was plentiful and julienned. I liked the crust, which was light with a delightful chewy consistency, and came spread with a hint of olive oil.

    Our deep dish selection, the Manjelou, was heavy with mozzarella cheese and chunky tomato sauce, which filled the semolina-dusted crust, Chicago-style. Its toppings included pulled chicken slices, artichoke hearts, bell peppers and red onions. The menu also listed feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, but the cheese and tomatoes were so thick, those more subtle ingredients got somewhat lost. And while it was flavorful, I found the crust a bit soggy and overwhelmed by the cheese and tomatoes. I’d like to see a better balance of topping and crust.

    From the short pasta list—four items, each with some kind of meat—we chose Chicken Rustico ($9), penne pasta tossed with sliced white meat chicken and bell peppers in a creamy red sauce made with vodka. It was flavorful, mostly from the peppers, and not overly creamy, always a plus.

    For dessert, we had bread pudding and carrot cake, both homemade and costing an unbelievably low $2. Unfortunately, they were not very satisfying. I expected them to be firm, the way bread and cake should be, but instead they were very syrupy.

    Manjelou is a welcome addition to this area. It provides a casual spot for locals to have a nice, simple dinner at easy-to-digest prices. And it adds a pizza option for lunchtime diners. Clayton has long needed a good casual restaurant, and this is a great spot to bring the family. 

Manjelou's Pasta Fazool

Chef’s note:

We make our soups and sauces from scratch daily and we always try to stay authentic in our recipes.  As well we try to use local, organic or green items in our recipes.  This one is from the old days, when large families had to stretch a dollar and make a small meal into a feast.  My mother seemed to do that daily with such ease, I look back now and I am amazed she fed and raised two growing boys and kept her husband happy and fed so well on a laborer’s salary….

1 medium onion diced small

2 sticks of celery diced small

2 T butter

2 whole bay leaves

2 t of kosher salt

1 t black pepper

1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes

1 T mixed Italian Herb Seasoning

1 garlic clove fine minced

1 qt chicken or vegetarian stock

For ease you can use canned beans or soak a mixture of the dry beans overnight then add 1 c brown sugar to the recipe

1 large can Baked Beans

2 cans Northern Beans

1 can Red Kidney Beans

1 can Garbonzo Beans

1/4# tri color rotini noodle

1/4# cut spaghetti noodle

1/4# elbow macaroni noodle

48 oz pasta sauce (preferred homemade chunky style)

First sautee the onions and celery in the butter until tender. Add your seasonings and pasta sauce. Simmer on low for 20 - 30 minutes to release the oils in the dry seasoning and bay leaves.  Add beans and again allow to simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Next add chicken stock to your mixture turn heat to medium, then add dry pasta. Cook until pasta is tender (you may need to add more stock.) You are looking for the consistency of a ‘stoup’ (thicker than soup but not as thick as a stew).  Serve in a large, shallow bowl topped with your favorite cheese grated over the top.

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