Last night I had a meeting at our old church in Mandeville, Our Lady of the Lake. After the show we went down there to eat first, and we were suddenly impressed with all the options. But for some reason, an old regular for everyone came to mind as the right choice. Nuvolari’s has been a neighborhood favorite for a long time, predating nearly everything else but RIP’s and what is now Lakehouse (then it was Bechac’s.)
Nuvolari’s is named for a race car driver and sits in a building that was once a general store in the Thirties. Owner Paul Murphy already had two successful restaurants in Hammond where he lived as a New York transplant. Jacmel Inn and Brady’s served the Hammond community with delicious food in an upscale environment (Jacmel), and a college pub. (Brady's)
With both restaurants running smoothly, Paul started to pursue a dream of racing sailboats in Mandeville. He met people at the yacht club and spent more and more time there, eventually stumbling on the old general store, which was by then an antique shop. They gutted the place and made a charming environment to fit the food, which would be New England-style Italian. They named it Nuvolari’s after Tasio Nuvolari, arguably the most famous Italian race car driver. (These guys were into car racing too.)
At this time Nuvolari’s had to be good enough to be a destination restaurant. In 1983 Mandeville was not what it is today. He knew his chef Tim Eihausen and manager Wally Simmons would be good hands in which to entrust the operation. Tim cheffed at resorts in Colorado, and Paul was a fan of his food.
All these years later, Tim has moved on, Paul stopped racing sailboats and Wally keeps the food at Nuvolari’s consistently good and the value great. The environment has not changed. It resembles a place you might see in the northeast, like Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, only much classier. There is nothing else like it here.
This is a sophisticated menu with great food. These guys were grilling fish before most others caught on. Veal dishes like Picatta, and Marsala, or simply paneed over Alfredo pasta. There is Cioppino, Stuffed Quail, Flank Steak, Scallops, and Oyster Carbonara. Also clams in a garlic and wine sauce, and fried calamari. Here were polpette when everyone else still called them meatballs, and a charcuterie board before anyone had heard of it.
Entrees come with soup or salad, and the soup of the day is always great. After all that talk about the complexity of the food here, it’s embarrassing to admit that last night, we just got simple pastas.
I had their delicious tomato basil soup, which I have to get everywhere I see it. MA had a corn and crab bisque. Both were delicious. Hers was a little spicy, with poblano peppers and large chunks of potato.
My pasta was a simple Aglio olio which was loaded with herbs and very generous with the crushed red pepper. A little too spicy for me, Mary Ann happily traded her much-milder Alfredo with mushrooms. Both hit the spot.
We skipped dessert which was unfortunate because these are also great desserts, and a lot of them. I was already late for the meeting. And we were both happy to leave the Seventies music in the bar.
The bar scene is hopping here for little old Mandeville. Always has been. Good specialty drinks, great wines personally selected by enthusiastic oenophile Paul, and now specialty coffees.
246 Girod St Mandeville
Friday & Saturday till 10