Fabulous Fast Food

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris April 11, 2024 23:01 in Dining Diary

We had the new owner of Sucré on The Food Show  (airs 2-4pm weekdays 990AM WGSO) recently, and he texted me later about his wife’s new concept in Mandeville called Prima Après. I found it with a bit of difficulty, and was dazzled when I went it.

A lot of gorgeous went into this tiny little space. Also a lot of deliciousness. They took the drive-thru of the former Regions Bank in a small strip mall on the service road by the Troop L headquarters and made a minimalist yet fashionable showcase for the handmade pasta and pavlova and the toppings for both items.

It’s a build-your-own concept, where you choose from a list of pasta shapes, and a list of sauces, with the option to add extras. The main difference between this one and the other concepts like it is that the food you are eating is polished and really, really good. The ingredients are first class, and the skills that turn those ingredients into a first-class meal are accomplished. We love this newcomer.

Although all kinds of pasta are served in foldable Chinese-style takeout containers, and silverware is plastic, the meal inside them is worthy of fine china, and better than a lot of the food I’ve eaten on fancy tableware. Unfortunately, it is a little harder to eat this way, and the food inside deserves better.

The process is simple: you order a pasta and sauce. The fresh-faced young person behind the counter (an increasingly rare find these days) will drop the pasta in water that stays boiling in a colander-type container. It takes mere minutes because the pasta is fresh, then the sauce is applied. Toppings are added and you are presented with gourmet fast food.

We chose mafalde pasta with Bolognese sauce and added Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. The second choice was Buttery Lemon Sauce with radiatore pasta. To that we added crispy prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano And of course, we had to try Cacio e Pepe with its usual pasta, basic spaghetti. (I am on an eternal quest to have Cacio e Pepe like the real deal in Rome.) I never do.

I was shocked at how superb each of these was. The Bolognese was thick and meaty, coating all the crannies of the mafalde pasta. It was pretty spicy with the addition of the red pepper flakes, but the flavor of this was sensational.

A woman at another table recommended the Buttery Lemon Sauce, seconded by her grandaughter. They get it each time they come, which seems to be a lot. That was a recurring theme here. A steady stream of ardent admirers came through. I believe we were the only people that were first-timers. I was impressed by that. It’s the goal of all restaurateurs, and they seem to have a built-in clientele after only a month.

Our neighboring table friends didn’t steer us wrong. The Buttery Lemon Sauce was exactly as billed: buttery and perky from the lemon. The crispy prosciutto was a terrific extra. We loved this simple, rich, and refreshing sauce.

But the real test of merit was the Cacio e Pepe, a dish I get everywhere and an disappointed each time. We couldn’t believe how good this was. It is the best version I have had outside Rome, and can hold its own with those in uts place of origin.

Each of these was better than the next. I can’t wait to return and try the remaining sauces. Abney Harper, the owner, said that they will have special sauces to add to the line-up. I have no doubt they will be fantastic as well.

Another thing I liked about the pasta was that they cooked it beyond al dente. There is no stiffness, but it isn’t mushy. They hit the “sweet spot.”

We ate every bit of the pasta, but we were still excited to try the Pavlova. This works the same way as the pastas, with extras for add-ons. A palm-sized puff of meringue is placed atop a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and you can add as many of the six topping choices to your dessert. I was advised by Abney to violently crush the hard meringue, which we did. But we went a step further and opened the container to make it a bowl. This worked better. As a firmly committed only-chocolate-can-be-dessert believer, I was delighted with this meringue thing. It was indeed crunchy, but light and airy. And very hard. A spoonful of the meringue, ice cream, and the toppings made for a divine mouthful.

It’s the kind of place to have a great meal and take some of the many dried pasta offerings home or some of the oversized grissini, or a half-dozen Pavolva in a package.

I mentioned to Abney that removing the drive-thru might have been premature. This would be a great place to drive-thru for a pasta. But then you wouldn’t get to savor the beautiful surroundings. It’s a package deal.