As I mentioned in my review of Gugliani’s, my wife, Ann, is Italian and she needs a pasta fix from time to time, so living with someone that doesn’t eat pasta any more can be rough for her. Recently, she and my boy were craving carbs so we went to a a little neighborhood restaurant called Pronto Cucinino. Pronto Cucinino is a part of the Vincent Mandola Family of Restaurants. People familiar with the Houston restaurant scene know Vincent Mandola’s three other restaurants, Nino’s, Vincent’s and Grappino’s well. The concept behind Pronto Cucinino is fine Italian food for people on the go. Over ten years in, with four Houston area locations the concept is working well, but how does it fare for someone on the paleo diet, and how does it compare to the high-end restaurants in the Vincent Mandola Family of Restaurants?
A Casual Cucinino
Pronto is setup so you can order at the counter then grab your food and go or dine in. They even have an online ordering system to really make the experience convenient. We decided to dine in at the Bellaire location. The atmosphere is bright and cheerful with tile floors, exposed brick walls, and sturdy wooden tables. Right up front they have a big brick pizza oven and a rotisserie loaded with whole chickens, so you know they mean business. They also have a pastry and gelato counter in the front.
One of my favorite dishes is the Chicken Vincent, sautéed chicken breast coated in parmigiano and topped with artichoke hearts and lemon butter. I’ve noticed you can’t really go wrong with a dish named after the restaurant or the owner of the restaurant, and the Chicken Vincent is no exception. On this occasion, I opted for the sausage and peppers. The Italian sausage at other Mandloa restaurants is excellent and I was hoping Pronto used the same recipe. The Mandola family is known for making their own sausage, so it is not overly processed like the Italian sausage you get in the grocery store or at most restaurants. The sausage and peppers comes with potatoes as the side, but I asked them to substitute sautéed spinach instead and they gladly made the accommodation. My boy had the Americano Pizza (pepperoni, mushroom, mixed olives, tomato, mozzarella) and Ann had the Lasagna.
The sausage was exactly the same recipe and quality of the more upscale Mandola restaurants. Pronto’s Sausage is cut in half lengthwise and grilled to perfection (check out the grill marks in the photo.) For me the secret to great Italian sausage is fennel, and Pronto brings it, along with red pepper to make the sausage spicy and flavorful. The spicy sausage paired with the sweet peppers is a fantastic combination. When you substitute the potatoes with the sautéed spinach, you get a great, and nutrient-rich meal that tastes fantastic.
Ann’s lasagna and the boy’s pizza also looked good, and their were no complaints from their end of the table. Normally I would have been tempted to steal a few bites off their plates, but my meal was satisfying enough that I wasn’t even remotely tempted to scavenge. In fact, I think I saw Ann eyeing my sausage. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the innuendo.
If you are in the mood for quick, yet high-quality Italian, pronto stands above the rest. The quality of the food is much higher than the national casual Italian chains around town. I even prefer it to the other famous Mandola family restaurant, Carabba’s. You can get in and out quickly and still have a great meal. Most importantly, their menu is broad enough that someone on the Paleo diet can enter a den of carbs and not be tempted to cross-over to the dark side. I think you should get there, Pronto.