Smile Politely

Manzella’s: Where everybody knows your name (and your order)

A friend and I recently visited Manzella’s Italian Patio near Downtown Champaign. The atmosphere of the dimly lit dining room and the service are perhaps their greatest assets. Our server and other staff were very friendly, insisting it wasn’t too late for dessert after our meal even though the restaurant had technically closed.

At one point during the evening, our server looked out the front window and saw a regular customer approaching. She stuck her head into the kitchen to put in an order, and when the customer was seated, she called them by name, and let them know that their usual was in the works. The regular double-checked the order and were delighted that the server remembered.

Though Manzella’s clearly has many regulars, this was my first time inside the restaurant. I utilized the myriad of delivery options in C-U during the pandemic, so I knew that I loved their fettucine alfredo. This time around, however, I tried a variety of different Italian staples in person.

On a wooden table, there is a wine glass with a cabernet blend. Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

We started the meal off with a glass of their cabernet blend ($7 a glass/$28 for the bottle). The wine was pretty standard for a red blend.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

We also ordered a Mediterranean salad ($7.50) which consisted of mixed greens, pepperoncini, Kalamata olives, red onion, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette. We paired it with a side of anchovies for $1.50. The salad was the unexpected star of the evening. The greens were crisp, the vegetables fresh, the balsamic the perfect vinegary accent, and the anchovies provided just the right amount of saltiness.

In a dimly lit dining room, there is a cooked Margherita pizza from Manzella's, uncut on a metal pizza tray. Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

An Italian staple we just had to try was the ten inch Margherita pizza ($14.50) which came on a hand-tossed crust with tomato slices, fresh basil, and fresh Mozzarella. Unfortunately, the pizza was rather disappointing. The sauce was a bit too sweet, and the crust wasn’t quite evenly cooked. I also wish there had been more basil to add that fresh flavor of a classic Margherita pizza, though the fresh Mozzarella provided a satisfying cheese pull.

On a white plate, there was a small pile of spaghetti noodles with a scoop of marinara on top beside chicken Parmesan. Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Another classic we sampled was chicken Parmigiano ($22). While usually battered, the boneless chicken breast of Manzella’s chicken parm was grilled. I could see and taste the grill marks on the meat which added a depth to the dish that fried chicken can lack. The marsala sauce that covered the chicken was a bit bland, but overall it was a decent take on the dish.

Minestrone soup in a little yellow cup sits on a wooden table in a dimly lit dining room. Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

The entrée came with garlic bread and minestrone soup which had a hearty flavor.

On a clear plastic plate, a slice of lemon Italian cream cake sits beside a metal fork. Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

Photo by Elisabeth Paulus.

We finished the meal with lemon Italian cream cake for $6.95. The staff was very kind to allow us to order dessert as they were closing up, and our server highly recommended the cream cake and even suggested that we squeeze the lemon wedge that garnished the dish on the cake for maximum lemon flavor. I almost forgot to snap a photo before taking her advice. The cake was vanilla with mascarpone cream filling and lemon zest accents. It was incredibly delicious, even more so with our server’s wonderful suggestion.

Manzella’s Italian Patio
115 S First St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m
Sa 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m

Top image by Elisabeth Paulus.

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