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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Mascalzone Italian kitchen delivers tasty knockout punch

Syd Kearne, Houston Chronicle
Published 12:45 pm, Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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  • Andrea Magi holds the namesake dish the Mascalzone at Mascalzone, 12126...
  • Penne alla siciliana is a specialty at Mascalzone. The restaurant was...
  • The namesake dish, the Mascalzone, is a half-pizza, half-calzone...

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The Mascalzone is much like its creator.

It's a light heavyweight. Former Italian Olympic boxer Andrea Magi's concoction is half super-thin-crust pizza and half hefty calzone.

It's a dish that when you first see it, you think, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It's also the dish that gives Magi's new westside restaurant its name.

Mascalzone is Magi's first U.S. restaurant. The personable Magi has three establishments in London (two Mascalzones and La Pappardella). Later this fall, he'll be opening a second store in the former Solea on Shepherd near Washington Avenue, and he's scouting for a location in The Woodlands.

He also will soon open a Mascalzone in Miami, his adopted home.

He chose Houston for his first U.S. enterprise because of the city's booming economy and its reputation for being home to adventurous eaters, he said.

"I'm excited to bring old and new favorite Italian dishes to the community and offer an experience that is 100 percent Italian and 100 percent unique," Magi said.

During a walk through the kitchen before the restaurant opened, the Magi team created from-scratch pasta, including gnocci, squid-ink fettuccini and pappardelle. The smell of garlic filled the air.

Mascalzone's pizzas with traditional toppings such as aubergine, anchovies and parma ham are cooked in space age-looking pizza oven. The constantly rotating MaranaForni pizza oven cooks with both gas and wood.

Magi considers Houston's food scene "impressive" and its people "very nice."

The 48-year-old Magi, who went to culinary school before beginning his boxing career, said his menu is based on family recipes. A native of Pesaro, on Italy's Adriatic coast, his second career was inspired by his grandfather, a chef, and his "Auntie," a private chef who once worked for tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He has four kids under age 9.

Magi, whose last bout was in 1998, said boxing "opened a lot of doors for me" but that his real passion is food. The restaurant's décor includes photographs of Magi's fights.

"I enjoyed a long (boxing) career," Magi said, "but I'm never happier than when I'm sitting for a meal with family and friends."

Mascalzone: 12126 Westheimer, 832-328-5151

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