If You Go
Mia’s, 100 King St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday.
Try this: The vegan panna cotta. “This literally took three months to come to fruition. What we do is a mixture of almond milk with coconut milk, and then we infuse it with vanilla bean, lime zest, and orange zest, and then we bind it with agar. So we get this silky consistency,” corporate executive chef Graham Duncan says.
Half a year after the closure of European transplant Carluccio’s, there’s a new bustle of activity down on the 100 block of King Street. The smells of Italian food waft through the door anew, thanks in large part to the showpiece pizza oven now taking up residence near the restaurant’s entrance, adjacent to a eat-in counter where several patrons are usually found lingering over a square slice.
Say hello to Mia’s, the newest resident of a property that has seemed to change hands more than most. According to Alexandria Restaurant Partners’ corporate executive chef Graham Duncan, the idea of a “cursed location” is only folklore.
“I keep hearing about it’s a cursed space, but it’s the best corner in Old Town,” Duncan exclaimed. “I think all you have to do is put a good restaurant here and it’ll fly. That’s really the only thing that’s missing is a good restaurant. … Carluccio’s to me was very European, and I don’t think it translated well.”
Mia’s, however, is a more American Italian experience, both in cuisine and décor. Gone are the cool, almost sterile hues of the former occupant; enter warm, rich colors upstairs and a friendly, homey vibe on the main floor. And the food, too, is less high-brow and more accessible, especially in the pizza kitchen downstairs, lending the space a “neighborhood restaurant” feel.
That’s not to say that the food is pedestrian: It’s not. But the dichotomy between a more casual downstairs and a more formal upstairs opens Mia’s to a wider audience, no matter the day or time.
“What I love about this restaurant is it lends itself to multiple dining experiences during the week,” Duncan said. “Downstairs is pizza by the slice and meeting somebody for a beer at the bar, and it’s kind of lively and boisterous … then you come upstairs and it’s quieter, more laid back. Even with the kitchen it’s not very loud.”
As far as the food itself, expect an American Italian focus to reign supreme. From the square pizza to some pasta favorites, all the classics are represented, and then some. One of Duncan’s current top pizzas is a rendition on clams casino, but “our signature is really the Nonna’s pie, which is like a grandma pie,” he said. “It’s Sicilian-style crust, hand-crushed tomatoes. … it lends itself to popping in for a slice.”
Though Mia’s has plenty of options on hand for the carnivorous set, vegetarians won’t go home hungry. Duncan is especially excited about the roasted eggplant and porcini polpetta, a take on an Italian meatball but lacking, well, the meat.
And lest diners leave the table parched, the bar is stocked with beer, wine and cocktails to match any appetite.
“One of our more popular ones is our True Dill-ight,” says bartender Daphne Escuet. Dill-infused gin marries some muddled cucumbers and is topped off with soda water for a refreshing beverage sure to hit the spot after a long hot day.
Or try one of Mia’s dessert drinks, such as the Vices: A smoked cocktail glass is filled with espresso and bourbon and garnished with a chocolate-covered walnut.
Vice-filled cocktails or no, Mia’s tempts diners into becoming gluttonous, even just for one meal. And while Mia’s dishes require few ingredients, don’t mistake that for easy cooking, Duncan warns.
“Our pasta dishes are fairly technical. You know, Italian food is very simple. And that makes it more difficult. When you only have three or four ingredients in a dish, there’s nothing to hide behind. It all has to be the highest quality and it all has to be prepared perfectly every time.”
Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.