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A Mano blends Italian, Southern food

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Tyler Jones
Located+in+Old+Fourth+Ward%2C+A+Mano+invites+a+crowd+of+community+members+and+neighbors+with+a+blend+of+southern+cooking+and+classic+Italian+dishes.
Located in Old Fourth Ward, A Mano invites a crowd of community members and neighbors with a blend of southern cooking and classic Italian dishes.

Located in Old Fourth Ward, A Mano invites a crowd of community members and neighbors with a blend of southern cooking and classic Italian dishes.

Tyler Jones

Tyler Jones

Located in Old Fourth Ward, A Mano invites a crowd of community members and neighbors with a blend of southern cooking and classic Italian dishes.

By Tyler Jones

From Rome, Ga. to hot climates and staple cuisines, the Southeast U.S. shares many commonalities with the belpaese of Italy. But the Southeastern city of Atlanta has one more thing to share with the country, and that is the restaurant A Mano.

Meaning ‘by hand’ in Italian, the small metal sign bearing the restaurant’s name brands the yellow building lying at the edge of Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park. Opened July 2017 by owner George DeMeglio, A Mano’s aim for connection to the community streams through its doors each evening.

“The neighborhood has just been really supportive,” DeMeglio said. “The chef and his team are bringing forward food that exceeded the vision that I had.”

The idea for opening a restaurant came to DeMeglio about eight years ago.

“The inspiration for opening a restaurant was to evolve my career to be something more closely engaged with the community,” DeMeglio said. “I had been in many different industries and roles. But my career [had] no direct employees, just team management. I missed the connection to community.” 

A Mano’s menu reflects its Italian inspiration and local ingredient sourcing, resulting in a blend of Italian and southern cooking.

“The food that we are doing here plays on things that I tried when I was in Italy,” said Chandler Cottingham, executive chef at A Mano. “I was there for about three weeks and in each city everyone has kind of a specialty, and so I took that for inspiration as a base for Italian, but also used my southern upbringing to kind of merge those two.”

Prior to the opening of A Mano, DeMeglio sent the executive chef to Italy to develop the restaurant’s menu.

“He sent me out there [to Italy] for research and development, to [travel to different] regions and bring that back,” Cottingham said. “Each dish is one that I had, and enjoyed in Italy, and so I took it back and sort of southernized it using local ingredients, southern ingredients and southern techniques.”

The motivation for an Italian bistro came from DeMeglio’s background.

“All of my grandparents are from Italy, and after going to Italy many times, it’s hard for me to go and travel anywhere else,” DeMeglio said. “I have been so in love with the Italian food, Italian culture and lifestyle. I believe [in] those meeting places you have where a neighbor stops by for a glass of wine and maybe a small plate, maybe they sit down for a little bit of lunch or dinner, those kind of community gathering places were the inspiration for A Mano.”

The menu, divided into five parts, includes Italian dishes such as Bucatini alla Bolognese and Carbonara and more southern dishes like  Georgia trout served with polenta.

“The trout, I think, exemplifies that sort of style we wanted to bring because it, as much as it is an Italian-inspired dish it [shares elements of southern cuisine],” said Sara Blum, front of house manager at A Mano. “We incorporated a polenta cake and the trout from north Georgia.”

A Mano buys many of its ingredients locally, contributing to its culinary infusion.

“We are in the South. We are not in Italy,” Blum said. “So our farmers aren’t growing the exact same things that they are growing there. Like the word bistro (which A Mano identifies as) isn’t even Italian, it’s French, but I feel that capture what this is: a place for friends and neighbors to meet, eat, have comfortable food and share good times with friends.”

A Mano’s name also reflects the sourcing of its ingredients.

“All of our pasta is hand-made, most everything here is hand-made,” DeMeglio said. “While most of our preparations are closely inspired by Italian, the ingredients, of course, are based on what we get here.”

In addition to its aim of a southern twist on Italian classics, A Mano also has the goal of creating an inviting, local environment.

“We want to be a neighborhood bistro more than anything, a neighborhood place. Less than half of our seating is reserved,” DeMeglio said. “We are focused on those people who live by here first and foremost, and we don’t want to crowd them out.”

A Mano’s role as a local bistro contributes to its malleability.

“Coming from larger restaurants and going down to a smaller one, we are a little bit more nimble, and can kind of change on a whim,” Cottingham said. “So, let’s say that we see we want to head in this direction for this market or niche, we can. I can change the menu everyday, and it’s perfect because it keeps us sustainable. It helps the farmers keep sustainable, when they come in and tell me what they have, that’s what’s going to be on the menu that day.”

DeMeglio’s goal in opening a restaurant was not to make a profit, but to integrate himself further into the community and to create something for the community.

“It’s really amazing when you see the neighbors meeting each other at the bar, just going there, maybe they came by themselves and a couple [of others] came up.” DeMeglio said. “There’s so many people that get to know their neighbors better by having a place like this to meet.”

A Mano aims to maintain its position as a neighborhood gathering place.

“When you are in a place that is comfortable, fairly priced for the products that you are delivering and people understand hospitality, [you know] how to create an experience.” Demeglio said. “People who go out to dinner aren’t just out to eat a meal, they are out for an evening, for an experience.”

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The arts, cultural and news magazine of Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia