Tulsa, OK: What are you …? with Jeff Gillen, Mangiamo Food Truck Owner

Jeff Gillen, owner of the Mangiamo near 34th Street and Yale Avenue, stands outside his food truck. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World

By Michael Smith  | Tulsa World

Jeff Gillen, owner of the Mangiamo near 34th Street and Yale Avenue, stands outside his food truck. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Jeff Gillen, owner of the Mangiamo near 34th Street and Yale Avenue, stands outside his food truck. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World

People in New York’s Westchester County for decades knew that for Italian food, Scappy’s in Dobbs Ferry was a destination. In Manhattan, Richard’s Pasta Cafe near the Brooklyn Bridge has for years had diners proclaiming “bravissimo!”

Longtime family recipes inspiring those restaurants have now made their way to Tulsa via Jeff Gillen, a member of those families who becomes the fourth generation to offer meatballs and more through his new Italian cuisine food truck, Mangiamo, which translates to “Let’s eat.”

“I come from a family that always grew up eating together and cooking together, and I always thought it would be fun to bring that kind of food here,” said Gillen, a native Tulsan who has managed call centers in the past, but for whom food has always been a passion.

“The cooking has always been a family affair and a hobby, but there was a dream. Doing something like this was often in the back of my mind.”

The slick black Mangiamo food truck can often be found serving lunch in a parking lot at 3310 S. Yale Ave. (look for the sign with the giant yellow smiley face). A weekend night is likely to find Gillen serving up hot dishes outside Empire Bar, 1516 S. Peoria Ave., or maybe at Hodges Bend cafe and bar, 823 E. Third St.

This Saturday the man in the truck can be found outside of Shrine, 112 E. 18th St., to feed concertgoers. To find him anytime, check Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus for mangiamotruck and his schedule.

… serving at Mangiamo?

We’re serving meatballs, with pasta and a red sauce in a bowl or in a meatball sandwich. That’s been our No. 1 seller. Then there’s the penne alla vodka (tube-shaped pasta with a tomato-basil cream sauce, with vodka added in during the cooking process to change the acidity of the tomato) that has also been a favorite. We have sausage and peppers with a red wine sauce, with red and orange peppers and mushrooms and onions. There are lasagna rolls and baked ziti, and we’ve got sausages for sandwiches.

… using for your recipes to create the dishes?

They range from four generations old when it comes to the meatballs to a recipe that’s only a couple of years old when it comes to the penne alla vodka sauce. But they all have an origin going back to my mother’s family back East. She’s retired in Florida now.

… finding to be the advantages of operating a food truck?

I’m finding this to be a neat way for a person to provide a good product to the public in a more economical way. The start-up costs are more affordable (than opening a restaurant) to offer something that is “fast food,” but food that is more of a restaurant quality. On my truck, everything I serve is made from scratch.

… seeing from a customer standpoint, as to the curiosity of food truck service?

Younger people just come right up and order. They are just so used to seeing food trucks; it’s become part of the culture. With an older crowd, they ask more questions, and some of them leave and come back later. It’s interesting.

… finding to be the challenges of operating a food truck?

So far it’s trying to determine how much food to have on hand for a lunch crowd. The good thing is that I can eat Italian food constantly. No worries there. If there’s too much left over, I know that I’m going to eat well.

… doing when you want a cold adult beverage?

Oh, I go to the Empire. We’re a bit of a soccer-obsessed family (his three children play, and so does Gillen with Tulsa Hotspur Football Club), and Empire is a great place to watch soccer, which is kind of rare for Tulsa. It’s a soccer-friendly bar, and I like that.

… eating when you don’t cook at home?

El Rancho Grande over on 11th is where the kids send us. My wife and I love the Wild Fork. Love the lamb chops, and if we’re there in the morning, I love the breakfast hash.