Part disco, part art deco, Mingles boasts the unusual distinction of being both black-owned and headed by a female chef.
Awash in pink and softly lit even at lunch, this spacious underground watering hole also offers an attractively simple menu, and perhaps the most forgivably distracted dining room staff I've encountered in recent months.
Pub-type fare suits this restaurant well. For starters, one can choose from among such standards as clams casino, crab-stuffed mushroom caps or baked brie. A salad of avocado and bean sprouts was a relatively ordinary plate, as were the mozzarella sticks -- lightly breaded wands of gooey cheese teamed with a pot of warm and zesty chutney.
Far and away the best of the appetizers was Mingles' superb seafood gumbo, chock-full of corn, broccoli, okra and bites of sausage in a delicious and appropriately peppery broth. Wonderful stuff.
With the exception of a few daily specials, entrees emphasize light fare, such as salads, egg dishes (omelets tend to be more flabby than fluffy) and sandwiches. And poultry in various preparations has been a clear winner.
Chicken salad has become almost a cliche on luncheon menus, and the one at Mingles, garnished with lettuce, tomato and cucumbers, looks every bit the part. Don't let appearances deceive you -- the generously piled chicken is absolutely delicious, infused with fresh tarragon, scallions and peppers and sprinked with thin slivers of almond.
Moreover, among the lineup of sandwiches is an excellent broiled chicken breast, a succulent piece of meat served on an onion roll, oozing with sauteed onions and mushrooms and a slice of provolone cheese.
Burgers are large, thick and juicy, cooked as requested (try the messy "supreme" burger served with a tomatoey steak sauce). The deli sandwich, on the other hand, reminds one that good corned beef is still a relatively rare commodity hereabouts, and its "fresh marble bread" tasted like yesterday's. A crab cake was raised to no new heights here, either, but proved rather tasty despite its wetness.
Mingles offers a choice of side dishes -- new potato salad or french fries -- with most entrees. For the sake of reliability, opt for the former, which tends to be a bit underseasoned but graciously free of superfluous amounts of mayonnaise. As for the fries, I've encountered all sorts of them at Mingles -- hot ones, tepid ones, undercooked and overcooked varieties. Good potato flavor is rarely missing (and I like the clinging bits of skin on the fresh cut fries), but there needs to be more consistency in the frying department.
Our waitress all but squealed with delight when we inquired about dessert, as if she had some wonderful confections she couldn't wait for us to try. As it turned out, however, all but two of the items she listed were prepared elsewhere: A piece of homemade strawberry shortcake, while warm and certainly flavorful, was gummy, as if it had been underbaked. But the chocolate cake, a generous slab of densely flavored cake iced with a creamy light chocolate frosting, was worth every bite.
You get lots of service and no service at Mingles. Most of the time it appears to be a simple lack of coordination: At dinner, my party had two people attempt to seat us and three people try to wait on us, which got rather frustrating by meal's end, when we were interrupted no fewer than three times with dessert inquiries. Sometimes the staff is just plain forgetful: At lunch, I've been left forkless and without condiments, the recipient of plates of food I never ordered. Orders were repeatedly mixed up. The smiles are there, and so are good intentions, but if you're pressed for time you might be less than amused by the service.
Still, there's more to attract than to dissuade a diner at Mingles. Given its smart look, the menu is surprisingly affordable. And for those who enjoy dining to a disco beat -- you can't help but hear it at dinner, when the music rivals the banter of the happy hour crowd -- Mingles is tops.