Ciao Mambo Dishes Up a Great Dining Experience

from the pages of the November 2015 issue of Simply Family Magazine. Check out the digital edition here!

photos by jana graham photography

For many parents, a night downtown is a distant memory lingering from a time before children. Ciao Mambo seeks to alleviate the challenge of dining out with tiny companions by providing an atmosphere that caters to families. Jeff Schlenker, the Chief Operations Manager for Ciao Mambo in Billings and Missoula, estimates that eighty percent of their business is family-based. “Ciao Mambo is a scratch-made food, family-style restaurant,” he says. “We are all about loud music, atmosphere, bringing your family in, bringing a date in, bringing a meeting in. It’s very versatile like that.”

The restaurant’s upscale styling and prime downtown locale allow parents to indulge in a night out while little ones are entertained. “We give kids pizza dough to play with while they’re sitting at the table,” says Schlenker. Dough creations sculpted by children can then be baked and brought out with their meals. Staff will even add sauce or toppings upon request. Children are encouraged to draw on the table, further allowing for creative freedom and enjoyment. Throughout the 6 years of business here in Billings, Schlenker has often heard the same positivity from families. “We have big groups come in all the time,” he says. “They always tell us that the kids chose to eat here. It works for the parents because they get to have a nice dinner and the kids love it.”

Ciao Mambo’s menu offers a variety of “Immigrant-style Italian” fare. “Our selections are based on what grandma had in her garden,” explains Schlenker. The focus is on making dishes from scratch with fresh and simple ingredients. Parents will also enjoy Ciao Mambo’s affordability. The Kids Menu offers dinner and drink for only $4, with entrees such as pasta, pizza, chicken fingers, or mac’n’cheese. All kids selections include a homemade ice cream sandwich to top off the meal. Patrons can now enjoy the seasonal favorite sweet potato gnocchi paired with pancetta and brown butter sauce. “We receive phone calls all summer asking when we will bring this back,” admits Schlenker.

In keeping with the simple, scratch made tradition dear to Ciao Mambo, Schlenker has shared the restaurant’s own marinara recipe. “It’s important to not over complicate things,” he says. An excellent addition to any Italian dish, this recipe only needs 7 basic ingredients and a little patience.

Ciao Mambo’s Scratch Marinara: Only 7 Ingredients (including spices!)

  • Hand crushed tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Fresh Chopped Basil
  • Oregano

Tomatoes must be stewed for 6 hours, skimming the top film to remove acidity. Add garlic, heated in oil. Then add salt, pepper, sugar, basil and finish with oregano.

About the author...Stephanie Hower earned her Mass Communication degree from Montana State University Billings. She grew up in California, but has made Montana her adopted home. She and her wonderful husband enjoy traveling, the outdoors, and raising their boisterous little boy.