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Mar 25, 2006 02:32 PM

Mandola's Italian Market (Austin)

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The other day I checked out Damian Mandola's venture in the north Guadalupe/Lamar triangle development. Still a new operation, there were lots of white-jacketed staff around, inefficiently taking orders and preparing food. The place was busy, but even considering that we waited a long time to place our order and get our food. Three of us ordered four items. The Minestra Maritata (a chicken broth based soup with meatballs, prosciutto, pancetta and greens) was pretty good. Had it been served warm, it would have been even better. Mamma's Pot Roast sandwich was a bit dry. The pizza margherita had a nice enough crust, but was too salty. The gnocchi was doused with an unimpressive tomato sauce. Somebody at another table ordered the Antipasto Misto, which looked pretty good.

Even though this place is a little too high concept for me I'll probably go back some day, particularly if someone reports on a more successful outing there after the bugs have been worked out.

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  1. Mmmm...gnocchi. Considering that the only other places in this town that serves gnocchi is Vespaio and Andiamo and considering that Vespaio's version is overspiced and overpriced and considering that Andiamo's is decent but not offered with a tomato based sauce, I'll probably try Mandola's. Thanks for the tip.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Lou

      vespaio's casual venture next door, enoteca, has just as excellent gnocchi in a tomato based sauce. quite affordable too.

      1. re: yi

        But same chef, right? Overspiced (typical texas) and thoroughly unenjoyable.

        1. re: Lou

          Wow Lou,
          You must really feel strongly about Vespaio's "overspiced" gnocchi. You've posted twice about it. Have you tried it at enoteca, or are you just assuming?

      2. re: Lou

        FYI Taverna (on 2nd) has squash gnocchi, but I haven't tried it.

        1. re: Lou

          If you're looking for gnocchi - check out Buenos Aires Cafe, its down south and the gnocchi is absolutely to die for.

        2. My wife and I paid a visit to Mandola's Friday night around 6:30, not really knowing what to expect. Mandola's is in the new Triangle development and parking took a few turns around the immediate lot - but turnover seems high, so we were able to park in a few minutes.

          After parking we wandered in and found quite a crowd. The inside seems divided into four sections. Close to the entrance and on one side is a pastry/bread counter. Opposite this is a deli style counter. Further back is counter for placing hot orders, and a few aisles of grocery items.

          Given the long line for hot items we opted to purchase a loaf of bread and some pastry items. The bread was a multigrain bread with a crisp, dense crust, which I quite liked. We tried four pastries, including a cappucino brownie, a pistachio tart , an almond pastry whose name escapes me, and some florentines. The brownie was nothing special, and I wouldn't choose one of these again. The pistachio tart had a nice crust, but the filling wasn't to my taste. The almond pastry also had a nice crust (quite crisp), and an almond paste filling. Quite nice, but with a very dominant almond flavoring. The florentines were bar cookies topped with almonds and containing pieces of cherry (I think). My wife really liked her's and I thought mine was ok. The difference seems to be that her's had a very crisp crust, while mine was more chewy.

          Overall I think Mandola's could be a nice addition to the dining scene in this area of Austin. I'd like to give some of their hot dishes a try.

          3 Replies
          1. re: David

            Be sure to order a pizza or antipasto platter... other than those items, Mandola's usually flops. At their grand opening, the food was decent, I would even go as far as to say it was good... but i've been so disappointed since that I refuse to order anything other than the aforementioned items which have been consistently tasty.

            The bakery at mandola's is the best in town, as far as bread goes. Sometimes the loaves can be way too dense (although the olive bread and sundried tomato with cheese are very good), but the baguette is spot on.

            The pastries are usually pretty good... the tarts, cakes and cannolis are, at least. The cookies don't pass muster, though, and at almost a dollar a pop for a tiny cookie, they were disgraceful. I know most of the cookies contain expensive items like pine nuts and almond paste, but $0.75 for a wee little lemon iced cookie? No sir.

            1. re: foodiefound

              Big thumbs-down for the pizza, actually. The cheese is way too gooey and falls off the pizza too easily, even after it has cooled off. The crust has way too much "give." It seems like the pizza was cooked in a home conventional oven instead of under extremely high heat, based on its consistancy.

            2. re: David

              I found Mandola's to be a disappointing experience overall around the beginning of June. I ordered the Margherita pizza (as my test baseline for all pizza places) and found it to be decent crust, but lower quality cheese (and too much of it) very little sauce (which was OK, but out of a jar) and almost no basil. The whole pie was greasy (not in an olive oil kind of greasy, most likely due to the cheap cheese) which made the whole pie a bit soggy. The salad was a bit small for the price, but fine with ingredients and an unmemorable salad. There were plenty of staff around, mostly taking care of ToGo orders. There were LOTS of families eating (about 6:30 on a Sunday) and no effort to keep all the tables with kids in one area of the restaurant. If you want to avoid noisy families, maybe go later in the evening. I noticed they left the pizza oven open almost all the time, which surely takes it toll on cooking time and even cooking, but good luck to them on that.

            3. I tried Mandola's a few weeks ago, and it was a disaster. Every new restaurant has kinks that need to be worked out, but how they handle it makes a big difference. Their computers crashed, losing our orders. When we inquired an hour after ordering at the counter, we were (rudely) sent to another counter. Eventually, someone took our order again, but they brought out a smaller pizza than we'd ordered. When I inquired after a refund, they offered to remake the pizza, but were going to take away the one they'd given us. No manager's apologies were offered. No offers for free dessert. The staff was abrupt and unapologetic. An hour and a half to receive the wrong order is just too much.

              4 Replies
              1. re: KT

                Well, I was visiting UT with a group of students on Memorial Day. Some of us directors decided to find a nice eatery, and just drove from campus.

                We stumbled on Mandola's quite by accident, and tried it.

                We were floored. Chef Mandola came and visited with us. I had the Fennel Italian Sausage sandwich, and found the bread exactly like the breads I tried in Europe, with body, chewy crust but not a trace of dryness. The sausage was great.

                They make thier own gellato there; we sampled several before settling on our choices.

                I was so impressed by this place I'll make the 3 hour drive from Arlington to Austin just to take my wife to lunch.

                The bugs seem to be worked out.

                1. re: davebrownbass

                  The gelato is okay, but the ice crystal formation is a bit rigid and the temperature is never right. Also, because there is a lot of ice, it's not as flavorful as their competitors. I would recommend Teo or even the paciugo counter in Central market. Mandola's does have freshness and unique flavors on their side, but the flavors often lack depth and richness. Try Teo (on 38th btw mopac and Lamar). I promise, you'll be floored.

                  1. re: foodiefound

                    I've found their sausage and mushroom pizza consistently good.

                    1. re: Torckus

                      Mandola's is a tease. I'm from NYC and have searched high and low for great moderately priced Italian in Austin and have been let down over and over. Mandola's has come decently close at times, but every time I go something misses the mark. The pizza at times has come close to the neighborhood pizza places in NY, and I completely agree that the sausage and mushroom comes closest. Once, the sauce and cheese were great, but the crust was underdone. Another time, crust was nearly perfect but the toppings were way too salty. Salads have been equally hit or miss - sometimes drenched in dressing, other times lacking enough good vinegar and olive oil. I've also found the hot dishes consistently oversalted and the pasta not al dente enough. However, their bread is quite good and ingredients generally seem high quality. Every time I drive past Mandola's I get excited about the possibility of a great neighborhood Italian restaurant, and there are hints of it here, but I just can't count on it yet.

                      The one consistent feature of Mandola's is inefficient service. I can handle slow service when it seems efficient but they always seem to have a million people working there and it still takes forever. I recommend going at off times and never on a Sunday if you're not into getting splashed by 4 year olds as they frolic in the fountain.