Some days you get to travel internationally and never have to leave home…
In spite of starting very early, it was well past normal lunchtime before PJ and I could break free to find some grub. We had appointments over in the Allandale area for 4 P.M., so we needed to find a place that wasn’t too out-of-the-way for a late lunch. We couldn’t agree on what to eat, though, as we tooled along in the Red G Car. Mexican was out; we’ve had way too much of that lovely cuisine recently. Hamburgers? Ditto. After a spirited discussion of the options my darling spouseperson said, “What about that Italian place we’ve been meaning to try?”
How do you answer that, exactly? Especially when you haven’t a clue what Italian joint she’s suddenly picked out of her
mental jumble cranial filing system. When I didn’t respond she added, “You know, that one down in that building.” Yep; not a clue. “In the Triangle.” Click. Mandola’s popped into my head; that’s all I could remember. It was enough.
A few minutes later we found ourselves in the Triangle, walking along the storefronts towards our destination, Mandola’s Italian Market. A beautiful location, and with the break in the hot weather, a pleasant afternoon stroll. We stepped inside the cool dining area and let our eyes adjust from the bright, outside sunshine.
What an interesting place!
Brick walls, lots of glass, and plenty of four-person tables. The furniture is gaily painted and a bit rustic-looking, sturdy and clean. The inside walls have murals and old photographs, mostly of Italian-American groceries and restaurants in Texas. Through a narrow walkway we found the market side of the shop, with plenty of high-quality, imported comestibles. Some nice cold-case stuff too: Cheeses, meats, pastries, olives and more. My mouth began to water at the sights. And the aromas from the kitchen! My tummy rumbled, reminding me of our mission, which was to fill said tummy and quell the rumblies.
Mandola’s serves their fare in fast-casual style. Their greeter is a perky young lady, a very pleasant and welcoming “face” to the ordering process. As we approached she was quick to point out that we were just in time for Happy Hour, which starts at 3 P.M. A nice bonus, I thought, but did that really matter? Then she explained that there were some half-price pizzas available during HH, as well as some great appetizers. Even some wines (by the glass) were half off.
We were sold.
We chose the bruschetta as an appetizer, and a handmade pizza: half Margherita, half Pugliese. PJ wanted lemonade, and I chose a novel soft drink: San Pellegrino’s Chinotto. We got our order number (lucky No. 88) and headed back into the main dining area to find a nice table near the window. We stopped by the drinks station for PJ’s lemonade, of course.
While we waited for our food I looked around at the restaurant a bit more closely. I noticed an interesting self-serve station against one wall. That table contained a big, ceramic pot with a ladle. The pot held olive oil, herbs and pepper; dipping sauce! There were also bottles of wine vinegar, olive oil and more; salad dressing personal-style. Although this sort of thing is typical fast-casual, the upscale nature of the furniture and the offerings added a decidedly sophisticated touch. There were stacks of takeout cartons on there as well, so you could take home leftovers (if you were to have any; a purely theoretical consideration, I think).
The server brought us a carrier of focaccia bread, for starters and to tide us over while our order was prepared. This bread was very nice, chewy in the middle and crispy on the outside, not overbaked. Plenty of olive oil, both in the dough and drizzled on top. A classic Italian bread done wonderfully well.
Our bruschetta arrived quickly, and boy was it nice! Four large hunks of toast, covered with a mixture made from chopped ripe cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. At first I thought it was too pretty to eat! Then my rumblytumbly reminded me about the mission. Still, I took a picture or six, just in case. Paula Jo’s foot began to tap, but before she could get to the squinting stage I pushed the plate closer to her and we dug in. Great flavors of summer and the vegetable garden; magical stuff!
We weren’t through with our first pieces of bruschetta when our pizza arrived. This lovely meal was a large, hand-pressed oval of crust, very thin, with each end done with our chosen toppings. Mine had Italian sausage, sautéed mushrooms and onions, on a flavorful sauce. With some tasty fresh mozzarella. PJ’s had the classic Margherita trio of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, with plenty of olive oil and sauce. Even with our mouths full of bruschetta we goggled at the pretty arrangements, and we also enjoyed the hearty aromas. (I’m sure my mother-in-law would like this pizza too, as thin and crisp as the treatment is.)
I found the Chinotto soda to be an interesting experience. The lady at the order station cautioned me that it was an “acquired taste,” and not like any soda you are likely to find anywhere else in the States. I’d have to agree, although I must admit, I acquired the taste quite quickly. Hints of cherry, vanilla, caramel and more were in this strongly-flavored drink, as well as an understated citrus tang. And lots, lots more. This soda comes in a six-ounce bottle, and if you’re used to sodas you can chug, then this one’s not for you. Six ounces worked out well. At the end, though, I was a little bit sad that it was all gone.
Eventually (and much too soon), all the food was gone. It was just the right size lunch for the two of us. With happy-hour pricing, the damage was less than $16. Drinks and all. Looking over the menu, this would have been more like $25 at standard prices, a bit more than we normally consider for a lunch. We agreed, though, that the quality of the food was outstanding and service was fast and discreet; those are worth paying a bit more for. So we give high marks for the overall dining experience and value. The market’s a nice place to simply wander around and look at all the interesting food products for sale as well.
Mandola’s has three locations in the greater Austin area. Although we can only speak of the Triangle’s shop, I’m willing to bet the others are great too. Give them a try, if you’re in the mood for casual Italian…
Mandola’s Italian Market (Triangle location), 4700 W. Guadalupe, Suite 12, Austin, TX 78751. Phone 512.419.9700. Tasty, fast-casual Italian in a really interesting shop (and shopping area). Open seven days a week, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wine and beer available. Large parties welcome. Lots of takeout options. Catering available. Kid friendly.
Enjoy the (Tasty Italian Lunch) Heat!
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