Upon arriving in Austin, my European husband asked me if we’d find a good Italian. I said, perhaps. Then he asked me if we’d find a cheap Italian. I laughed. Just to humor him, I shook my Urban Spoon on my iphone, and up popped Mandola’s, with one dollar sign.
So, perhaps it was fate. Urban Spoon fate.
The first thing you’ll notice is the incredibly long line. Don’t be deterred. It is that good, and we were seated within fifteen minutes, even though the line was wrapping around the grocery aisles. Also, there’s no explanation, and it’s confusing, so what you do is wait, then order and pay, get a number, go fight for a table (many people just linger after dinner, in an Italian manner, but this IS America after all, and there are 50 people waiting for a table!), then stick the number on the holder.
The imported Italian grocery items that Mandola’s offers are impressive. Expensive, sure, but worth it if you want to do a real Italian dinner for guests. Or, you can just let the restaurant do the work. They appear to offer an array of premade antipasti, meats etc. for you to take home.
I noticed that one reviewer thought the food bland, and “only white bread.” On this point, I’ll agree. The foccaccia wannabe white bread they serve free was bad, but at least it was moist and served well to run around the bottom of the pasta bowl to soak up every last bit of sauce. However, I would not call the food bland. The food was DELICIOUS.
One thing to be clear on, this is an Italian-American menu. Real Italian food exists in Italy, and only there. It will never taste as well when recreated elsewhere, and anyone insisting on that is always going to be disappointed, and wasting their money. Mandola’s obviously uses Italian ingredients and inspiration, but there is an American aspect to it all(Italians do not eat salads with their meals, nor do they stand in line for food that comes with a number).
Our appetizer, Bruschetta con Finocchi was huge, enough to be a meal for me, and awesome. My husband’s Spaghetti Carbonara appeared to be a very small portion, but when he was done he said he felt “Perfect, almost full but not hungry.”
However, the pizzas are woefully miscalculated. The small says “For 2-4 people.” Perhaps this is where the American aspect chimes in. Are people ordering the pizza as a side?? My small pizza was smaller than, or the same size as, any pizza for 1 that I have ever received in Italy or Europe. It was certainly enough, but I just had to laugh at the portion description.
The prices are relatively cheap for Italian, in my opinion. The total bill for our couple was 40 dollars, including tax, tip and one glass of wine. The Montepulciano is very good. It was a whopping 7 dollars a glass, but they filled it up to the very brim, so that I had to lean over and sip some off before I could even take it.
Along with the table, you’ll have to get up and get silverware, napkins and drinks for yourself. Then sit down, enjoy a fabulous meal, a nice loud buzz, interesting Italian-American decorations, and the feeling that you were almost in Italy, but in fact you were just down the street from home.