Dominic Mandola, the youngest chef in the Mandola clan, has a hotel and restaurant management degree from the University of Mississippi and is a 1999 graduate of the School of Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Houston. With his brother, Luke Jr., he owns the Ragin' Cajun at 9600 Westheimer (832-251-7171). We talked to Dominic about what's cooking for the carnival season.
Q. What's Ragin' Cajun doing for Mardi Gras?
A. We're bringing New Orleans to Houston! That Tuesday night [February 12], Lady "D" and the Zydeco Tornadoes are going to be performing out here at the Westheimer location. The Richmond location will have the Thibodeaux Band. Both places are going to be rocking. We just bought a huge shipment of beads to throw.
Q. Any drink specials?
A. Three-dollar frozen hurricanes all night.
Q. Does it get pretty wild?
A. Well, we try to keep a nice family atmosphere. But by the end of the night, things do start getting out of control. They were dancing on the bar last year.
Q. So your dad owns the Ragin' Cajun on Richmond, right?
A. For 28 years now. He [Luke Mandola Sr.] is partners with Frank Messina. And then Tony Mandola is my uncle.
Q. There sure are a lot of Mandolas in the Houston restaurant business.
A. There's 540 members of the Mandola family in Houston. We have a Mandola family tree framed out here. It's hanging on the wall. You can see all the family connections and all the restaurants they own.
Q. You're a Sicilian- Louisianan?
A. My dad is straight from Sicily. My mom is half-Sicilian and half-Cajun. She grew up in Lake Arthur, Louisiana. We spent all our summers over there, though, so I know Louisiana pretty well.
Q. What's your favorite restaurant in Louisiana?
A. I like Black's Seafood in Abbeville a lot. It's one of the oldest oyster houses in the state. In New Orleans, I love the Acme Oyster House for oysters on the half shell, and Mother's -- they have the best roast beef poor boy I ever put in my mouth.
Q. Who's your favorite chef in New Orleans?
A. Emeril. I think he puts out a hell of a meal. I like his food, and I like what he's done for cooking.
Q. Do you watch his show?
A. No, not really. I work too much, and when I go home I don't want to watch the Food Channel. I'd much rather relax and drink a beer.
Q. So what's new at Ragin' Cajun?
A. We're opening a new location in the tunnels [under 930 Main]. It should be open by March. We'll be doing lunch only.
Q. And what's new on the menu?
A. Mardi Gras oysters. They're fried oysters served on the half shell with Cajun pico de gallo. Awesome!
Q. You have a different menu from the original Ragin' Cajun?
A. Yeah, we have a grill out here, so we do a lot more stuff. I make my own seasoning mixes for grilling.
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Q. It's not just Tony Chachere's in a different bottle, is it?
A. No, we don't use any Tony Chachere's. If we use a seasoning mix, it's Tex-Joy.
Q. Why Tex-Joy? Do you think it's better?
A. Yeah, and it's owned by Frank Messina's family out of Beaumont. We like to keep it all in the family.