Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 1: Tony Mandola

EOW recently sat down with Tony Mandola to get the inside scoop on his new restaurant. We met at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen for a chat.

Eating Our Words: Hello Tony! It is so nice to meet you. We have so many things we are dying to ask you, but let's just start off by having you tell us about the new restaurant.

Tony Mandola: Yes, we're very excited! It's going to be at 1212 Waugh. We've been here (on W. Gray) going on 22 years now. It's been a dream of ours for some time to own our own space. We found a perfect spot and construction started, and in the spring, we're moving in. I hope March, but more than likely April. You know how it is when they say they'll have you in by March.

EOW: Yes, so more likely April. What is the concept behind the new space?

TM: We're a New Orleans-style restaurant. I've always been enamored of that. I took my first trip to New Orleans when I was in high school. I went to Mardi Gras, and I had a cousin that owned a very popular restaurant around there on the way down from the airport, and so I always had a place to stay.

EOW: Your own personal bed and breakfast?

TM: Right. And I was always a fan of Captain Benny's. This was probably before you were born. He had a restaurant on South Main. It was a real shrimp boat that he converted into a little oyster bar. He served gumbo, and he had a fryer and fried oysters and catfish, and he shucked oysters. He used to work for a famous restaurant downtown as a shucker, and then he had own place and he really did well. I was always enamored with that. My influence was always Captain Benny, and he kind of got me started in the seafood business.

I did kind of a glorified Captain Benny's. And when I say "glorified," I mean it was a nice building with a beautiful bar, and it was all the old art deco glass, and we lit it up with blue from behind. And I've done the same thing here, but up at the top, and that's how we got into the business. We had waiter service and a bit more on the menu than Captain Benny's had, and then over time we moved to Shepherd Drive by I-10. We were there from '84' to '88, and then this space became available. We opened up here in March of '89.

EOW: Have you always kept the same name?

TM: It was Tony Mandola's Seafood House, and then it was Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen, and now it's just going to be Tony Mandola's.

EOW: What kind of changes should people expect?

TM: On the menu, we are going to, well I'm not going to do this right away. At first we're just going to stay the same, but then we're going to put pizza ovens in the new space, and we're going to do some very interesting seafood pizzas. Like some thinly sliced Gulf shrimp with very thinly sliced lemon and some tarragon on it and a very light tomato sauce and a very light sprinkling of cheese. We're working on some different things now, but they're not cooking as well in our regular ovens as they will in our pizza oven.

EOW: That sounds delicious. We are definitely willing to help out if you ever need a guinea pig.

Check back tomorrow when we explore Tony Mandola's rich family background.

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Geri Maria Harris