Mandola's Deli is more than 30 years old, but I bet many of you reading this article didn't even know it existed. Don't feel bad, I didn't either. It's an east downtown neighborhood spot, located near the University of Houston and about a minute off I-45.
For years, the casual Italian restaurant served to a lunch crowd comprised predominantly of the UH crowd, along with blue collar industrial workers from nearby areas. The neighborhood around Mandola's has steadily changed, and with it, so has the restaurant. "We've seen an emerging shift in this neighborhood. So we decided to go along with it. It's time to start offering dinner," says General Manager Joseph Mandola.
Mandola's Deli is definitely a family affair. Joseph's dad, Frank, runs the place and is right behind the counter taking orders. I stopped by the other night to chat with Joseph for a few minutes. I identified myself and was kindly asked to wait a few minutes. There was a long table of about 20 people needing Joseph's attention.
In the meantime, I took in all that Mandola's Deli had to offer. At first glance, it doesn't seem like much. But it's there -- that warm, cozy atmosphere with those wood-paneling walls, adorned with old UH memorabilia and family pictures. I felt comfortable within minutes. Watching Frank and Joseph talk to customers, it seemed as if they had known them for years. Hell, maybe they did.
During my brief chat with Joseph, he was as laid-back, friendly and cordial as anyone I've met in the food industry.
The dinner experiment is a little over six weeks old. "Things are good, the word's spreading," says Joseph. And while the restaurant's hours have increased, that's not the only changes. They've expanded the parking lot, built a new 1,500-square-foot outdoor patio, added flat screen televisions, and tweaked the menu a bit. St. Arnold's beer is now offered on tap, along with a variety of Sicilian wines.
I sampled a few menu items, including a deviled egg, some spaghetti, and the Super Deluxe Po-Boy. The spaghetti was authentically awesome with a hint of spiciness on the back end. The deviled egg was the best I've ever eaten--creamy, sweet and tangy. And at $5.99, the Super Deluxe, in all of its cured meat glory, was crazy-good. Soft bread, thick slabs of ham, cheese and salami make this Italian po-boy one of the restaurant's most popular items. The reasonably priced menu also includes homemade lasagna and chicken marsala, along with various other soups, sandwiches, salads and pastas.
Come casual, and prepare to be treated well.