As a frequent visitor to Oldsmar, the closure of Ruby Tuesday and subsequent construction caught my eye over the past months. At first, I thought the restaurant was getting a makeover, but when I saw the “Coming Soon” banner for Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, I was intrigued. With locations already established in Riverview and Carrollwood, I was excited to see that Mandola’s was opening closer to home.
When I found out that Mandola’s is named after Damian Mandola, restaurateur and co-founder of Carrabba’s, I couldn’t wait to try it out. When it opened in late September, my dining party and I went there for lunch just a few days after the restaurant opened. Upon entering, you immediately know that you’re in an Italian restaurant. The colors of the Italian flag are prevalent, and there are large, Serie A Soccer League flags hanging from the ceiling of the dining room. As a soccer fan, this is decor that I truly appreciate.
Diners order food at the counter and are given a number to display at their table in the open seating dining room. Just a few minutes after sitting down in the colorful red and green chairs, a server brought us warm focaccia bread with olive oil and spices for dipping. I was not expecting this from a fast-casual restaurant, so this was a nice touch. As we enjoyed the delicious bread, we watched food being prepared in the large, open kitchen. Between chefs, servers, managers and greeters, I noticed that Mandola’s had a lot of people working. Considering that many restaurants are struggling to hire right now, this was great to see, and it reflected positively on our experience.
Mandola’s menu is extensive, so it was hard to decide what to order. There are a variety of salads, soups, pastas, pizzas, paninis and chicken dishes to choose from. We opted for Spaghetti & Meatballs ($13), Mista Salad with Grilled Shrimp ($15), Margherita Pizza ($13.25) and Grilled Chicken Panini ($13). After we helped ourselves to the self-serve soda machine, our lunch arrived promptly at the table.
The Spaghetti & Meatballs came with Mamma Mandola’s Marinara and had just the right proportion of sauce to pasta. The meatballs were hearty, tasty and the dish was fantastic. The Mista Salad had greens, tomato, cucumber, celery, onions, green and black olives, Romano cheese and was topped with perfectly grilled shrimp. The Margherita Pizza was baked in a special pizza oven that we could see thanks to the open kitchen concept. If you like thinner crust pizza, then you’ll love this. Overall, it was a good pizza, but I prefer mine with a thicker crust. My favorite meal at the table was the Grilled Chicken Panini served with fries. Sandwiched between homemade focaccia bread was grilled chicken breast, roasted tomatoes, pesto mayo and provolone cheese. The chicken was juicy and had great flavor thanks to the herb oil. It was served hot and crispy straight from the panini press and it was absolutely delicious. According to the menu, the paninis are only served daily until 4 p.m., so make sure you get there in time to order one.
Mandola’s also has a bar area where you can order both food and drinks. They have wine on tap, sangria, beer and specialty drinks. There is a large TV over the bar, so it’s a great spot if you want to watch football while you eat. When you’re done with your meal, make your way over to the bakery case for dessert or gelato. Everything on display looked tempting, but ultimately we chose Italian Cream Cake ($7.50), Mascarpone Cheesecake ($7), Cannoli ($4.50) and Chocolate Fudge Cake ($7.50). All of these desserts were decadent and delicious, but the Italian Cream Cake was the star.
Overall, Mandola’s was a big hit with all of us. Everything we had was delicious and tasted like homemade Italian cooking. I think Mandola’s is going to be very popular and I’m happy that it’s just a short drive from Westchase.
Mandola’s Italian Kitchen: 5 Stars
Location: 3138 Tampa Road, Oldsmar, FL 34677
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Mandola’s Italian Kitchen