Tony Mandola's sheds the white linen tablecloths - Houston

Greg Morago in the Chron

That hot pink, uh, salmon color, is going to stand out on Waugh. I’ve driven by the place and never knew it was there. Wasn’t it mandatory valet parking?

I remember the original Blue Oyster Bar on I-45 in a structure copied exactly after Capt. Benny’s boats. I never realized the subsequent restaurants were considered a continuation.

This is MOST interesting to me. We are regulars here and friendly with Tony. I love how they have massive portraits of their mothers behind the host desk. I went to the original restaurants and in younger leaner years, would go to the Blue Oyster Bar on Wednesdays for the $5.99 seafood spaghetti special. The “new” digs on Waugh have been upscale, and the prices have reflected that. A dozen oysters run $17 or so, though oyster prices have gone up generally since Robb Walsh and his brethren started naming them. It was just a few years ago when you could get a dozen for $6 or less at specific happy hour spots.

Last year, a growing perception that there weren’t enough young people coming in prompted a change in chefs and a re-vamp of the menu with even higher prices. In my view, they took off some of the best menu items and added even more staid selections. In particular, I missed the bright shrimp and lemon pizza which was replaced with some overdone truffle oiled thing. I couldn’t figure it out. And besides, those blue hairs are there to support you as they’ve been since the 1980s, nothing wrong with that.

So I find this development a good thing. I haven’t been in a few weeks and will head there this week to check out the changes. The valet parking under a porte cochere is great when it’s raining or the parking lot is packed, but otherwise, I drive around back of the restaurant and self park from the back lot entrance.

Yesterday I was at one of his brothers’ places, Nino’s. Together, this family had enriched Houston through many many dining options. The fact that this dynasty merged with the Mama NInfa dynasty is just a fairy tale to me. Recently I was at El Tiempo on Montrose, a Ninfa family establishment, and Tony and Phyllis were lunching there.

If you go, and if you like cheese, the spiedini appetizer is a must: mozzarella wrapped in genoa salami and pork tenderloin, grilled and tossed in garlic and evoo, sprinkled with parsley and red pepper flakes. They come 4 to an order, but they’ll make however many your company requires, one is enough for each diner.

Back to basics, lower prices, can you tell I’m excited? Thanks for the tip Brucesw!

Edit afterthought: Mary Li presided over the bar at Tony Mandola’s for countless years, when she wasn’t travelling home to China (the happy hour menu is amazing). She recently left to open her own restaurant, Ginger and Fork, in the space formerly occupied by La Fisheria on Inker Street off of Shepherd near I-10. Looking forward to the opening soon! She is such a lovely person.

Ginger and Fork

I thought I remembered you had mentioned liking it in the past. Yep, the Mandolas/Carrabas and Laurenzos have had a huge impact on the dining scene here for years. I’ve been to Nino’s and Vincent’s, though not in years as my dining style changed pretty drastically about a decade ago. Wasn’t there a third place along W. Dallas, too. I haven’t even been to Pronto Cucino. I may have to go and check this out myself as I have very good memories of Blue Oyster Bar.

Re: Ginger and Fork. I hadn’t heard anything about this. I knew La Fisheria had moved (opened downtown just this week, I think). That sounds very interesting.

I may have mentioned that I am susceptible to suggestion? What a lovely day in Houston today. 74 dry degrees made my mind turn to patios and Tony Mandola’s has one of the best. Curiouser and curiouser about the changes, there I ended up.

I love the paint job and casualizing of the place. I wasn’t as stoked about the removal of the shrubbery around the patio that shielded it from the busy Waugh Drive, but it does give the restaurant more exposure:

Notice the new Irish pub going in that tiny white house across the street. They are building a patio, but it needs a new roof, I’d say.

Started with a stuffed jalapeno, which was really a whole shrimp, wrapped around a whole jalapeno that is stuffed with muenster cheese. I had less that one because they were very hot, and I have a pretty high tolerance for heat. They looked like puffer fish:

The lunch menu is much more affordable and has new fun things on it. There didn’t even used to be a lunch menu. I had the fish and chips which was fried SEA BASS!! Most excellent, especially at the lunch price of $15.95.

The Mandola’s were there and as gracious as ever. About 70% of the times I visit Mandola family establishments, the owner is there. And that includes the fast casual Pronto Cucinino. They are very hands on in a good way.

Loving this weather!

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That fish and chips looks great.