Mandolin tries to overcome building's past
Posted December 15, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — Since June 2009, Magna Bistro, Bellini Ristorante Italiano and EVOO have all called 2519 Fairview Road in Raleigh home. Mandolin, opened on Nov. 23, is the fourth eatery to occupy the corner of Fairview and Oberlin Street in the past three years.
Owner and head chef Sean Fowler, a Raleigh native, believes his new restaurant can overcome the problems that caused each of his predecessors to fail in that location. When he looks at the brick floors and tin ceiling, he doesn't see the shattered hopes of restaurant owners before him, he sees his childhood.
Fowler grew up not far from Fairview Road. As children, he and future Mandolin business partner Hanes Roberts used to ride bikes to the restaurant's future home, then known as Johnson’s Pharmacy, to get grilled cheese sandwiches and limeade.
It is those Southern roots that helped shape who is he is as a chef, Fowler said.
"I cook a lot of what I like," he said. And what he likes is Southern cuisine with a modern flare, all made with fresh ingredients. Current menu items include Oysters Mandolin (maple braised pork belly, parsnip puree, mustard greens and pecan-parmesan-dusted fried oysters) and chicken and waffles featuring sautéed spinach and a bacon-mushroom emulsion.
Fowler has seafood and meats shipped in fresh from local farms and tries to rely on North Carolina ingredients as much as possible. He said he avoids going the frozen route because it just tastes better.
"Raleigh is on the cusp of this culinary awakening," Fowler said, noting that the city has gone from a very "meat and potatoes" crowd to those willing to get adventurous with their palates.
When the restaurant space on Fairview Road became available, Fowler knew he wanted it. Not just because of his past, but because of the future.
He couldn't ignore the problems faced by the building's previous owners. One of the biggest issues was parking. There isn't one central lot just for Mandolin. Customers have to rely on smaller lots nearby or parking along the street. On busy weekends, a lack of close parking could deter some patrons.
Besides trying to educate people on nearby parking, Mandolin has opted for complimentary valet parking on Friday and Saturday nights. They said the move is paying off.
Open barely a month, the restaurant is developing a healthy following.
"It's like hosting a dinner party every night," said Lizzy Fisher, who handles guest relations and is Fowler's fiancee.
Mandolin is a venture rooted in friends, Fisher said.
Wine and Beverage Director Charles Kirkwood worked with Fowler previously and relocated his family from Texas to take the position. A friend donated photos to line one of the walls.
Fisher said she hopes the warmth of those connections translates to the restaurant.