The Mandrake’s new chef brings ‘Dirty South’ to tapas

The Mandrake’s new chef brings ‘Dirty South’ to tapas
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Chef Donnie Simmons’ cult-like following is under the magical spell of his new menu at The Mandrake. When he debuted the new menu this fall, the hip, yet intimate tapas restaurant was wall-to-wall with an eclectic crowd ranging from professional athletes to TV personalities and neighborhood locals alike.

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Photo via Google Maps

With the hire, owner Jose Garcia allowed his celebrity chef (recently crowned the Best Chef in Charlotte by Creative Loafing) carte blanche with the menu. Chef Simmons spent a little over a week getting to know the restaurant and his team before launching the new menu.

Chef-Donnie-Simmons

Chef Simmons sought to maintain some influences from the old menu while still including his uniquely branded flavors. The build-your-own risotto has been upgraded to a variety of creative and flavorful risottos. Two early fan favorites are the pan-seared caramel duck breast served over wild mushroom risotto, and curried lamb meatballs served over a garlic mint risotto. Chef Simmons also kept the sushi selections, albeit with a face-lift.

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The concept of the new menu is to present diners with dishes that are funky and fresh, yet familiar. “My main objective was to create food that people could pronounce,” says Chef Simmons.

All the dishes on the menu intentionally include his two main influences – dirty South cooking finished with classic techniques.

Additional menu standouts include pork belly stacked on top of fried North Carolina apple rings with a bourbon BBQ drizzle. While pork belly has become commonplace on many restaurant menus, it’s hard to find cooked perfectly. The succulent, fatty meat often ends up buried in other dishes. In Chef Simmons’ take, the fat has the perfect crispness while the meat remain succulent and moist.

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Chef Simmons’ “dirty South” influence, learned in his grandparents’ kitchen, is most alive in the Fried Bologna Fries. Tempura fried bologna spears are served alongside house-made sweet pickles and offer a pleasant throwback — they may also be the best item on the menu.

bologna-fries

When Chef Simmons accepted the job at The Mandrake, he boldly declared that The Mandrake would move from a ranking of 881 on TripAdvisor to the number one spot. The restaurant hit No. 1 three weeks after the release of the new menu.

If you plan to dine at The Mandrake, reservations are recommended as the 106-seat capacity restaurant, located at 333 West Trade Street, fills up quickly.

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