Down Canal Street from the French Quarter and the Central Business District, in the heart of Mid-City you’ll find a New Orleans institution: Mandina’s. Mandina’s does it old school. You seat yourself at one of the 20 or so wooden tables in the restaurant, the bar has no stools, the waitstaff all appear grumpy, and they only take cash. The menu is pretty typical New Orleans: fried seafood, some Italian dishes, and a few plates like strip steak and pork chops. Unfortunately for Mandina’s this is one of the worst examples of this style menu I’ve tasted recently.

On this trip I ordered the Turtle Soup. The broth was rich and spicy, but the meat in the soup was a bit odd. There were large chunks of a rubbery white substance in my bowl. I did a little research after my meal and discovered what was wrong. Mandina’s turtle soup has two strange qualities: they don’t use real turtle and the unidentifiable white pieces were hard boiled egg. In a city that loves turtle soup you really can’t substitute the main ingredient and the egg was just strange. I believe that without the egg the soup would have been fine, but it really ruined it for me. The soup came out with about 5 pieces of greasy grilled poboy bread. I could have done without the bread at all, as there was a basket of crackers already on the table.

I also ordered the chef’s special off of the blackboard in the dining room. This special was in addition to the five or so daily specials that are the same every week. It being Monday, most of these involved red beans, which didn’t interest me. I ended up with Eggplant Creole. This turned out to be a seafood and eggplant casserole with a side of spaghetti with “red gravy.” The eggplant casserole had a good flavor and was full of shrimp, crab and sausage. It would have been just fine if someone had bothered to pick the crab before putting it in the mix. I spent a good deal of time picking shell and cartilage out of my teeth. The spaghetti itself was fine, but I’m not a fan of the tomato sauce at Mandina’s. Either someone burned today’s pot or they used smoked something–either tomatoes or peppers, in the sauce. It had an overpowering smoky flavor that made it, for me, inedible. In short, I think the kitchen at Mandina’s has gotten lazy. The menu, in general, needs to be refreshed and the cooks need to put a little TLC into their food!

In addition to being not such a great meal, my lunch was expensive for the quality of food. I spent $30 on a cup of soup, a subpar entree and a glass of iced tea. I think the tea was the best part of the meal.

The service was about average. It took quite awhile for someone to greet me after I had sat down. Food and drinks came out promptly, but my server left in the middle of the meal and was replaced by someone else. I find that generally unacceptable. If you begin a table, you should stay to finish it. This may have been a management decision to cut a server in between the lunch shift and the dinner shift, but I don’t think its the right decision.

I don’t think I’ll be back to Mandina’s any time soon. There are many other restaurants in New Orleans serving the same type of menu with better food and service. If you are going to serve the ubiquitous New Orleans menu, you need to do it well–all the time. I think next time I feel like a Creole Italian lunch plate I’ll head out to Rocky and Carlos in da Parish . . . which is probably what I should have done today!