What's Cooking at the Triangle
Italian, Mexican, Asian, seafood, sandwiches, and coffee
When shoppers are strolling among the booths at the Wednesday afternoon farmers' market in the Triangle Park, it is unlikely they give any thought whatsoever to the epic turn of the 20th century neighborhood battle waged over the potential development of that triangular expanse of prime midcity real estate. Over the years, differing plans called for large grocery stores or multiscreen theatres to be the anchor tenants of mixed-use developments proposed for the site, and nearby neighbors fought them all. Despite all the protests, the new development broke ground in 2003 and started leasing in 2006, and now it's hard to remember what all the fuss was about or to imagine that any other plans were ever even considered. Today's Triangle is a bustling urban village made up of upscale housing units and an eclectic selection of offices, retail stores, quick/casual restaurant chains, and local independent eateries, with an inviting park at its heart. The retail mix includes office supplies, salons, boutiques, a phone store, a florist, a bank, and a charming tea shop, with plans for a RunTex outlet and a liquor store to come onboard in the near future. And though the current restaurant lineup would seem to satisfy just about any appetite, property manager Diana Chastain says they are always on the lookout for other concepts to add to the diverse culinary mix already in place here.
When the Triangle debuted in early 2006, Mandola's Italian Market was the first culinary tenant to welcome customers. Former Houston chef/restaurateur Damian Mandola relocated to the Hill Country in 2005, and the market was the first of many creative projects on his drawing board. (He's since planted a vineyard and opened both a winery and a country trattoria near Driftwood.) Mandola's features shelves and cases stocked with meats, cheeses, olive oils, pastas, and canned goods imported from Italy; a wine shop; a fresh bakery; and a gelateria, plus a kitchen that turns out lunch and dinner to eat in or take out. The market was a hit from day one, and it soon became a dining destination for Triangle residents as well as Italian food lovers from all over the city. Almost immediately, there were lines out the door at mealtimes, and overflow crowds could be observed lounging around the fountain on the brick patio, enjoying espresso with fresh pastries or gelato. The addition of new restaurants in the development has eased the crowding at Mandola's a bit, but solid success in the Triangle has the gregarious entrepreneur considering multiple market locations. "We don't have any new leases signed yet, but we're considering the area at William Cannon and MoPac and also out near the Hill Country Galleria. I've already got one of my twin sons working in this location, and when the other one graduates from culinary school, he can take over a new store. This was a very good spot for us to start out; the synergy here is wonderful," Mandola reports.
The initial success of Mandola's quickly established the Triangle as a culinary destination. The Cencor Realty commercial leasing department scored another coup when it wisely invited the Sustainable Food Center to create a weekly version of the Austin Farmers' Market at the Triangle in May 2006. With its kid-friendly inground fountain, jogging track, regular music programming, and an award-winning bocce ball court, the Triangle Park is certainly the heart of this attractive urban village, and the open-air market makes a perfect enhancement. The weekday afternoon hours (4-8pm) are appealing to busy restaurant chefs and working folks alike. According to market director Suzanne Santos, the market's current vendor mix includes 14 farmers and 12 artisan-food makers. Santos has no way to gauge how many market shoppers are Triangle residents and how many are visitors, but she can report that the average number of weekly shoppers now tops 700 and farmers' sales revenues are up 30% this year, even with the devastating drought conditions. The farmers' market hours will "fall back" to 3-7pm on Oct. 29 in accordance with the change in daylight saving time – the pleasant weather and the beginnings of the fall harvest should attract plenty of folks to shop, eat, and enjoy live music in the park. And if shoppers are still hungry after hitting the market, they'll have an interesting menu of convenient restaurants from which to choose. Chronicle Food writers Mick Vann, Claudia Alarcón, Rachel Feit, and Kate Thornberry recently spent some time sampling the diverse culinary offerings; here's a report on what's cooking.