The TradeMark Condos, located at 333 West Trade St. in uptown Charlotte, haven’t been friendly to restaurants. During the eight years the posh condominium building has been open, four different restaurants occupied its retail level space. The wild ride has included Press, a coffee shop/wine bar/sushi bar/deli; Threes, which included the same strange offerings as Press; and 3 Trade, an attempt at fine dining with steak, seafood and, once again, sushi.
The location appeared to be cursed, which makes one wonder why José Garcia, who has experienced success in the restaurant business with family run 1900 Mexican Grill & Tequila Bar, would make a fourth attempt in the doomed spot with The Mandrake.
So far, his risk is paying off. When he assumed ownership of 3 Trade, the restaurant was ranked number 881 on TripAdvisor. Today, The Mandrake sits around number 25 with the occasional flirtation in the number one spot.
So, what’s different this time around? According to Garcia, two things: timing and hard work.
“The first two restaurants were ahead of their time,” he said. “Nothing else was down here. Now, there’s the ballpark and additional condominiums and apartments.”
“3 Trade,” he added, “was a little too fine-dining for what the neighborhood wanted.”
This is where the hard work came into play – the out with the old and in with the new. “First, we had to win back Third Ward’s trust,” says Garcia. “We scaled back the restaurant to make it more accessible for the neighborhood and ballpark attendees. We now offer a unique concept merging craft cocktails, craft beer and a chef-inspired menu of tapas.”
Trust in the chef
A large part of The Mandrake’s success rides on Garcia’s trust in his executive chef, Donnie Simmons, who won Creative Loafing’s Best Chef 2015. When Simmons joined the team in the fall, Garcia allowed the self-taught chef carte blanche with the menu. With tapas that include pan-seared caramel duck breast served over wild mushroom risotto and pork belly stacked on top of fried North Carolina apple rings with a bourbon BBQ drizzle, it was a smart decision.
If you’re there on a night when Tableside Oysters Rockefeller are one of the specials, prepare to be wowed – if not a little scared (those flames were huge!).
One resident of the TradeMark I spoke with still isn’t convinced that The Mandrake is any different from its predecessors. “The place has an identity crisis – The Mandrake, and everyone else before them,” the resident said. “The menu says tapas but the specials include everything from BBQ to Mexican to Asian. And then there’s the sushi. Where does that fit in?”
(Garcia recently eliminated sushi from the menu.)
Fortunately for Simmons and Garcia, fans on TripAdvisor disagree with the TradeMark resident, using headlines like “Worth the trip downtown” and “Best food of my life.”
Will that be enough to make it last in the cursed location? We’ll see.
Photos: Bryan Richards