Sean Fowler’s earliest memories are of cooking outdoors with neighbors and family set to the tunes of Cash or Nelson. That intersection of Southern food, music and friends is at the heart of Fowler’s venture, Mandolin. Named after a symbolic blue grass instrument, Fowler likens the mandolin to what he’s trying to do as the chef/owner. “I think the mandolin exemplifies the Southern aspect of music, and is in a lot of ways, a humble instrument,” he said. “When done well, I think it certainly shines – not unlike the Southern food I’m trying to do.”
Opening this month (date is TBD) on the corner of Fairview and Oberlin near Raleigh’s Five Points district, Mandolin is Fowler’s flagship return to the Raleigh food scene. A native to the City of Oaks, his undergrad took him out West where he started his culinary training at Johnson & Wales in Denver.
It was at the Alpenhof Lodge at Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he gained his first exposure to the farm to table philosophy, a mindset he also encountered after moving to New York and working at Le Bernardin, a Michelin Guide 3-star restaurant. Missing North Carolina, Fowler returned home where for the past six and a half years he was with Chapel Hill’s Fearrington House Inn.
“With Mandolin, going back to the freshness of ingredients while getting away from the fine dining aspect is very important to us,” continued Fowler. “We’re going to make it a bit more approachable and comfortable – bring a bit of refinement to Southern cuisine which can sometimes be seen as a little low brow.”
Sporting a full bar and hefty wine list, Fowler and crew think they have the answer for a spot that hasn’t fared too well for restaurants in the past (Manga and Evoo both closed their doors in the same space). “I don’t think this location is cursed,” said Fowler. “I think there have been issues with parking which we’ve addressed: We have access to Red Dragon’s parking lot and the lot behind Hungry Howies. I think we’ll be serving a market that is ready for this fresh farm to table type of food, I personally love this location.”
Open six days a week (closed on Mondays), serving lunch Tuesday - Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday, Mandolin’s menu will have some staples, but will mostly change with what’s available during the season.
With all the pieces together and opening week around the corner, it appears Mandolin is primed for a long stay at Fowler’s childhood stomping grounds.
See Mandolin's website for more info.