Fanni Goes West

dining_mammaluciaThe energetic owner of Caffe Lucio brings Italian specialties to Mamma Lucia’s on Mission Street

Just a few signs remain that this restaurant last housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken; the comfortable red booths and the black and red counter. But with a touch of butter-yellow paint, soccer playing on two flat screen televisions, the aroma of tomato sauce and photographs of Mamma Lucia’s food, Lucio Fanni of Caffe Lucio and al dente, has turned it into an Italian Cafe. Here, the chicken tortellini soup is made from scratch, the soft loaves of bread with tiny air hole-bubbled interiors are house-made, and doggie treats are sold to patrons’ pets.

The menu is written on large blackboards behind the counter where we placed our order before gathering plates and silverware from the neat stacks and finding a table. Since signs on each table reminded us to bus our own tables, I was pleasantly surprised that our order was brought out to us.

Although both rossa tomato sauce pizzas and bianca pizzas with olive oil are featured, there is much more to Mamma Lucia’s. Pastas ($8 to $13) range from rigatoni with homemade meat sauce and Fettuccini Alfredo to Crab Cannelloni and Daniela; eggplant, ham and mozzarella rolls baked in marinara. The grill turns out half chickens with salad or fries and Italian sausages with mozzarella in marinara.

Local Organic Greens Salad ($3.75/$5.75) with a wedge of tomato came mixed with a choice of dressings including raspberry vinaigrette and the house special, which is pleasant, light vinaigrette. The House Special Salad ($5/$7) added endive, red radicchio and sweet slices of anise-like fennel bulb. Salads can be dressed up with goodies such as goat cheese toast ($3) and wild smoked salmon ($4).

Panini ($7.50) is served only at lunch on slices from the house-made loaves. Thin, salty slices of Prosciutto Crudo (cured rather than cooked) were thickly piled with peppery fingers of arugula inside the heated roll. I’ll soon return to try the grilled portobello with smoked mozzarella. These sandwiches are also served with a small salad.

I have come to appreciate the simplicity of a Neapolitan-style pizza, thin-crusted and lightly dressed. And I always start with a cheese pizza to best taste the qualities of the sauce and cheese. At Mamma Lucia’s the 12″ Marinara ($12) can be upgraded to a Margherita, embellished with four large leaves of fresh basil for $2 more.

A film of tomato sauce peeked out from beneath a thin sea of mozzarella to reach the silky surface of the outer crust. The crust was just lightly browned, but so thin that it was cooked to perfection. The simple flavors were harmonious and pleased the pizza goddess.

I’ll soon try a bianca pizza, specifically Tutto Bene ($13) with marinated portobello, smoked mozzarella and truffle oil.

In addition to Italian Gelato ($4/$6), desserts include the Triple Chocolate Dream cake ($5.50) with creamy chocolate ganache, which can be enjoyed with espresso, cappuccino, latte or mocha made with 100% Arabica beans.

Mamma Lucias, 1618 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 458-2222. Beer and wine. Cash only, ATM on-site. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit mammaluciapizza.com.

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