Dining Reviews

The Pizza Grail

dinning mamamiaLunchtime at Mama Mia’s brings tasteful twists to the classics

For more than 25 years Mama Mia’s has been delighting San Lorenzo Valley residents, who rave about the pizza. I like pizza. Wood-fired, gas-fired, barbecued, thin crust, deep-dish, you name it; as long as it’s well-made. But I have this memory of a pizza from a long-gone Italian restaurant in Cupertino.

The sauce was seasoned just so, the cheese elastic, and the crust chewy. I have haunted Italian restaurants all over the country attempting to relive that memory. I’ve enjoyed many a pizza, each uniquely delicious, but different from the old Paesano’s.

Now that Mama Mia’s serves lunch three days a week, I made the drive through the woods in daylight, which serendipitously brought to mind important memories of the Valley as well. There was that natural slide in a creek called Slippery Rock that we enjoyed as Camp Fire Girls, when we slept on a deck in cots and marveled at the spectacle of the Perseids meteor shower. In Henry Cowell State Park I learned to love trail runs. Thoughts of summers past, turning into plans for the summer coming. And then I arrived at Felton Faire, totally focused on food.

I liked the latticework over my well-lit table which had a few strands of vines and pendant grapes. They reminded me of restaurants from my past with their red and white checkered tablecloths. But at Mama Mia’s, the cloths were classic black, covered with white paper for lunch. Dated pictures on the walls had recently been replaced with poster-sized photographs of classic Italian destinations, including one of gondolas tied to the docks in Venice. On other walls were murals depicting rustic villages surrounded by lush countryside.

Mama Mia’s lunch menu is diverse, with selected specialties that can be quickly served. Mama’s Favorites ($10.99 to $12.99) include fried calamari over pasta with lemon caper butter garlic sauce and Penne Chicken Bernardo with sautéed tomatoes and broccoli in a light chicken stock. Add a small house salad for $1.50.

You’ll find familiar hearty dishes in Mama Mia’s Oven-Baked Specialties ($8.50 to $9.50). Traditional lasagna with meat sauce, eggplant parmigiana, cannelloni and manicotti join polenta lasagna with eggplant, mushrooms and marinara. Sandwiches ($7.50 to $10.99) range from a meatball grinder with marinara and melted mozzarella to panini such as grilled chicken with roma tomatoes, smoked bacon and fontina cheese.

The lunch salads ($9.99 to $11.99) are anything but familiar. The Mediterranean includes bay shrimp, gorgonzola, mushrooms and capers, freshly fried calamari over romaine with blue cheese dressing, and a spinach salad with penne, bacon, red bells and balsamic vinegar topped with caramelized pecans. Even the chicken Caesar is kicked up a notch with roasted red bell peppers, gorgonzola, and pecans.

The Italian cobb ($9.99) is what every cobb salad should aspire to be. No cold cuts here, but I do advise you to avoid the salt shaker. On romaine lettuce tossed with blue cheese dressing were perfectly minced tomatoes, circles of black olives, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and thinly butterflied aromatic grilled chicken sprinkled with salty cubes of chewy pancetta bacon and crumbled gorgonzola. It’s a substantial starter for two or three people.

Pizza is available from the dinner menu at lunch, and the entire menu is available for take-out. A calzone ($14.95) is stuffed with grilled chicken, roasted bell peppers, mozzarella and pesto. Pizzas come in three sizes ($14.99 to $25.50) and you can build your own from an enticing list of toppings. I ordered a small (12-inch) with one side The Mozzarella Cheese Pizza Pie, and the other the Church’s Choice. Oh, what a pretty pizza! The server dished me up a piece of my choice which was cheese. She deftly managed the elastic strands of molten mozzarella as the pie tried in vain to stay connected with its first departure. Still too hot to hold, I cut through the crisp, thin under-crust, and thrust the scalding section into my mouth. The bright red sauce of crushed tomatoes was nicely seasoned and tart; exactly what I was hoping for at last. The rim was puffy and crisp and the dough so tasty I couldn’t leave the rinds on my plate.

The Church’s side was a meat-lover’s paradise with fennel-laced clumps of Italian sausage with a kick, thin slices of salami, salty pepperoni, and cremino mushrooms. Needless to say, the remaining pieces were devoured when my husband came home from work.

My folks are visiting next month. I think I’ll take them to Mama Mia’s to reminisce about our favorite restaurants when they were young parents in their twenties.  

Mama Mia’s, 6231 Graham Hill Rd., Felton, 335-4414. Serving lunch Wednesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and dinner nightly from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. Visit mamamias.com

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