Those who wander into Mama’s for a take-out meatball sandwich or focaccia panini will walk out tasting Italy, drinking Italy and hearing Andrea Bocelli. Chef/owner Nicola Allegretta’s dazzling 100-dish menu features his elegant, homemade Italian cuisine, inspired by the rich flavors of the Puglia region of Italy, an ancient land of kings and castles on Italy’s boot, fused with the finest fresh fruits, vegetables and ingredients in the County.
Now if fine food can transport one to another place, then Mama’s, centrally located in downtown SLO in the Old Creamery, is like traveling to Italy without having to fly half way around the world. You can taste the passion. From the quality of food selection and preparation to the careful cooking to the princely management and service, Mama’s has rapidly emerged in 14 months as one of the best Italian restaurants on the Central Coast. More and more food pilgrims are enjoying the rewards of the hard work Chef Nicola and his friendly staff put into every dish, and word of mouth is providing many happy returns for Nicola.
For fine Italian food lovers, Mama’s is dining well at the long table of kings or queens—without having to pay to eat like one—at the same time relaxing in Mama’s humble dining room. More than one homesick Italian has stumbled into Mama’s, sat down for homemade manicotti ($10) or cannelloni ($11), Ravioli di Pollo alla Vodka ($11), a ravioli filled with chicken and herbs and served in a vodka sauce, or the Rigatoni alla Salsiccia ($10), rigatoni sautéed in fresh Italian sausage, marinara, mushrooms in white—and shouted, “Mama’s, I’m home!”
Mama’s is where that special gourmet touch lifts salads, soups, paninis, pastas, meat and fish, and pizzas beyond the ordinary to the realm of extra special. Chef Nicola is very fussy about the quality of lettuce in his salads, so the hand-picked mixed greens and baby spinach that make up the bed for the Sautéed Shrimp Salad ($11), dressed with roma tomatoes, mango and roast almonds in lime herb dressing, and the Grilled Salmon Salad ($11), accented with romas, carrots, cucumbers and tangerines in lime herb—truly blend together with the fish and lime herb dressing to make Mama’s salads sing Italian opera with a flourish.
Mama’s array of paninis is affordable ($8-$9) and special such as the Chicken Folata Sandwhich, breaded chicken breast in creamy pesto, caramelized onions, on homemade bread, as are the classic, yet creative pastas ($8-$12), but the gourmet pizzas (mostly $9-$10) are some of the best in town and make California Pizza Kitchen seem like Domino’s. The Al Pollo e Pesto, roasted garlic pesto and grilled chicken; Pizza Tonno, tuna, mozzarella, gorgonzola, mascarpone cheese; and Capricciosa, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, ham and black olives, are exceeded only by the crowning masterpiece, the Frutti di Mare ($14) with clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp, calamari and salmon.
Still, it is the meat and fish dinners that sparkle like plates of emeralds and rubies at Mama’s. Almost beyond compare are the Pork Loin alle Mele ($13), pork tenderloin sautéed with apples and white wine sauce; the Salmon al Ginepro ($13), grilled salmon in orange reduction and juniper berries sauce; Bistecca ai Ferri ($24), a grilled, marinated 16 oz. black angus ribeye; Cioppino ($24) seafood stew; and menu-topper, Ossobuco alla Milanese ($25), veal shanks in fine herbs and red wine sauce with saffron risotto.
Topping off authentic Italian dishes are exquisite Italian sweets ($5-$6), highlighted by cannolis with ricotta cheese, candied fruits, chocolate and pistachio; ricotta cheesecake; Torta Golosa, a chocolate sponge cake filled with peaches, yogurt, ricotta cheese and whipped cream; the Pastiera Napoletana tarte filled with ricotta cheese, orange peel, pine nuts and raisins, or classic Crème Brulee, among others to delectable to make one choice.
Mama’s Meatball, 570 Higuera St., Suite 130 in the Old Creamery, SLO. Open Mon,-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. Order online at www.mamasmeatball.com. Tel: 805-544-0861.
— Ed Ochs