After more than 30 years in Seaville, Mama Mia’s Ristorante has relocated. “This is a truly modern take on what had become an establishment, the one and only, legendary Mama Mia’s. I’m back in the ring, I’ve got one more round in me and this is it,” says Joe Massaglia, owner, chef, restaurateur and radio personality. Now in Marmora, Mama Mia’s offers contemporary bistro-style, New York dining. “We kept all of the dishes, all of the classics, that made Mama Mia’s such a beloved restaurant but we added. We modernized,” Massaglia says.
Back in the ring with a modern spin
After more than 50 years in the restaurant business, Massaglia has gathered his experience to create a modern take on his life’s work. With black framed windows and red brick accents, Mama Mia’s evokes the vibe of a trendy Brooklyn alley. “I built this restaurant from the ground up, exactly how I wanted,” Massaglia explains.
“We have a 40-seat dining room and a separate take-out counter. If you ask any chef what the perfect size dining room is, they’ll tell you 40 seats,” Massaglia explains. This size allows the dining room to feel intimate, but still have space for larger parties. The focal point of the dining room is the Sorrento inlaid, woodwork tables. “I always believed in serving food on tablecloths. Growing up, no matter how poor we were in our trattoria in Italy, my mother always served food on tablecloths. So when we took the tablecloths away, I wanted to add something positive in their place,” Massaglia says. The tables were handmade by Massaglia’s brother. “They are conversation-starters,” Massaglia says.
On the walls of the dining room is a series of large black and white photos that hold personal meaning to Massaglia. “That photo is my mother teaching my daughters to make pasta, and that photo is of my wife and daughter in my home village in the Piedmont region of Italy,” Massaglia beams.
Main event — food
While the décor is modern, the food remains classic — for the most part. “It seems like everything is fusion now, which is fine, it’s good, it’s just not me. I want to give people a tour of Italy through their traditional dishes,” Massaglia says. Every dish on the dining room menu tells a story, it’s a piece of history from a region in Italy. “We have customers from all over Italy that come in and are so happy to see dishes from their home,” Massaglia says.
For a taste of Tuscany, try the veal chop Tuscan style ($35), a bone-in, butterflied, veal chop, lightly breaded and pan sautéed. It sits on a bed of light tomato sauce and is topped with buffalo mozzarella. For a taste of Sicily, try Mama Mia’s calamari Sicilian style ($12), lightly breaded, tender, baby calamari served with long hot peppers, Kalamata olives, capers, cherry tomatoes and finished in a lemon, white wine herb sauce. For a culinary adventure, head to the island of Sardinia and try shrimp Sardagnola ($24), “For some reason no one ever pairs seafood with cheese, except in Sardinia, and it’s such a delicious pairing,” Massaglia says. Mama Mia’s shrimp Sardagnola is parmesan crusted shrimp, sautéed with fresh basil, garlic, scallions and cherry tomatoes, a touch of seafood stock, white wine and lemon zest, folded with ricotta and parmigiano cheese, served over linguini.
Then head to Southern Italy for a taste of lumache ubriache ($10), the Italian version of escargot. “You don’t find escargot in many restaurants, it’s such a delicacy,” Massaglia says. The lumache snails are marinated in liquor (Massaglia invites you to guess which), and finished with garlic, fresh herbs, roasted almonds and a touch of brown tomato sauce.
If you want to steal the show, try the pappardelle Piemontese ($25), beef short ribs slowly braised and pulled in a wild mushroom brown sauce served over pappardelle pasta and tossed tableside in a 25-pound wheel of parmigiano cheese, finished with truffle oil. “The whole dish is folded in the wheel of cheese, it’s so popular. We present about 100 pounds of short ribs a week,” Massaglia says.
“I really try to cover the different regions of Italy, and of course everything is handmade. We even make four different kinds of tomato sauce alone,” says Massaglia of the house tomato sauce, fresh chopped and pureed tomato with onions, garlic and herbs; the marinara, from mare (the sea), made with fresh plum tomatoes, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, white wine, anchovies and a touch of seafood stock; the Nepoletana (from Naples) with hand-crushed Roma tomatoes sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, shaved garlic, fresh basil and herbs; and the pomodora, which is the Nepoletana sauce finished with butter and parmesan cheese.
Haymaker — takeout and catering
The dining room is a modern venture through Italian tradition, while the takeout menu offers the modern family plenty of options on busy nights. From pizza and flatbreads to sandwiches, wraps, burgers and wings to family-style dinners, Mama Mia’s makes ordering-in crowd-pleasing. The pizza and flatbread dough is homemade, with gluten-free, organic wheat grain and cauliflower crust options. Mama Mia’s was also one of the first to offer family-style take home dinners. Dishes such as baked ziti Bolognese, gnocchi, ravioli, lasagna, chicken parmesan and much more can be ordered by the serving for 1 to 12 people.
Mama Mia’s is also available to cater private events with options that can accommodate everything from private chef’s dinners to cocktail parties up to 500.