This post is in honor of StudiosCentral.com‘s “Disney’s Hollywood Studios Awareness Week,” so…be aware!
I’ve mentioned on the blog before before that I’ve never truly understood the theme of Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. According to the storyline, Mama Melrose came to the United States from Italy, but wanted to become a Hollywood star. Moving to California, she didn’t “make it” as an actress, so she opened a restaurant, decorated it as a shrine to all things Hollywood, and started serving her Italian family favorites.
So, although the story is a bit thin for Disney in my opinion, it’s still fun to wander around the restaurant to see how they’ve carried off the Italy-meets-California theme. The dark wood and red booths feel like New York’s Little Italy, but the records, photographs, and pennants on the walls are reminiscent of California.
I always discover something new here, whether its the Italian meats and cheeses hanging out to dry, the guest “autographs” scrawled on the grafitti’ed walls, or the California street signs pointing the way to Melrose and Rodeo. And I always take time to stare at the famous Hollywood stars’ photographs on the walls!
Another very welcome addition to the restaurant on my last visit there was the Hollywood Studios streetmosphere characters wandering the restaurant and interacting with guests! I happily watched a Hollywood Director, complete with megaphone, chatting with a family of four in a nearby booth. He never broke character, but managed to play trivia games with the kids and reward them with small plastic toys and necklaces. It’s those Disney differences that make guests want to return to the restaurants they visit!
As a general rule, Mama Melrose’s is moderately busy. The reservations here aren’t extremely difficult to get during low and moderate seasons at Disney World, so it’s a good bet if you missed your 180-day Advanced Dining Reservations window. But that’s not the only reason to visit Mama’s. While the service is often slow, the food is generally decent, and the restaurant is tucked back into the park, making it a nice, cool getaway from the heat and the crowds.
While I’ve been to Mama’s many times, I recently visited during a torrential Florida downpour in February. While waiting for our table, I gladly snapped some photos of something I’d completely forgotten about — the open kitchen. It’s fascinating to watch these chefs, cooks, and staff members work, and I’m always keeping an eye peeled to see the dishes they’re working on so that I might get inspired when I look at the menu later!
We were soon seated at a table in the dark-wood dining room. The service here has never been stellar, so I wasn’t surprised that our server seemed harried and busy even though the place was pretty empty (we ended up having to ask for bread about halfway through our meal). Regardless, we were just happy to be out of the rain and gratefully ordered our lunches.
We began with our appetizers: a Caesar Salad and some Vegetarian Minestrone Soup. The salad was one of the best things about the meal for my dining companion. He greatly enjoyed the melty little cheese bits on the toast! The Minestrone was less-than-stellar for me; too many tomatoes, not enough taste. But all that was for the best, because I was about to enjoy one of the most wonderful entrees of the trip.
I ordered the Chicken Pipette (Wood-grilled Chicken over Pipette Pasta tossed with Artichokes, Peas, Roasted Peppers, and Sweet Onions in a Basil Four-Cheese Cream Sauce). So, I don’t know about you, but ever since I learned to say the word “carbonara,” I’ve been a fan of anything with onions, peas, and cheesy cream sauce! This entree didn’t disappoint. I am so…let me exclaim SO!…glad I chose to order this dish. It was huge (clearly), but phenomenal. Creamy, savory goodness in a big bowl. Perfect for a cold, rainy Florida day.
Now, one of the favorite menu items at Mama’s is the Chicken Parmesan, which I eagerly recommended to my dining companion. I’d had it a few years earlier and enjoyed it, and as he’s a Chicken Parm lover, I figured it would be perfect for him. Unfortunately, the dish was a bust (he says “disappointing;” I say “bad”). The biggest problem was the dry chicken, but the sauce wasn’t top notch, either.
This highlights one of my only complaints about Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano — inconsistent food quality. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve had fantastic meals here, and I’ve had dud meals here. I’ve read lots of reviews that proclaim this as a hidden gem, and others that label it mediocre. While I do recommend a meal at Mama Melrose’s, I have to be up front about that caveat — if you hit it on a bad day, don’t expect much; but if you hit it on a good day, you’ll be extremely pleased.
For dessert, we sampled the Crema Limone, a no sugar added lemon custard with berries and whipped cream, and the Honey Hazelnut and Ricotta Cheesecake with blood orange sauce (they’ve recently changed their dessert menu and it no longer includes this item; now there’s a chocolate cheesecake listed).
The Crema Limone was decent, but I think I would have enjoyed the extra sugar! I’m a big fan of light, lemon desserts, though, so this hit the spot for me.
The cheesecake was delicious as always. While this is clearly a mass-produced dessert, it still had a yummy flavor and fantastic texture; and the addition of the tangy blood orange sauce was a great compliment. I do look forward to trying the new chocolate cheesecake on the menu on my next visit, though!
Like I said, this restaurant can be grand, or it can be mediocre — you never really know how it’s going to turn out. BUT, I fully recommend you try this restaurant out regardless, because when it’s good, it’s fantastic! Definitely worth the gamble.
A great way to hedge your bets is to book the restaurant as part of a Fantasmic! Package. This package gives you access to reserved seating for the popular evening show in the Studios, so even if you don’t love the food, you can pretend that you were just paying for the reserved seating. Also, don’t forget that Mama Melrose’s is also available for the new Fantasmic Lunch Packages!
I’d love to hear your experiences with Mama’s. I know that after our last post about the restaurant, some folks chimed in mentioning that they’d be trying it soon — any reviews?