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A Cozy Meal at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano

This post is in honor of StudiosCentral.com‘s “Disney’s Hollywood Studios Awareness Week,” so…be aware! ;-)

Mama Melrose Lobby Decor

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.

Atmosphere
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.

Table at Mama's

Decor at Mama's

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!

Mama's Meat, Cheese, and Veggies

Pennants and Signs at Mama's

Hollywood Stars Immortalized at Mama's

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!

Streetmosphere Character Interacts With Guests

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.

Eats
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!

Show Kitchen at Mama's

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.

Bread...at long last

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.

Caesar Salad

Minestrone Soup

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.

Chicken Pipette

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.

Chicken Parmesan with Pasta

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.

Crema Limone -- No Sugar Added

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!

Cheesecake Dessert

Overall
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?

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18 Comments

  1. Jeni says:

    I’m generally not a fan of paying a lot just for pasta, but it did look good. Maybe I can sit at the kitchen and order an app or two? Any fab apps?

  2. Thanks for supporting International Hollywood Studios Awareness Week AJ!

    I found your review to be a pretty fair one. I’ve had great meals at Mama Melrose and ok meals. Not sure if there’s different chefs that frequent the place or what, but I’ve heard the same commentary….either it’s great or nothing special and I wish there was a rhyme or reason for it. Overall, I still recommend Mama Melrose because the prices and portion size are great and it’s somewhat easy to get an ADR.

  3. Molly says:

    I always forget about this restaurant until I see it and then wish I would have tried it. I’ll have to stop in the next time I am there. It looked like kind of a cute place.

  4. I have generally enjoyed my trips to Mama Melrose. One of my favorite things about it is, as you mentioned, the location – it’s dark and cool in there and you feel like you are truly getting a break from the park. I do enjoy that Caesar salad, and my entrees there have been hit or miss, as well. But I have been pleased more than I have been disappointed. I am also quite comfortable dining alone at this restaurant, and it’s my “go-to” when I am at DHS by myself.

  5. I was just about to comment pretty much exactly what Leigh said above. I love the atmosphere and it’s so easy to just relax and forget whatever madness is going on outside the doors. We were there in I believe April and I had the wonderful Caesar salad too along with the pasta with vodka sauce which was really great. (Sadly) I’m a big bread person in restaurants, so I’d be happy sitting there eating bread and just chilling out.

    Thanks for the nice pictures and review!

  6. AJ says:

    Jeni — I’m not 100% sure there’s seating that the kitchen (Matt?), but there are some decent apps. For around $12, you can get enough crispy calamari for a meal, and there’s also an antipasti platter. Unfortunately, they’ve moved their delicious flatbreads out of the appetizer section and into the entree space, but they’re still the same size/cost (about $12 each) and will easily feed one person as a meal.

    Matt — Agreed. I’ll still recommend Mama’s. It’s a great getaway, and when it’s good, it’s great.

    Molly — It IS a cute place! :-) Good word for it. It’s a different mix of Disney magic than anything you’re probably used to, also. Let us know how you like it!

    Leigh — Great point — I would definitely feel fine here as a solo! Plus, they have margaritas, which is always a good thing after a day of park touring… ;-)

  7. LBHart says:

    We ate at Mama’s for our Fantasmic meal last year and absolutely loved it. We must have gone on a good day!

    The dips and breads app was great (although I don’t know if it’s on the menu anymore), and the tomato and mozzarella salad was delish. We had the eggplant stack and a flatbread for our meal options…both were great!

    We had tiramisu for dessert, and I can honestly say it was one of the best tiramisus that I have ever eaten. I still crave that stuff and can’t wait to return. It’s on our list for our next visit.

    The “ambience” was cozy. We loved it!

  8. Jo says:

    We gave Mama Melrose a try in September and I was very disappointed. It wasn’t just me; everyone in my party disliked their food. We won’t be going back!

  9. Sarah says:

    AJ & Jeni – the seating at the kitchen is waiting area only, despite the fact they leave menus for review there. We found out the hard way about a month ago. We were craving bruschetta, had a seat, and were ready to order when we informed they don’t serve food there. We grabbed Italian sausage in a baguette at Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner instead. Lunch was a lit cheaper and quite tasty, not to mention portable!

  10. Meghan says:

    I agree completely with your review – sometimes it is amazing, and sometimes it is way less than stellar. The first time we ate here, I literally loved everything we had. However, the next two times seemed to decline. They took my favorite appetizer – the breads and spreads – off the menu, so that was disappointing. I have only ordered the pasta in vodka sauce, and I will say it has consistently been amazing. The pizzas are usually a hit with my family, though, and the last time we had them they were not good at all – very very greasy. The atmosphere of this place has always gotten us to come back, but I am not sure how much more my family will be willing to visit!

  11. Lillian C. says:

    I’ve been to Mama Melrose twice, once with a fantasmic dinner package and the other with my entire family (nine in our group). There isn’t anything I’ve tried that stands out. Actually, I can’t even remember the food. : ( We’ve mainly made ADRs here because all the other restaurants in DHS were booked. I’m not sure I’ll go again.

  12. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Mark me down as someone who was there on a “nothing special” day. I can’t say that anything was especially bad, but I can’t say that anything was particularly good. To me it’s an “ok” choice if you must have a sit-down meal and it’s all that’s left. The atmosphere is ok, food is ok, service is ok. It’s just… ok.

  13. Kelly says:

    Last time we were there (a good 5 years or more ago) everything was doused in garlic. My Mom and I got so sick from it, so we haven’t been back. Has it gotten better?

  14. Steph says:

    We went to Mama Melrose’s just a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. We especially enjoyed the calamari. I had the chicken parm and thought it was very good. My husband had a goat cheese ravioli which was quite tasty. My only minor disappointment was the tiramusu which was like a tiramisu shake, not like traditional tiramisu. Hubby’s crema limone was much tastier. We might have just got there on a good night, but it was good enough for us to want to return.

  15. Rich T. says:

    The food and service were so forgettable, that I can’t comment on any particular dishes. The only specifics I remember is that one member of my party did order a pasta dish, and she ended up leaving at least half of it because the pasta was actually burnt, literally black and un-chewable burnt.

  16. Elizabeth S says:

    Unfortunately, our visit to Mama Melrose last summer was very sub par. Our server was horrible. She tried to tell me that a DDP NEVER had included an appetizer (I had missed that this had been dropped, hence the conversation), and after I asked to speak with a manager, the server changed her tune on the past versions. Our food was very mediocre. We had also indicated that we were having a special celebration at this meal – DH’s birthday – and his special ‘magic’ was a crooked candle on his dessert. It was just an underwhelming moment during an underwhelming meal. Maybe we caught them at their worst, but it’s hard for me to want to go back!

  17. Shayne says:

    This was the first meal of our trip during the Great Florida Freeze of 2010 in January for Marathon Weekend. It was our first time eating at Mama Melrose. It was so doggone cold outside that we did less touring than we thought we would and ended up being 45 minutes early for our ADR. We were grateful that they seated us early without any problem.

    The meal was enjoyable. My husband had spaghetti with meat sauce, which they made for him on request because their spaghetti normally comes with some kind of seafood-laden sauce and he is not a seafood guy. I had the penne alla vodka which was dee-licious. I had remembered from your earlier review that you said the service was sometimes slow. I don’t remember it being problematic when we were there, though not outstanding, either.

    All in all, I’d go back again if we were looking for table service at DHS and didn’t want to spend 2 credits for Brown Derby. But I prefer Tutto Italia to Mama Melrose for Italian food in the world.

  18. AJ says:

    LBHart — I WISH I liked tiramisu! I’ll take your word for it that it was great. Thanks for corroborating on the “cozy!”

    Jo — I guess you were there on a bad day. Any particular dishes that stood out as bad?

    Sarah — THANK YOU for the info! :-) That’s awesome to know.

    Meghan — Thanks for the review and info. I need to try that pasta and vodka sauce next time it sounds like…but I don’t know if I can pass up the pipette!

    Lillian — Hmm…unmemorable is a good adjective for this place once in a while. Very interesting comment; thanks (as usual!).

    GG — Yep, it can definitely be mediocre at MM. I think everyone should try it twice, just to be sure they didn’t miss out on something spectacular, but I hear your point.

    Kelly — I didn’t notice a particular garlic-dousing, but I DO like garlic, so perhaps I was just immune to it ;-) People didn’t seem to be avoiding my husband and me after the meal, however, so maybe it wasn’t that bad?

    Steph — Great feedback, and thanks for the notes on the dishes. Calamari = another thing I wish I liked. It seems to be quite prevalent in WDW.

    Rich — How do you burn pasta???

    Elizabeth — That “crooked candle” part made me crack up, I have to admit! ;-) I got that a couple of times in Disney when we were celebrating our honeymoon. The worst part was — another couple next to us at one spot who were celebrating their anniversary got a whole schnazzy dessert for free!

    Shayne — I was hoping you’d comment with your first experience on this post. Sounds (again) like that vodka sauce thing is a go! I must try that next time. Tutto is probably a better bet, but for the money, Mama’s can be decent. It would be a toss-up in my book.

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