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Review: Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano

Today, it’s time to check back in on one of Disney’s more hidden eateries — Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

As I’ve observed before (and many of you have agreed), you just never know what you’re going to get when you dine at Mama Melrose’s. Sometimes it’s mundane, and sometimes it’s great — and it’s the “greats” that keep me going back for more! What will it be today? Here we go!

Atmosphere

Not much has changed in the atmosphere department since my last trip to Mama’s. We were greeted with the same general decor that we found on previous visits: warm, cozy, inviting, and slightly bizarre.

Atmosphere in Waiting Area

…The story goes that Mama came west from Italy to make her name in Hollywood. While the actress fame didn’t pan out, she opened her “Ristorante Italiano” and gained a place in the heart of her new city that way! And so, the interior reflects the journey from Italy all the way to Hollywood. Though I feel like there’s a hearty helping of New York City’s Little Italy in there, too.

Show Kitchen

We arrived on time for our Spring Break reservation, but we had a bit of a wait before our table was ready. (Full disclosure — I asked for one of the rare window-side tables so that my photos would come out a bit better, so that might have been why the wait was longer).

While we waited, the kitchen staff were busily assembling delicious flatbreads, so we took a few minutes to watch.

Flatbread Station

Mama’s boasts a woodburning oven, which makes for terrific, crisp-tender flatbread crust. And flatbreads are definitely something the restaurant is known for!

Making Flatbreads in Wood Oven

The dining room itself is the same sort of bizarre flavor plus cozy Italian grandmother’s kitchen. It’s like I’m peering into a quaint family restaurant in Little Italy!

Dining Room

And I think it always pays to look up in Disney restaurants, because the Imagineers never leave details out, not even when it comes to light fixtures (one of my favorite things to check out in any themed restaurant!).

Check out the mismatched shades on this chandelier. You can picture Mama making do with what she could find at the local tag sales!

Lighting

Unique Lighting

Along the walls are photos of Mama’s favorite celebrities, records from her favorite singers, and other fun Italy-meets-California memorabilia. However, those of us who know that Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened at the end of the 1980′s are starting to see a little wear in the decor…

The lobby sports head shots of some of your favorite 1980′s stars (luckily, my husband and I have been watching a lot of “Newhart” lately). And based on the pictures around our table, you’d think Roger Rabbit was an up-and-comer in the Disney character community.

Roger Rabbit Picture on Wall

Roger Rabbit Picture

Roger Rabbit Decor

One of my favorite parts of this table, though? This view!!!!

View from our Window

Ba ha ha ha!!! Oh, Kermie.

Eats

OK, on to the good stuff (not that 1980′s TV stars and giant Kermit eyeballs aren’t good stuff).

My last couple of visits to Mama’s have been good, but not “I-can’t-WAIT-to-go-back-there” good. I was content in only visiting once every couple of years to see if anything had changed, then move on to other restaurants.

But this meal was a bit different! Perhaps it was the great window table where I could actually see what I was eating. Perhaps it was the superstar service from Legacy-Award Winning cast member, Kevin (ask for Kevin — you won’t be disappointed). But we had a great time, and a great meal, at Mama’s.

The drink menu offers many of the standard Disney cocktails, but you will find a few surprises as well. For fans of Italian wines, there are many to choose from, both in the red and white categories. There are also a few pleasing choices from California vineyards (bringing in Mama’s California tie-in) that pair well with Italian food.

Menu - click image for larger version

Menu items provide a good variation of Italian favorites, even if there isn’t anything particularly original here. Sometimes, it’s all about the comfort food, you know?

Menu - click image for larger version

I decided to start my meal with a little libation, and settled on the Cali-Meets-Italy selection, the Italian Surfer. While the mixture of Parrot Bay coconut rum, Amaretto, and fruit juice was a bit sweeter that I normally like (a little sweet and sour, please?), it was really good, and so pretty with the fruit garnish.

Italian Surfer

We started with bread service, your typical Hollywood Studios bread roll accompanied by some olive oil and herbs. The bread was warm from the oven, though (thanks, Kevin!), which made it much more appealing than the “old/cold” version of the same.

Bread and Oil

For an appetizer, I couldn’t wait to sample a dish I’d heard a lot about from readers! Mama’s Antipasto for Two!

This truly was a standout. The selection of Genoa Salami, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, and Fontina — my absolute favorite — was both familiar and impressive. Portion size was perfect — finally, some BIG cheese servings at Disney! — and everything that I tasted (pretty much everything but the olives; you’re on your own there) was delicious.

A bazillion points to Mama’s for this app. Now showy or superfluous…just high-quality, rustic, and hearty.

Antipasto Platter

The Caesar Salad was somewhat standard when compared to the antipasto platter. This one neither wowed nor offended, and if you need a caesar during your Italian food meal, this will serve the purpose.

Caesar Salad

For our entrees, we decided to give the Chicken Parmesan another try. Chicken parm is one of my husband’s favorite dishes, after all. The last time we visited it was fine, but nothing to write home about.

But we were much happier with it this time. The chicken was juicy and a good temperature throughout, with the melted cheese brown and bubbling on top. Nestled on a perfectly-sized portion of spaghetti covered in marinara, there was a good pasta-to-chicken ratio in every bite. He was pleased. ;-)

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parm Close-Up

I chose the Penne a la Vodka — another highly-touted dish that I’d never tried before. While it was very good, I have ONE itty-bitty complaint. I REALLY really wish I had known from the get-go that all of the amazing bacon-laced, creamy tomato sauce had settled to the bottom! I would have searched for it much earlier in the journey!

Here’s a Tip from your Aunt AJ: be SURE to mix the pasta up with a few good and thorough flips before you dig in to the dish so that the yummy sauce evenly coats the penne. ;-)

Penne a la Vodka

Here’s another tip — don’t be afraid to play with your food. To bring even MORE flavor to the party, I added some of the Gorgonzola and Fontina from the antipasto platter into the penne. Once it got all melty and delicious it added a whole new dimension to the dish! YUM!

Mixing Antipasto Cheese into the Penne

When it came time to order dessert, we were interested to see a few new choices on the dessert menu. And, for us, chocolate was the name of the game that day!

Dessert Menu - click image for larger version

We started with the Chocolate Cannoli Cake. It was so beautiful on the plate!

Chocolate Cannoli Cake

Breaking through the Nutella ganache topping into the moist chocolate cake crust, we found a decadent, creamy, rich center, studded with candied orange peel. The tuile garnish on top was crisp and light, and offered a good contrast to the other components, including the Chianti red wine sauce! Way to go, Mama’s.

Canoli Cake Cross-Section

But, believe it or not, the designated superstar award of this meal, hands down, goes to the Chocolate Amarettini Cheesecake!

While this is clearly a pre-made dessert, it was truly one of the best cheesecakes that I have had in a long time. Seriously. I could have eaten seven of these. Had I known how good it would be, I might have been tempted to skip my entree altogether in favor of dessert for dinner!

Chocolate Amarettine Cheesecake

Don’t you want to just dive in?!?! Seriously — amazing.

Cheesecake Cross-Section

Overall

I have said it before: when Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano is on, it is a great experience. This was truly one of those times. From the impressive and generous antipasto, right through to the desserts, we could not have had better food.

To top it off, Kevin, our server, was a superstar! By the time we finished our meal, we felt like old friends. We’d also like to give a shout out to the folks who made it possible for us to have that coveted window seat. Thanks to them, we were able to get these fantastic food shots for you!

Have you tried Mama Melrose’s for the first time recently, or have you given it an encore opportunity? What are your impressions?

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27 Comments

  1. Kate says:

    Woo! So glad to hear this place is still going strong and not disappointing! We leave the UK tomorrow and this place is booked for my birthday dinner! Chicken parm all the way :)

  2. Chad says:

    Great review AJ. Mama Melrose was a last minute addition for our trip in September that we just made reservations for on Saturday. My wife is not an adventurous eater so having some “comfort food” Italian options was very appeasing to her. I hope our experience there is as good as yours was.

  3. Katie says:

    I used to work at Mama’s (best time of my life). There’s no one better than Kevin! So glad you enjoyed it. Those new desserts look yummy!

  4. Totally agreed with your review. Mama Melrose is a great restaurant for not only its really good food but also the value. Relatively speaking, it’s a rather cheap sit down meal, especially for the parks.

    Just further proof why Disney’s Hollywood Studios is indeed the best park at WDW

  5. Summer says:

    We’re trying Mama’s for lunch for the first time on our trip in just a couple of weeks, so this was a timely post for us, thanks! I love reading your reviews too! I find that about 99% of the time you end up ordering and reviewing exactly what I would have ordered too so it’s really helpful. Here’s hoping we visit when Mama’s is “on” :)

  6. Alan says:

    A long, long time ago, on our honeymoon, we stumbled across this somewhat hidden spot. This was in the very early days of the Studios, before the dining plan and when reservations weren’t necessary during the daytime. This old-timey Italian restaurant, that we felt like we “discovered” it, just was perfect in that context, and is now our neighborhood pasta joint even though it is 600 miles away. While the food and service has been exceeded by Tutto Italia and Via Napoli it still is someplace to at least try and to enjoy the flavor of the spot and the flavors of the food.

    They have tweaked the menu a bit lately and the changes appear to be good.

  7. Jenny says:

    I’m so happy that your meal was great. Sadly our meals haven’t been on their great side. Food soso and service well it left a sour taste in our mouth. Maybe some day we will try it again. I will say that the desserts did look just mouth watering.
    :)

  8. Meghan says:

    Thank goodness – the last few times I’d eaten here, I was REALLY disappointed. I am still sad the “breads and spreads” was taken off the menu several years ago. I always get the Penne ala Vodka, and I am rarely disappointed. Thanks for the good news!!

  9. AJ says:

    Kate — Can’t wait to hear what you think of Mama’s! Have a great birthday!

    Chad — I hope so, too. Have an awesome trip!! Are you looking forward to any other great Disney restaurants?

    Katie — How fun!! Agreed; Kevin was the best. It’s great to hear that his co-workers think so, too.

    Matt — It is indeed a decent value when it comes to dining inside the big purple gates!

    Summer — Ha ha! I’m glad to have found an ordering twin! Enjoy your meal!

    Alan — Isn’t that the best, when you “find” a new location that feels like your special spot? That’s how we feel about Crew’s Cup! ;-) Yes, I think you guys will like the menu updates. Let me know on your next visit.

    Jenny — I’m sorry to hear that. I hate when that happens, and it really does ruin a restaurant for you for quite a while. :-(

    Meghan — I look forward to your reviews after your next stop there! :-)

  10. Chad says:

    AJ, I am especially looking forward to this trip in regards to restaurants. We went to Disney for our Honeymoon in 2008 but were very restricted by budget so our table service dining was limited to Sci Fi and WCC. This upcoming trip is going to be a splurge trip for us food wise as we figure it will be our last trip before kids. We upgraded to the Deluxe dining plan and tried to mix atmosphere or fun restaurants ( Sci Fi, Hoop De Doo, Coral Reef) with great food restaurants (Yachtsman, Cali Grill, Narcoossees).

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I would LOVE to split that anti-pasto with you…I LOVE OLIVES! LOL!

    And I love a good vodka…sauce.

  12. Bill White says:

    I have passed by this place COUNTLESS times. The so-so reviews I have read online have kept me away.

    This review changed everything- After seeing the pictures of those desserts I am definitely eating here when PW and I go to the Studios next month! The Antipasto looks good too. Since I also dislike olives, I wonder if you can request more cheese as a substitute? :^)

  13. AJ says:

    Chad — YUM! I love your choices! I can’t wait to hear what you think. Send me an email with your favorite restaurant if you remember. :-)

    Elizabeth — Ha ha!! The olives are all yours!! (I’m not splitting the vodka sauce.)

    Bill — Great! Let me know what you think! And don’t forget to ask for Kevin. (And let me know about the MORE CHEESE!)

  14. Shayne says:

    We’ve eaten here only once, but enjoyed our meal. I also had the penne alla vodka and it was pretty darn good. And that cannoli cake looks delicious!

    For Italian at WDW, we prefer the Epcot restaurants, but Mama Melrose is a nice standby too!

  15. Michele Kidwill says:

    We will be there this Friday and can’t wait! Found it several years ago and LOVED IT! The atmosphere is quaint and kitchy but fun and the food has always been great. Had a great birthday dessert last April that was a flourless pound cake or something with fruit and it was to die for – looks like it’s not there anymore. :-( We are on the DDP and doing the Fantasmic Package so will report back on how well it goes.
    Is that Deidre Hall from Days of Our Lives in the first Roger Rabbit photo? Sure looks like her – gonna have to find it myself. :-)

  16. JoAnn says:

    I haven’t tried here but I’m seriously thinking about it just for that drink and the desserts.

  17. What a great review. Great pics, too. It’s good to see Mama’s moving in a positive direction.

    I like to spot the Legacy CMs and say “hey, congratulations” like they do when you have an anniversary button on.

  18. @Aaron_Ardle says:

    Holy carb coma Batman! That appetizer is right up my alley. Nice photos of the desserts too.

  19. AJ says:

    Shayne — Agreed. I think Mama’s gets ignored a lot of the time because the other moderately priced DHS restaurants have so much pizazz. But it really is a great spot to head for a meal.

    Michele — Ha ha!! I can’t wait to hear what you have for dessert this time!!!

    JoAnn — Ooh, my kind of visit! Drinks and desserts (and don’t forget the antipasto…it’s a must).

    Jym — That’s a great practice; those Legacy winners are superstars.

    Aaron — I know, right?! But we did get some protein with that cheese and meat plate! ;-D

  20. Jill says:

    hey guys happy Tuesday! On our last trip we ate at MM and we enjoyed it very much. I had the Penne ala Vodka and i found it to be spicy, (Peppery). But I liked it it was different and yummy!

  21. Joey says:

    Those desserts and entrees look amazing!

  22. Doug says:

    Thanks for the review! I’ll be down there in 2 weeks and have made a reservation for the evening I get there. Hoping I’ll have a good experience!

  23. Jamie says:

    I, too, was a Cast Member at Mama’s for some time, and I loved every moment of it! I was a line cook, but formed many relationships with FOH Cast Members as well. Kevin is definitely one of the best servers I have ever had the pleasure of working with! So glad to hear such positive feedback about a restaurant that will always hold a very special place in my heart…

  24. Chloe Simmons says:

    This was the first “adult” Italian restaurant I had ever eaten at. I was about 14 years old and for some reason I didn’t notice the longer tines on the pasta forks. Our waiter was nice enough to show us how to use the spoon to twirl the pasta on the fork before you eat it to save time slurping or cutting. WELL…I then successfully bit down as hard as possible on the end of the fork and it felt like I shattered all of my front teeth. After a panic attack and about 30 minutes of crying we left Mama Melrose’s…never to return (possibly not allowed to return) again! I am now in my mid 30′s and my family still brings up “The Fork” story every time we are at DHS.

    Glad to know the food is still good but I will just have to take your word on it.

  25. Joey B. says:

    Chloe- I had a similar experience at the Garden Grove character breakfast when I was a wee lad. I bit down on a fork and chipped my tooth! My family probably does not ever think about it, but I certainly do!

  26. Terri says:

    Very disappointed in the food portion and the service was horrible. We visit WDW at least 2-3 times a year and had always wanted to eat here based on what was written. Finally got a reservation and was not impressed at all. When we went ro speak to a manager we were blown off. Not the normal Disney guest service. Think twice about spending your hard earned money here

  27. laurs says:

    We were just here and we had a great experience. Everything was terrific from the service to the food. We ate here as part of the Fantasmic package and that worked out smoothly. We will definitely come back again sometime.

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