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Review: Lunch at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano in Disney’s Hollywood Studios

So, it had been far too long since I’d been to Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, and it was high time to head back.

Located in the Backlot area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Mama’s is a hodgepodge, with all sorts of Hollywood memorabilia smooshed into an old fashioned Italian restaurant.

The food here can be inconsistent (surprise), so you never really know what you’re going to get. But my past two visits have been great, so I was excited to check it out again.

Let’s take a look at my most recent lunch here, and see where this meal falls on the Disney Restaurant Continuum. (Wait til you see the picture of the STEAK!!!)

Atmosphere

Mama Melrose’s is, well, a little strange. At first, it appears to a typical old-fashioned family restaurant that might be found in any large city’s Little Italy section.

Dining Room View From Outside

But once you move beyond the brick facade and really start to look around at the curious surroundings, you might inquire about the backstory to clear up the confusion.

The story behind Mama Melrose’s is a little “We Made This Story to Fit the Space.” But here goes.

A young girl from Italy with stars in her eyes makes her way across the US, in hopes of finding fame and fortune in Hollywood. But during her starving artist days, she found that her cooking was more successful than her acting.

Dining Room Inside

And so, she opened a restaurant at the urging of her friends in a vacant warehouse that had previously been used to store film equipment. Nicknamed “Mama Melrose” by her patrons, she gained the fame she was looking for — but it came via her authentic Italian cooking.

Since Mama was a poor, struggling actress — and a recent immigrant to boot — the dining room is set up with what she could find to make it cozy and comfortable. Low lighting from strands of lights give it a soft glow. (And who doesn’t love those little white lights?)

And chandeliers are mismatched — sometimes, right down to the glass globes around the bulbs.

Mismatched Shades

Quirky Lighting

Wall hangings celebrate Los Angeles, Mama’s new home, and her roots in Italy.

Wall Hangings

Of course, it is an Italian restaurant, and so you’ll also see foods — dried and cured sausages, cheese, pasta, and fruits and veggies — hanging around as well.

Food Decor at Mama's

Walls also hold pictures of some of the celebrity clientele. Of course, Mama’s opened in the 1980′s with the opening of Hollywood Studios, so a few of the photos might only be familiar if you’re a child of another decade. :-)

Roger Rabbit and Deidre Hall

A view through the large windows reminds you that you are, in fact, on a studio backlot, however.

View From the Dining Room

Seating is mixed. You’ll find wooden tables and chairs, but there are also some comfy bright red booths along the walls.

Booth Seating

The kitchen is an open area, so you can watch the culinary staff make the magic while you’re waiting.

Show Kitchen

The woodburning oven is a centerpiece of the kitchen, and comes in handy for making those killer flatbreads.

Wood-Fired Oven

While we waited for our table, we actually watched the staff make a few…which pretty much guaranteed I’d be ordering one when we were seated.

Creating Flatbreads

When we arrived, I asked for two things: 1.) A table by the window (it’s very hard to get good food photos at Mama’s with such low lighting), and 2.) Kevin for our server. Sadly, we didn’t get Kevin (who’s great — you must request him when you’re there!), but we did get that window table!

Now…on to the fooooooood!!

Eats

A glance at the menu told me that things had definitely changed a bit since my last visit to Mama Melrose’s.

I was seriously — seriously — bummed to see that one of my favorites, Mama’s Antipasto for Two, was no longer on the menu. But there were still some of the dishes that the spot is well-known for, plus a smattering of new items. And of course, you’ll find Italian standards, like Chicken Parmesan and Spaghetti with Meatballs.

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

I also snapped a pic for you of the new (to me, anyway!) Lightning McQueen and Ariel Kids’ Cups, with these neato little clip-on lights! Go ahead! Order one and say it’s for your niece or nephew!

Kids' Cups

Soon after we ordered, our server brought a Bread Basket filled with Rolls, and served with Seasoned Olive Oil.

Breadservice

Since the antipasto platter was no longer available, I decided to make good on that flatbread craving, and we ordered the Carne d’Italia Flatbread.

With a combination of Pepperoni, house-made Italian Sausage, and Pancetta, on top of the spicy Marinara and Cheese, this was good; but I wish it had been cooked a bit longer. It had that limp, not-left-in-the-pizza-oven-long-enough feel to it. Also, if you order these, expect less flatbread, and more pizza. The crust proofs up a bit more than a cracker-like flatbread crust.

Carne d

My friend decided to try one of the newer menu items that we hadn’t seen before. She went with the Whole Wheat Fettuccini.

The vegetarian dish combines sauteed Zucchini, Squash, Olives, Spinach, Garlic, and fresh Thyme with Whole Wheat Pasta. It’s finished with Vegetable Broth, and a garnish that includes a bit of soft Goat Cheese and Olive Tapenade. Pretty, huh?

Whole Wheat Fettuccini

The dish was surprisingly hearty and original! Even though I’m not much of an olive eater, I thought the fresh colors were gorgeous. My friend really enjoyed the dish.

Whole Wheat Fettuccini -- Up Close

It had been a while since I’d had a steak, and I’d never had the one here despite it being recommended over and over again by friends and DFB readers. So I went for the Charred Strip Steak with Five Cheese Baked Macaroni, Aged Balsamic Shallot Butter, and Chianti Wine Reduction.

Whoa.

Charred Strip Steak

I’m a big fan of the steak-and-mac-and-cheese combo, so I was pretty excited to dig into this! The plate was really gorgeous, with all the awesome components and the extra bit of green from the Sauteed Spinach.

Charred Strip Steak -- Side View

The Macaroni and Cheese is a baked version, so it’s got that thick consistency and concentration of flavor that comes from the process, with a bit of yummy crust on top.

Charred Strip Steak -- Close Up of Five Cheese Baked Macaroni

The steak comes finished with a very generous knob of Compound Butter on top — made flavorful with the addition of Balsamic Vinegar and Shallots. It combines beautifully with the Chianti Reduction. The two add another level of richness, and I love it!

Seriously, there is so much going on here, and it’s all good! It was even cooked just right — the perfect medium rare. I have another contender for top steak in the World now! I LOVED THIS!

Charred Strip Steak -- Amazing Butter on Top

It was an amazing meal, but I definitely left room a little room for something sweet!

A close look at the dessert menu revealed that there was exactly…nothing new here. That said, Mama’s is one of the only Italian restaurants that DO actually have some decent dessert items. We went for ones we’d tried before, but enjoyed.

Dessert Menu -- Click to Enlarge

First up was the Chocolate Amarettini Cheesecake. It was the sleeper hit of my last dinner at Mama Melrose’s, and I was happy to see it was still there.

Dreamy Chocolate Cheesecake is built on a Chocolate Cookie Crumb Base (yesss!), and is then garnished with Almond Cream and Amarettini Cookies. Creamy and fabulous, I know that it’s pre-made — but it’s still a very good cheesecake.

Chocolate Amarettini Cheesecake

We also went for a reboot of the Chocolate Cannoli Cake.

Ok, so this shot is a little far away. But I had to pan waaaaayyy back to get the entire garnish, which seems sort of like a cross between Sweet Pasta Dough and a Tuile. It’s pretty and grabs your attention.

Chocolate Cannoli Cake with Garnish

The Cake itself is moist and rich with dark chocolate, and hiding beneath a thick layer of Nutella Ganache is a traditional Cannoli Filling. The candied citrus peel in the creamy filling lends a nice flavor contrast.

Chocolate Cannoli Cake

And the Chianti Red Wine Sauce is the perfect combination with the dark chocolate.

Chocolate Cannoli Cake -- Cross Section

It was good, but small. The Cheesecake is still the winner.

Overall

While I think this spot is first in line at Hollywood Studios for a re-vamp (come on — the 80′s TV stars on the walls have GOT to go), I still really enjoy this restaurant. And now that I’ve had three good meals in a row, I’m ready to start recommending it again!

It’s often packed, so be sure to book a reservation here!

Is Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano a favorite destination of yours? Let us know what your menu favorites are!

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24 Comments

  1. Ken Alegre says:

    After this review, it looks like I need to try this restaurant. I’ve always overlooked this at DHS.

  2. JoAnn says:

    My friends who I go to WDW with weren’t impressed with it so I always leave it off the list when planning our ADRs for our annual trip. I’ll have to add this to the list for next year when I have a couple of solo days before they arrive.

  3. Kev says:

    Mama Melrose’s never seems to have the consistency that it ought to have.
    We often dine here, mainly because the chances of a walk-in at the Brown Derby are scarcer than a Soarin Fastpass lol.

    The food can be dazzlingly great or drably miserable, depending I guess on who’s working that day.
    The menu is great and the management of the place has definitely improved over the last year or so to be fair.

    We had a very awful server some time ago, his attitude was truly embarrassing and not at all in keeping with the Disney dream, but to our amazement, we returned some months later only to find that he seemed to have been ‘rebooted’ into Disney mode.

  4. Jeff says:

    AJ, Where do you find something like the back story to a restaurant? Is it something you have to ask the staff about, or is it written somewhere in the restaurant or on the menu? Whether interesting or believable, it sometimes can help explain certain aspects of the decor, such as the odd sized chandelier globes you mention.

  5. Kat says:

    My husband and I went to Mama Melrose’s in May with the Fantasmic! package on our honeymoon. We’d heard that it could be inconsistent, so we were a bit nervous, especially with the fact that the only dinner reservation time we could get was 4:50 (way earlier than we usually eat dinner!), but we had an absolutely wonderful meal! Our server was awesome and the food was sublime–though the portions were HUGE! They even brought us out complimentary glasses of sparkling wine for celebrating our honeymoon. We will definitely go back and hope to have a similar experience!

  6. Janelliz says:

    I too was nervous to try Mama Melrose. But I was blown away this past Sept. The food was fantastic! Everyone at my table couldn’t stuff the food in our mouths fast enough!

  7. Alan says:

    Mama Melrose has a special place in my heart. It is one of the first restaurants my wife and I ate at on our honeymoon many years ago. My wife loves Italian food and immediately fell in love with the decor, ambiance and food in this restaurant that reminds both of us of the neighborhood places on Long Island which we both grew up with. Even though this eatery has been surpassed with some of the newer Italian restaurants ( Tutto Italia etc.) we will never stop coming here at least a couple of times each trip. I love that they have changed many of the dishes as it keeps it fresh even though we’ve lost a few of our old favs.

  8. Scott from Solon, OH says:

    I always pause after entering to take in the aroma from the wood fired oven! Traveling solo, I enjoy exploring aaaaallll of the kitsch and memorabilia strewn about the walls, the ceiling, and wherever….. Wood fire, pasta sauce- I’ve always enjoyed my meals at Mamas. Thanks again for an enjoyable reminder!

  9. Jenn @ Fairest Run of All says:

    I went here in 2008 and found it fine but not impressive. That fettucini dish looks amazing, though – I may need to come back sooner than I expected!

  10. Cheryl Donofrio says:

    We’ve been there 3 times, and the last two were disappointing, so we haven’t been back for a few years. We don’t usually stay for dinner in the Studios, because we’ve been disappointed at the other full service restaurants, too – all for different reasons. After looking at the new (to me) menu, and reading your review, I’m definately ready to give them another try! The steak and the dessert both looked wonderful. Mmmmmmm. Chocolate cannoli cake! And they didn’t do the usual thing and put raspberry sauce on it. Hurray!

  11. Christy Davidovich says:

    I just dined at Mama Melrose yesterday afternoon and it was one of the worst dining experiences I have had in a long time. We were there 10 minutes prior to our reservation to check in and waited an additional 20 minutes to be seated. After being seated the server came to take our drink order but did not return for 15 minutes with our drinks. These were our soda’s wine, and iced tea, he didn’t even bother to bring waters to the table as we just sat there for the 15 minute duration. At one point a lady at another table was just standing up in the middle of the restaurant to get a servers attention because the service was so poor. I had the Osso Bucco, which was disappointing, there was no depth of flavor, the pork was very bland. The mashed potatoes were watery. The server did manage to bring rolls over to our table but it was after half of our party had finished their meals. At this point he might as well just not even brought anything over. The desserts were good, we got an assorted dessert tray because we were doing the fantasmic special. We ordered a coffe and a cappuccino before the desserts came out but the server never brought it out and at this point we decided to wrap up this 2 and a half hour long disappointment. I will never go back for the service alone, it was bad.

  12. Frederick says:

    Great review of the lunch, and great photos. Everything looks fabulous. We ate there for the first time in 2012, and I wondered why I waited so long. I loved everything about Mama Melrose, from the menu to the decor. We sat a little close to the open kitchen, which was noisy, but that’s my only complaint. I can’t wait to eat there again, perhaps for the Fantasmic Dining Package.

  13. Essie says:

    I’ve never been here, but it certainly looks very good and now I’m interested. That steak looks like a far less expensive (but delicious) alternative to Le Cellier’s Filet with butter truffle sauce that I like. The veggie dish also looked very nice as does the choc cheesecake dessert. I always try a couple new eateries each trip, and this place looks like a winner. Thanks for the research!

  14. Kyla Sanders says:

    Just got back from Disney World, where we had our last dinner at mama’s. Let me tell you, the steak is phenomenal! Rivaled only by the steak at Monsuier Paul’s in Epcot with the black truffle topping. The two deserts mentioned here are also a huge yes!! My husband ate their calamari/seafood spicy pasta dish and loved every bite. We litterally scraped our plates clean. If you have children make sure to order the spaghetti and meatball cupcake for their desert, it is as yummy as it is adorable. And you MUST ask for Kevin, we tipped him over the 20% gratuity as well as filled out an applause letter for him at the end of our meal. He is more then magical and really made out last dinner something to remember. He is so friendly and sweet, yet he gets the job done! My husband has diabetes and drinks 10x more then your average Joe but he never had to wait for a refill, all our food came at just the right moment, we were never rushed, and havin ordered coffee and water at at least 6 other restaurants I have to say that Kevin was the first to keep me supplied with refills. He is a shining star! Mama’s was my favorite dining experience, and I reserved it just that day due to a change in park plans during our stay. A++++!

  15. Sandy says:

    Mama Melrose’s is always on our must do list. It’s my niece’s favorite. We were there last week and I was just as good as it always has been. We’ve had numerous entrees and enjoyed them all. It is definitely a winner for us.

  16. tkcanada68 says:

    I believe this restaurant was originally supposed to be Muppet themed but when Jim Henson died around the time that the Muppet area was being built the Muppet theme was abandoned.
    I would love to see it go back to this original idea.

  17. Christopher J says:

    Never been but the backstory alone makes me want to go. Thank you AJ!

  18. Rebekah says:

    We ate there yesterday and absolutely loved it! I had the steak (delish!) and my husband had the seafood arrabiatta. He loved it as well. Out kids each had spaghetti. We had the Fantasmic dinner package which included an appetizer for each of us as well as a dessert trio. It was one of the favorite meals from our trip and we’ll definitely be back next time! (Oh and the dinner package seating was awesome. Right down front just a little to the right from the center! Awesome!)

  19. Lucy says:

    Really bummed about the antipasto, it’s my favorite app at WDW :(

  20. Catherine says:

    We’re trying this place for the first time in November !! Cant wait !!

  21. Holly says:

    Do you know if they offer a gluten free option for the pasta?

  22. Tina says:

    I remember going here when we went on a graduation trip with our youngest daughter. Now we go with our grandchildren. Memories of the past and more memories being made in the future.

  23. Matt Hochberg says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Mama Melrose and think it’s an underrated sit down restaurant. Looks like your experience backs my thoughts up.

    The veggie dish and steak really do look amazing.

  24. Lynne B says:

    I just ate here last week. Our dinner was amzing. I have never had bad service or food here. My cousin got the steak and it is as good as A.J. says. The calamari and mussels were to die for also. Save your bread to sop up the mussels broth. Yummo!!! I do miss the salmon on risotto, but whatcha gonna do.

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