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!!!)
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.
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.
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.
Wall hangings celebrate Los Angeles, Mama’s new home, and her roots in Italy.
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.
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. 🙂
A view through the large windows reminds you that you are, in fact, on a studio backlot, however.
Seating is mixed. You’ll find wooden tables and chairs, but there are also some comfy bright red booths along the walls.
The kitchen is an open area, so you can watch the culinary staff make the magic while you’re waiting.
The woodburning oven is a centerpiece of the kitchen, and comes in handy for making those killer flatbreads.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
Soon after we ordered, our server brought a Bread Basket filled with Rolls, and served with Seasoned Olive Oil.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And the Chianti Red Wine Sauce is the perfect combination with the dark chocolate.
It was good, but small. The Cheesecake is still the winner.
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!