In my opinion, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano in Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always been hit or miss.
But on my last two visits, it was exceptional. I couldn’t wait to re-visit another year later and see if that was still the case. And, I gotta say, this place is still a hidden gem. I would, in all honestly, choose this restaurant over several signature restaurants on Disney property right now. Let’s take a look at the details.
When we arrived for a late night advance dining reservation during an Extra Magic Hours night, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano was teeming with hungry guests. You get a sense of Mama’s random story before you ever enter the doors. The Mona Lisa, wearing shades, in front of the Hollywood Sign? Yeah, I don’t get it either.
The flimsy “backstory” unfolds: Mama was once an aspiring actress who began to cook her traditional dishes for friends while she was trying to become a star. Her dreams of acting fame may have faded, but she found another route into the hearts of the masses — her cooking. And Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano was born.
Even if the backstory still doesn’t make any sense to me after all this time, that doesn’t mean the restaurant isn’t kind of fun to look around. It’s a mix of old world meets Hollywood…and every year that goes by means Mama’s decor becomes even more antiquated.
One of my favorite touches is the wall-o-1980s-stars. These headshots crack me up! It’s like a who’s who of the year the Studios opened. (I always have to scout out Mary Fran.)
Other decor elements feature kitschy goodies from Mama’s collection.
More chances to look for your favorite late 20th century actors await you at the restroom entrance. And check out this guy we saw above the doorway…
These little Olafs-on-a-stick are part of the Frozen promotion in Hollywood Studios! Guess someone thought he’d be right at home here on a gondola?
Walk through the large arch and past the kitchen, and the restaurant opens before you. Be sure to peek at the pizza oven as you walk by!
Once you’re in the dining area, pause to take a look around. The walls are covered with some fun stuff, including tons of albums. That’s right, kids — vinyl. (We realize you may have to explain to the small fry what those round black discs are. 😉 )
You could spend quite a while checking this place out.
Seating is basic and pretty comfortable. Bright red booths are worth requesting over the captain’s chairs surrounding square or rectangular tables. My favorite seats are by the window.
While chatting with the staff, we learned that a new menu would soon roll out. So if some of these dishes look delish to you (especially the Pork Chop, hint hint), run and get them. Now.
So now, it’s time to get down to eating! Like I said, I have been having really great meals here lately, and conversation with the staff may just explain why. It seems that Mama and her staff put a lot of care into these dishes; sauces and dressings are made in-house, from scratch. Nothing is pre-made, and that means that freshness and flavor are more guaranteed here than they would be at, say, your favorite buffet restaurant.
As for dinner, let’s get started with the Beverage Menu. It includes many items from the Standard Disney Bar Menu, but you’ll also find a couple of drinks that are unique to Mama’s — at least in name.
I decided to go for a Mama’s Margarita, a fairly traditional version of the drink that also includes Orange Juice to balance the flavors. (I requested no salt on the rim, as always.)
We also enjoyed the refreshing Italian Surfer during a past visit.
The Appetizer and Entree Menu is rather small.
Right away, the Spicy Tomato Butter that appears in a few different menu descriptions piqued our interest, so we asked our server to bring us a little to try with our bread. He cheerfully obliged.
I was also glad to see that they’re now serving butter with the bread in addition to the olive oil — yay! So, in the end, our warm bread was therefore accompanied by three different toppings! — Unsalted Butter, Spicy Tomato Butter, and Olive Oil. While the Rolls were fairly standard Disney moderate restaurant rolls, they were a fresh vehicle for all that fantastic flavor.
The spicy tomato butter was even better than we’d expected, but having it on bread just doesn’t compare to having it in an actual dish… .
More than one reader had insisted that the Oak-Fired Mussels were not to be missed! And so we began our meal by sharing an order. And, wow!!
The Spicy Tomato Butter, Pan Juices, and Grilled Onions combined with the Fresh Mussels for outstanding flavor. And, please…PLEASE…Mama, make that broth into a soup I can just eat with a spoon. (Save your bread to dip here!)
Next, I had to order the Charred Strip Steak once again. I had enjoyed it so much on my last visit that I had been dreaming about having it again (and I don’t say that very often about a Disney entree)! Served with Five-Cheese Baked Macaroni, Aged Balsamic-Shallot Butter, and a Chianti Wine Reduction that really pulled the dish together, this was just as perfect as the last time.
Honestly, it’s every bit as good — and probably better — than many of the steaks at Disney Signature Restaurant spots. Sigh. Isn’t it gorgeous?
And the Mac and Cheese is some of the best I’ve had on property — it’s even better than Jiko’s.
We also tried a new-to-us dish, the Braciola Di Maiale. The Bone-In, Herb-Roasted Pork Chop is topped with Fig Marsala Sauce, and served over Creamy Polenta and Swiss Chard. It was delicious, and perfectly prepared; the meat was juicy and every component on the plate was delicious.
It does appear that it will cycle off of the menu soon, but the Pork Saltimbocca (we’ve got a photo of it for you later in the post) looks to be a delicious replacement.
Soon, we were ready to turn our attention to something sweet.
We had seen most of these items before, so we decided to go a different route this time out and order another classic kids’ dessert — the Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake!
So cute, right? I mean, I’m not usually a big fan of making sweet food look like savory food…’cause it just confuses my taste buds…but I can imagine the kiddos really love this one.
The “Spaghetti” is made from thick Buttercream Icing — perfect for holding its shape atop the cake. The “Meatball” is basically a cake pop consistency, and chocolate of course. The “Sauce” was strawberry-flavored, and the cake itself was pretty basic chocolate cake. Nothing fancy, but your kid won’t care.
Since we are grownups, however, we also chose something a little more age-appropriate. This frosty glass of Spumoni Gelato included Chocolate, Vanilla, and Pistachio. We liked its simple presentation and the clean flavors. It’s the perfect “just a bite of something sweet” dessert.
And just like that, we were finished with another incredible meal, courtesy of Mama Melrose’s!
New Menu Items to Debut at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
So we got word that the menu will be making a change soon; and while we aren’t sure what will be exiting the stage to make way for new items, here are a few new dishes we will most likely be seeing soon. Remember — this is ALL subject to change!
To begin, Seared Fennel Crusted Tuna Salad will include Seared Sushi Grade Tuna, coated with a Fennel Seed Crust, and topped with an Arugula Salad and Olive Tapenade.
The current menu includes Pasce all’ Acqua Pazza, a dish that utilizes a Fish of the Day selection, but the new menu will change up the presentation a bit. Look for the new version to include Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Smoked Bacon, Mushrooms, Wilted Greens, and a Celery Root Beurre Blanc.
It appears that the current vegetarian entree, Whole-Wheat Fettucini, will be replaced with a Pappardelle Pasta featuring Roasted Butternut Squash Puree, Roasted Seasonal Mushrooms, and Swiss Chard, Parmesan, Thyme Butter, and Truffle Oil.
The menu will also include a new pork dish as well, as we mentioned. Look for Pork Saltimbocca. Pork Tenderloin is topped with Prosciutto, Fontina, and Fried Sage, and will be served with Mashed Potatoes and Broccolini.
In addition to these changes, three new desserts will debut: Tiramisu, a Cannoli Plate, and a Ghirardelli Chocolate and Cherry Torte.
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano has officially attained that coveted “Hidden Gem” status with me. Every meal I’ve eaten here in recent years has been a clear homerun.
And it is the food, to be sure. Freshly prepared, perfectly served, this restaurant has maintained consistency for longer than many Disney restaurants can in my experience.
But that’s not all it is! The staff here are pretty much fantastic. Every person we encountered was gracious and passionate about their restaurant. That only led to further excitement on our part. We were sad that Kevin, one of my favorite servers in the whole World, was off the night we visited. But the rest of the team more than made up for his absence.
If you haven’t had a chance to try Mama Melrose’s, or you’re looking for an excuse to return there, I say go for it. I know I’ll be dining there again as soon as possible.
Is Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano on your must-dine list? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think!