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Restaurant Review: Italian Family Recipes Make Mamma Roma Special

Sep 18, 2015 11:41AM ● By Cate Reynolds

Mamma Roma Restaurant

8743 Piney Orchard Parkway, Odenton // 410 695-0247 // 

By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Bring your appetite, silence your calorie counter, and prepare to indulge your inner Italian at Mamma Roma, a little jewel tucked into a corner of the Village Center in Odenton, where you will be treated like a VIP, no matter what your credentials.

Mamma’s is an endearingly authentic Italian family restaurant whose appeal extends beyond West County, attracting fans from far and wide—among them an Eastern Shore couple who make regular pilgrimages to this side of the bay just for the “taste of it.” I am a convert, who found this simple place to be a very special destination for the food and for the family whose motto is “Our passion is food. Our Love is Family.”

Meet the Romeo clan. There’s Papa Antonio (his Italian-accented voice is on the answering machine), Mamma Teresa (beaming as she greets customers ordering at the cash register), and their sons Bruno (keeping a close eye on every detail of the operation) and Rino (cooking in the restaurant’s open kitchen). This close-knit family migrated from Naples in 2005, opening a little pizza place in Baltimore before moving to Odenton a year later. Lucky are those who live nearby and appreciate authentic southern Italian cooking, although Bruno says word-of-mouth brings many others to their tables.

In the 90-seat dining room, the overhead lighting is mellow and tables well-spaced. A latticed screen separates this area from an aromatic open kitchen where you can hear the cooks pounding the veal and watch as they expertly hand-toss pizza dough, chop vegetables, and stir sauces. A heads-up to first-timers: orders are taken at the cash register before you are seated. Henceforth, attentive young waiters take drink orders and ferry your food to the table in appropriate sequence—whether pizza (attractively perched on an elevated pie plate), subs, calzones, or a multi-course dinner. I suggest the family re-think this procedure, as it creates some confusion as well as lines during busy hours.

That is my only caveat because everything else about our experience was praiseworthy. Nobody knows my name when I review restaurants, so that does not explain the warm welcome from Mamma Teresa. Nor does it explain the time she spent describing in her rich accent the extensive menu of: baked entrees (family recipes for eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, ravioli, ziti, manicotti); fourteen pasta possibilities; thirteen chicken, eight veal, and fifteen seafood specialties; and a half-dozen “Gladiator Selections” that honor the Romeo’s country of origin. All this in addition to the pizza, subs, Stromboli, and calzones listed on the back page.
Nor did my customary anonymity explain why Bruno approached me with a concerned look when I got up from the table to take a closer look at the murals of the Amalfi coast that decorate the walls. “Is everything ok?,” he asked, breaking into a broad smile of relief then I assured him it was—giving raves to the meaty mussels that had arrived artistically fanned out in a pool of garlicy white wine sauce studded with homemade croutons, and the New York-style thin-crusted Margherita pizza with medallions of melted mozzarella oozing into Mamma’s robust homemade marinara sauce.

While pizza (which originated in Naples) is what puts Mamma’s on the map, the extensive menu makes one wish for “one of each.” After the appetizers of mussels and Margherita, accompanied by a glass of Chianti and Pinot Grigio (house wines from Banfi, $4.99; there is also a short wine list and red sangria), we settled on entrees of eggplant parmigiana, veal marsala, lasagna, and the Seafood Adriatic recommended by Mamma herself. All entrees come with salads (fresh greens in a simple oil and vinegar dressing that gently flavored the carrots, celery, and tomatoes) and a basket of thick-sliced bread made in-house, slathered with herbs and garlic before toasting to crusty goodness.

Eggplant parmesan, another Naples-born dish, featured wafer-thin slices of eggplant layered with parmesan, topped with melted mozzarella, and moistened with just the right amount of Mamma’s vibrant sauce. Veal, pounded to fork-tender pieces and paired with a generous amount of mushrooms, was enriched with a smooth Marsala wine sauce that saturated the al dente bed of spaghetti.

Homemade lasagna (Mamma’s favorite) is a divine rendition of this hearty dish—gorgeous in its crown of luscious mozzarella and scarlet sauce. Scallops and shrimp in a light cherry tomato sauce thickened with bits of crabmeat and served on a mountain of linguini gets a green light, though next visit I will opt for garlic shrimp in Mamma’s signature lemon sauce, made by boiling whole peeled lemons before juicing the citrus and simmering with herbs and wine. Suffering from the excess of gluttony, we skipped house-made sweets of cannoli, tiramisu, or cheesecake. Next time.

Mamma Roma may not be “white tablecloth” dining (although the napkins are made of a crisp fabric) but the food is fabulous, the atmosphere inviting, and the service professional. It is an ideal choice for family or date night outings, with most entrees under $10 at lunch and under $15 at dinner. Portions are generous enough to share and a children’s menu (ages 10 and under) offers six choices in the $5 range.

In a world where “trendy” is the watchword, Mamma Roma is a refreshing non-conformer. The only surprises in store for the diner are the excellence of the food and the welcoming spirit of the family who buys local, speaks Italian, and shares their passion for excellence with their neighbors—where ever they may live. “Benvenuti!” is Mamma’s motto, and she means it.

Lunch is served 11 a.m.–4 p.m. daily except Monday; dinner 4–10 p.m. daily except Monday. Accepts major credit cards. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Carry-out available.

Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.