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Mamma Roma Gives Customers a Warm Welcome

Nov 11, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo
By Mary Lou Baker   Photography by Stephen Buchanan 

If you prefer small, family-run restaurants over the chains, put Mamma Roma on your go-to 
list. Tucked into a corner of Piney Orchard’s Village Center next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, Mamma Roma is a sweet spot.  

And while Mamma Roma seems to have the spirit of a newcomer still—it opened back in 2005—it has only improved as the years have gone by as the Romeo family, who migrated from Naples, Italy, introduces residents to the comfort of good Italian food, drink, and the true meaning of benvenuti.

Mamma shows her hospitality by greeting guests from behind the cash register, where she takes their orders and directs them to seat themselves in the softly-lit dining room. A promise of speedy service is kept by a fleet of black-clad servers, each one a model of friendly efficiency. Renee, who ferried out our orders and frequently checked on our well-being, has been working with the Romeo family for more than 11 years. “I am not a family member, but they treat me like one,” he says.

“Mamma” Rosa Romeo may seem to be in charge, but her son, Bruno, oversees the entire operation—from the open kitchen to the dining room and chic little coffee bar that adds a cosmopolitan touch to the otherwise homey décor. Right beside the bar sits a glass case displaying a tempting selection of sweets—including 12 kinds of small cookies made by another son, Rino, a graduate of a culinary school in Italy who worked in several restaurants there before coming here with his family. 

Since our last visit several months ago, Rino has introduced a daily dinner special featuring a fresh fish he prepares in various styles. On this visit, it was wild caught tuna sautéed in a light cherry tomato sauce, then tossed with radicchio, pine nuts, green olives, and finished with a light cream sauce. The recipes are original and have recently been introduced to the menu, finding favor with enough patrons to keep the experiment moving forward.

But we focused on Mamma Roma’s staples—the recipes from the Romeo family traditions that account for most of its menu. We found the chef’s pasta e fagioli to be first-rate, served steaming in a large soup bowl and accompanied by the excellent Italian bread made daily on the premises. Another winner was Mamma’s favorite lasagna. It features layers of fresh pasta cooked just right and made to sandwich a generous layer of flavorful ground beef. 

If you like the robust tomato sauce that takes this classic favorite to new heights, you can buy a big jar for $8.95. That same sauce is what elevates plain old spaghetti and meatballs to way above average, adding its fresh basil flavors to both the pasta and the sturdy multi-meat spheres made with beef and pork. 

There’s more to life than red sauce in Rino’s repertoire, however. Lemon lovers will approve the buttery cream lemon sauce that coats the strands of spaghetti cushioning large shrimp. Mamma Roma has an extensive menu. It includes a good representation of seafoods (calamari, mussels, crabmeat, scallops), a generous and very fresh chopped Italian salad (prosciutto, salami, provolone, capicola, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers) ample for sharing, and all kinds of pasta (from gnocchi to cavatelli), along with 14 different chicken dishes and seven veal specialties.

To this embarrassment of riches, add Mamma Roma’s house-made pizza (New York or Sicilian style), a full range of stromboli, calzones, a super selection of hot subs, and a menu for kids. The restaurant does a thriving carry-out business, with a separate entrance to facilitate traffic flow.

But before we left the cozy confines of the dining room, with its soft Italian music and colorful wall murals of the Amalfi Coast, we extended the experience with selections from Piccolo, the restaurant’s new mini-café. Bruno made a lovely cappuccino, which we paired with some of Rino’s pretty little cookies, some centered with strawberries, raspberries, and apricot, and others flavored with almonds or rich European chocolate. Mamma Rosa and her family are full of pleasant surprises for a fan base that has grown far beyond the confines of its neighborhood.