Atmosphere: Unimaginative, unhomey, but not unpleasant.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
Price range: Pizza, $3.25-$6, plus $1 per extra topping; dinners $6.45-$8.95; children half-price.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
Special facilities: Street parking; accessible by wheelchair; boosters and high-chairs available.
Any restaurant named Mama's had better have a lot going for it; patrons are likely to expect home cooking and chucks under the chin. This southern Italian establishment in the heart of high-rise Rosslyn manages to meet the challenge.
Located on the street level of one of those faceless buildings, Mama's is within half a block of several other similar-looking neighborhood eateries, all of which probably can make a living at lunchtime.Dinnertime, when office workers are home, may be another matter. But even on a Monday night, Mama's had a steady flow of customers.
The attraction is certainly not the decor.Mama's is yet another place turned out in red carpet, black vinyl booths and chairs, stucco walls and ersatz paintings of European street scenes. There is a jukebox inside the door, although the night we visited, soft Muzak played in the background.
But if Mama's looks like a dozen other suburban Italian (and Greek, andAmerican -- and just about anything else imaginable) restaurants, the food is much better than the canned and packaged stuff many such places pass off as Italian cooking. Pizza is freshly made, as is the pasta, and the tomato sauce is distinctive and well seasoned. Somebody in Mama's kitchen is really cooking, producing hearty southern Italian fare we enjoyed very much.
The menu suggests there is a true cook rather than a warm-up artist lurking at the stove. Along with the usual pastas with meatballs and sausages and a number of veal dishes, Mama's offers a few items not found on standard Italian menus: spedini, an appetizer of Italian bread and cheese, gnocchi and taglatelle, as well as baked fish. Dinner includes salad bar and bread and butter.
One can also order a meatball or sausage sandwich, or pizza; although we passed it up on our visit, the pizza wafting by us, with puffed crust and oozing cheese, looked good enough to satisfy somebody's Mama, and probably Papa and the kids too.
Our girls opted for spaghetti with meatballs, $6.45, a children's lasagne, $3.50, and children's ravioli, $3.50. We rounded out our sampling with an order of canneloni, $6.95, and veal scallopine France with fettucine alfredo, $7.95.
The attractive salad bar offers enough diversity to make it interesting and several items are worth noting. The standard bowl of iceberg sits next to a not-so-standard bowl of fresh spinach. Croutons -- obviously made in the kitchen -- were chunky and crusty, unlike the boxed, kibbled bits many places offer. Bleu cheese dressing was thick and delicious; olives were good Mediterranean ones.
The menu requests that you allow 30 minutes for Mama's specialities; all the dinners are listed as specialities, so we expected to wait a bit. Our orders arrived almost as soon as we finished our salads, however.
The children's servings were large, probably big enough to feed two small children or two picky eaters. The lasagne girl polished hers off, declaring it very good. The ravioli girl, accustomed to the canned variety, was less content with the large, overstuffed pasta on her plate and didn't finish it. Spaghetti and meatballs was a successful dish, especially sprinkled with the freshly grated parmesan.
My husband's meat-stuffed canneloni was a similar combination of tender pasta, seasoned filling, marmara sauce and melted cheese. My fettucine alfredo was good but not exceptional, and the same was true of the veal. The scallopine was lightly breaded and sauteed in lemon butter: pleasant but not distinctive.
Although the woman who served us barely cracked a smile, service was faultless and swift. The two tortonis, each $1.25, we ordered for dessert appeared without a hitch. Mama's also serves World's Best cheesecake, pie, and occasionally a reputable Italian cake. Expresso and cappuccino were on the menu, but unavailable.
Considering the quality of food and care in service, we felt well served at Mama's. Our tab for five was $41.65, including tip and tax.