During his 17 years in Washington, former Capitals General Manager George McPhee and his wife, Leah, were loyal customers of Mamma Lucia, the small Italian chain that first opened in Rockville in 1992. When David Kottler became the manager at Mamma Lucia’s Bethesda location five years ago, the restaurant regularly filled delivery orders for six of McPhee’s players. Since then, more and more Capitals have gravitated toward healthier meals prepared by the team’s in-house chef and, before this season, Capitals director of team services Rob Tillotson called Kottler to inform him that only one player was interested in delivery going forward.
“Who’s the one?” Kottler asked, though he could’ve guessed.
As ESPN’s Emily Kaplan documented in October after Ovechkin became the first player in 100 years to open the season with a hat trick in consecutive games, Mamma Lucia remains a significant part of his diet.
“It’s a tradition from day one,” Ovechkin told Kaplan. “They have the Italian food always when we came to the rink, and it’s very delicious.”
A framed copy of the ESPN article, signed by Ovechkin, now hangs in all six of the locations that Kottler manages. Last week, Brooks Orpik brought more attention to Ovechkin’s Mamma Lucia obsession in an article for the Players’ Tribune, although the Capitals’ veteran defenseman, or more likely his ghostwriter, misspelled the restaurant’s name throughout.
“We have a chef here who prepares our pregame meals,” writes Orpik, who also referred to Ovechkin’s diet as “borderline inspiring.” “Ovi always orders the same thing — Mama Luccia, which is this pasta dish that’s like chicken parm with noodles, bread, cheese, the kind of thing you want to take a five-hour nap after eating. He makes a big display of it too. There’s no shame. It’ll be eleven in the morning, way before anyone is thinking about eating lunch, and Ovi will walk into the dining area yelling, ‘Mama Luccia! Mama Luccia!’ I don’t know. It’s weird, but it seems normal now.”
While the Players’ Tribune piece seems to erroneously suggest that the Capitals’ team chef prepares a Mamma Lucia-inspired meal for Ovechkin, Kottler assured me that he gets the real thing, straight from the source. The routine, at least for the past five years, hasn’t changed. On home game days, a chef shows up at the Bethesda location at 9 a.m. to prepare Ovechkin’s regular order. A driver hits the road with the food by 9:30 and drops it off at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“And then Ovi does whatever he does,” Kottler said. “I think [Nicklas] Backstrom likes to come over and grab some food from him sometimes.”
Now, about those four sauces. Back when Kottler was regularly sending six orders of chicken Parmesan to the Capitals on game days, he included meat, Alfredo, marinara and mushroom Marsala sauces along with the pasta, because players’ tastes varied. It’s unclear what Ovechkin does with all four of the individually packaged sauces, but after Ovechkin and his wife, Anastasia, dropped by Mamma Lucia for dinner one night earlier this season, Kottler has an idea about which one he likes best.
“They sat down and he said, ‘David, I want my meal,’ ” Kottler recalled. “I think she got a salad, but he wanted her to see what he eats every day. I brought out all four sauces, and I noticed the Marsala mushroom sauce was his favorite.”
While there are no immediate plans to add an “Ovechkin special” to the menu, Kottler, who is partial to Mamma Lucia’s veal saltimbocca, said there has been an uptick in chicken Parmesan orders since the Players’ Tribune article was published, including during Game 3 on Tuesday.
“It’s just gone crazy since then,” Kottler said. “Tuesday night at Mamma Lucia is buy one pizza, get the second one at $2.99. … I had a huge delivery night. A lot of people were getting two pizzas, plus a chicken parm dinner. Some of them even asked, ‘Can I have the Ovi meal?’ It’s been amazing.”
Kottler doesn’t want to get ahead of himself with the Capitals locked in a tight Eastern Conference finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he admitted he’s already imagined the possibility of hosting the Stanley Cup at Mamma Lucia.
“Sidney Crosby went to a Tim Hortons in Canada in his hometown and sat there all day with the Cup,” Kottler said of the Pittsburgh Penguins star’s day with the Cup in 2016. “Ovi’s not going to do that, because that’s not his personality, and he’ll probably take it to Russia. I say, hey, do whatever you want with it; just win us a Cup, but I would love it for a day.”
Lord Stanley’s trophy could hold a lot of Marsala mushroom sauce.