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Feb 21, 2008 05:11 PM

Mama's MSP

thanks so much to Danny and the other local posters for the recs-- mama's (961 rice street st paul) is da bomb. i arbitrarily decided it deserves its own thread-- so here i go gushing about it:

for italian-american red sauce specialties & st-paul square-cut pizza, mama's may beat everything else in town, both sides of the river.

mama's is a little place, and they make the pizzas right in front where you walk in. their small dining area (16 or so tables) was filling up before 5 and packed by 5:15pm. first of all, every single member of staff comes from planet nice. we're being invaded. these people make the friendly midwestern hospitality workers in msp look like the denizens of a new jersey maximum security prison. genuine smiles, thank you's and your welcomes, from the sweet grandmotherly waitress shuffling to the table with your sodas to the bubbly waiter who refills them before you ask, to the tall teenager who looks up from his work behind the front counter, greeting each and every customer coming through the door with a thousand-watt smile. . . i watched a server at mama's tie a bib around the neck of an elderly patron with such genuine caring and tenderness that i had to dab at the corner of my eye with my paper napkin. wow these people are nice, i just can't say it enough.

secondly, there is an amazing mural. i won't even attempt to describe it--words fail me, so you must see it for yourself, but it sure adds to the happy ambiance. as Danny (i think) described in another thread, there are coin-operated t-v sets in all of the booths.

thirdly, the food is stellar. it's not italian, it's italian-american, so i don't want anyone coming after me when i say that the square-cut, thin crust pizza has great (not bland & floury, not limp) crust, great (not greasy, not bland) flavorful red sauce, great homemade sausage, and generous toppings popping through the cheese. the closest thing to a complaint i have about mama's is that they use canned mushrooms on the pizza, not fresh. imo mama's sets the bar for this regional type of pizza, and sets it high. the hot dago sandwich (mama is way too nice to use this anti-italian-american slur on the menu, so she spells it differently) is huge & phenomenal. dh describes it: "the perfect balance of seasoned meat, sauce, cheese and bread-- i haven't had a hot dago like this since it was served to me from (italian grandma's name's) hand." the dago is available several ways, dh prefers the cheese style. we're only a couple of visits in, so i'm looking forward to exploring the rest of mama's menu. the sides are cheap, plentiful and well-executed. three dollars for a small mountain of perfectly cooked onion rings? a two-dollar dinner salad (with tomatoes)??? heckuva deal. no wonder mama's is popular with all types of patrons-- from local teenagers on their first date, to octogenarian couples hungry for cube steaks and meatball sandwiches.

for chowhounds who may enjoy an adult beverage with dinner, mama's features a short wine list which includes american varietals, lambrusco, and three types of bartles and jaymes wine coolers. badda bing!!!

as if everything else wasn't perfect, at the end of the meal, the servers at mama's bring a mini-soft-serv ice cream cone to every diner, just to make sure everyone leaves the restaurant with a sweet taste in his/her mouth. the gesture perfectly encapsulates the hospitality at this little establishment. as you don your coat and make your way towards the door, each mama's employee thanks you again for stopping by, even while other waiting diners practically bowl you over on their way to seat themselves at your just-vacated booth. the sweet-tempered servers are already clearing and wiping the table, greeting the newcomers as if they are their first and only customers.

right now, mama's only takes cash, although they plan on taking credit cards when they get their new pos system in full gear. there is a cash-machine on-site that only has a $1 service charge, though.

mama's menu:

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  1. Thanks for the fabulous report! If only they served whole-wheat pasta I'd be there in a snap.


    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      oh no TDQ-- but wait, there's hope! i direct your attention to the last page of the menu-- you can buy mama's sauce by the pint, quart or gallon, and meatballs by the dozen or multiples of 4, take the chow home and have the mama's experience with your own ww pasta. . . and still get to support a lovely little family-owned restaurant :)

    2. Thakn you for the wonderful description. We love Mama's and are happy others are gearing about it

      1. it was zfwp, poor little zfwp, who has been trying to convince people to go to mama's

        he likes it for reasons different from most places he likes. mama's is always the same, this might not be good at some restaurants but at mama's it is just right. for those of you who went there before the water main broke some how it has managed to emerge both better AND just like it always was. zfwp reccomends the sausage sample plate.

        5 Replies
        1. re: zfwp

          my apologies zfwp! i first became aware of mama's when it was discussed on this thread:

          do you have any insights about menu items made in-house at mama's, for myself and other newcomers?

          1. re: soupkitten

            "do you have any insights about menu items made in-house at mama's, for myself and other newcomers?"

            heck no! i always eat exactly the same thing at Mama's the sausage sample plate. i was very serious when i said it is always exactly the same. it is the only restaurant that i go to to celebrate exactlythesameness.... ok danny likes it and he did post about it but it is the kind of place that you think belongs to you.. so i had to take credit

            1. re: zfwp

              right on! i think i got the sausage sampler plate the 1st time we visited because i wanted to try as many things as possible-- except that i got the deluxe one, with the raviolis on it (oink--lots of food, took more than 1/2 home). i agree that the sausage sampler is excellent.

              & mama's does belong to you, zfwp-- you were there first. . . you won't be mad if we all start flocking there if we promise to save you a chair, though? :)

            2. re: soupkitten

              This is the thread I remember, too. Danny made those meatballs sound so good! But, repetition is good if it points us all to the great chow!


              1. re: soupkitten

                If it makes both of you feel better, I think I first saw a mention of mama's around here a few years ago. There's been more talk about it lately because they just reopened, but these certainly weren't the first mentions of the place.

                As for best items to get, we're big fans of the mostaciolli with cheese. I get the sausage, and TCL orders hers with sausage on the side (there's no "meatless" option on the menu) so I have some extra for the inevitable doggie bag.

                The spaghetti is probably okay, but the mostaciolli seems like it would hold up a lot better under the mountain of cheese. We rarely stray from that standard order.

                When I stray, it is usually for the hot diego with cheese (I forget their name for it). The earlier posts described it well.

            3. Wow - Mama's sounds great. I'm going to try it instead of Vescio's, the next time I'm hungry for Italian-American food.

              I'm adding a places link so I can see where Mama's is.


              Mama's Pizza
              961 Rice St, Saint Paul, MN 55117

              1. It was funny to see this post here because I was just at Mama's today for lunch (it's on a regular rotation among coworkers and has been for years).

                I always get a mini-pizza, which I find just OK. One time I got spaghetti to go, and (I know I'm going to incur some wrath here) it was pretty awful. The sauce was decent, but the pasta tasted the way wet dog smells. Maybe it's because we use whole wheat or Barilla plus pasta at home, so I'm accustomed to a nuttier-flavored pasta. That's possible. Still, for Italian-American, I much prefer DeGidio's on west 7th in St. Paul. But I ain't hatin' on Mama's. It is a charming little place. And why no one else has copped that tiny ice cream cone gimmick I cannot figure out.

                Next time I will try Mama's sausage sampler - with an open mind!

                FYI, Mama's accepts checks too, in case you're not a cash person.