Friday night “date night” was moved to Tuesday because Haley bought tickets to an event near downtown Nashville. Since she bought the tickets, it was my turn to choose where to go for dinner. Of course, my brainstorming of where to dine was over as soon as it began. I received an e-mail from Haley that morning giving me two choices for dinner that evening. The first was Mama Mia’s, which was given rave reviews by word of mouth & was voted “Best Italian Restaurant” in 2009 by the Nashville Scene magazine. The other was some bar famous for music venues. Looking at the web page for the latter, I decided to base on two factors: #1, we already had our entertainment for the evening and #2, I didn’t want bar food (it was date night!).
Mama Mia’s is a local Italian restaurant located just off Harding Place that has supposedly around for many years. I personally never heard of it and didn’t know where it was. Despite the fact that I was using GPS navigation, I still missed it because it was located in the same location as a gas station with minimal parking spots available.
The facility itself is quite small & quaint and I would consider it a “hole in the wall”. The stucco & decorative brick walls are ornamented with large amateurish paintings. Wooden tables and booths with glass tops over tablecloths were scattered all around the restaurant. After waiting at the front desk for at least 5 minutes without even seeing an employee, I knew that service was going to be slow. There were 5 other parties already dining while we were waiting. We finally got seated by a waiter who was not ours and then were not seen for about 10 more minutes. We were placed close to the back of the restaurant and I could barely hear the music over the loudspeaker due to the deep humming of the industrial refrigerator in the back. Finally, another waiter (who did not provide his name) came by and got our drink order. We didn’t get to place our order with him probably another 5 minutes. With current level of service, I thought our food would take forever… but to my surprise it didn’t take too long.
Haley ordered Chicken Florentine, a sautéed chicken breast simmered in a creamy parmiggiano reggiano & baby spinach sauce over fettuccini noodles. I ordered the “Veal Saltimbocca alla Romana con Vino Bianco”, which was thinly slices of veal with prosciutto, fontina cheese, crimini mushrooms in a sage white wine sauce. The dish also came with “Gnocchi di Espinaci” (spinach gnocchi).
Shortly after placing our order, we received 2 warm pieces of bread already drizzled with olive oil & herbs as well as our salads. The bread was freshly baked, having that nice warm temperature to it. However, I think it was drizzled with too much olive oil… almost like when you go to Fazoli’s and you get that breadstick that has been sitting in the butter while waiting to be picked out. The olive oil was soaked all over but despite this, it was still good because I like lots of olive oil (and butter) on my bread. I just think others may not like that as much. As for the salad, it wasn’t anything special, just a simple garden salad consisting of greens, carrots, tomato, and black olives… however the dressing (homemade Italian) was superb. The vinegar wasn’t too overpowering and there wasn’t too much oil. It was a really good & light dressing with a just the right amount of herbs. Haley always gets ranch dressing with her salad but after tasting mine, she requested a side of Italian dressing. We finished our salads & bread relatively quickly but ended up waiting several minutes before we saw our waiter again. He was tending to other tables and somewhat neglecting ours. Our drinks remained empty several times and he didn’t pick up our plates until after our entrees arrived. If it was any other day, I would’ve been upset but we were in no rush to leave.
When our main courses arrived, I was a bit caught off guard. I expected there to be some kind of pasta with my entrée (like Haley’s) but it was just the slices of veal and sauce. However, I did get a side of gnocchi, so I suppose that was my “pasta” dish. Taking a bite of my veal, I was greeting with the tang of white wine coupled with a rich creaminess from the cheese and saltiness from the prosciutto. The veal itself was slightly bland but when you mix in all the flavors, you hardly care because it blended in nicely. The gnocchi on the other hand was just gnocchi swimming in a giant pool of cheese with freshly chopped basil. I love cheese and the dish was tasty but after a while, the cheese got started to get heavy on my stomach. I couldn’t finish it but I did of course eat all of my veal.
Haley’s dish was also very good but she didn’t care much for the chicken. She ended up giving it to me after a few bites. Her chicken was sliced scaloppini-style but it didn’t really have any flavor (like my veal). The texture was similar to when you bake chicken breasts in the oven. If you bake it directly on aluminum foil or in a pan, the juices just sit there with the chicken and it has that congealed film around it as it cooks. Chicken cooked in this manner tends to stay moist on the bottom because it sits in its own juices. The end result is soft chicken with no crispy texture like when you broil, pan fry, or grill it. Her sauce on the other hand was very light & creamy… much lighter than Alfredo we’ve had in the past sauce (which tends to be creamier, thicker, and slightly saltier).
Overall, I enjoyed the food a lot. Would I say I enjoyed it more than a chain Italian restaurant? Probably not… but I’d consider both of them equal. A comparison (to me) is a homemade burger compared to McDonald’s or Burger King, The homemade burger is delicious and has a “real” flavor that you can only experience when cooking it yourself but then every now and then, you want that signature greasiness of a fast food burger to hit the spot.
Aside from the service, which I was told has been better on other days; I would highly recommend Mama Mia’s. The dishes are unique and flavorful and the facility is cozy & charming, characteristics of any hole in the wall. I just hope when you go, your service is better than what I experienced.
4671 Trousdale Drive
Nashville, TN 37204-4584
Bill Total: $44 For Two