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THE EATBEAT: Mamma Maria's: Authentic Italian fare in inviting setting

Some restaurants try to be all things to all people. Some specialize in one style of food. Mamma Maria's in East Grand Forks is one of them. You know you can expect authentic Italian-style food and pizza there. The restaurant opened early this ye...

Some restaurants try to be all things to all people. Some specialize in one style of food. Mamma Maria's in East Grand Forks is one of them. You know you can expect authentic Italian-style food and pizza there. The restaurant opened early this year and slowly but surely has been attracting loyal customers.

The food there is hearty. The pizza is very good with a choice of New York-style thin crust or Mamma Maria's Sicilian thick crust. Classic Italian dinner items, which include the house salad, range in price from about $11 to $16.

The signature item is Mamma's Trio ($15.99). I found it was enough food for two dinners, maybe three. It is an excellent combo of lasagna, chicken parmigiana and fettuccini alfredo or spaghetti with meat sauce. I was advised to get the fettuccini because I would have a chance to taste the rich marinara sauce with the lasagna.

It is an excellent meal. The salad that accompanies it is above average -- cold, crisp with a variety of greens. And you get a basket of baked garlic knots, which is pizza dough with a topping of olive oil and fresh garlic.

Along with a dinner, I had an opportunity to try a toasted ravioli starter ($7.99). It's served with marinara sauce or ranch dressing for dipping and is a heavy hors d'oeuvre. It is nicely served in a bowl with a broad rim and garnished with parsley. This kind of extra touch lifts routine restaurant food to be appealing and inviting.

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There is a range of choices and prices at Mamma Maria's. When I joined three friends for lunch one day, we ordered a slice of pizza and salad ($3.99). We had two choices of toppings. The pizza was fresh, and the slice was ample. The salad was above average. If you stick with water, you have an inexpensive lunch. You get free refills with coffee, lemonades and soft drinks, which are $1.99.

I did not have dessert, but I watched a couple of women eating tiramisu ($4.49) and cannoli ($3.99), and it was all I could to do refrain from asking for a taste.

The menu is inviting and easy to follow. Chad Thomas, who operates Mamma Maria's with Nicholas Hallerman, said business has been growing since a January opening. He's assessing the menu and plans to add some grilled items, including a balsamic barbecued chicken breast.

The restaurant is in the process of applying for a full liquor license. It now serves beer and wine. Thomas has bachelor and master's degrees from UND in communications. He is working on a doctorate and has been teaching part time, just returning from five weeks as a teacher at the American College of Norway in Moss.

His interest in restaurants started when he was in high school. He first ventured into the business of running a restaurant at the original Mamma Maria's on South Washington Street in Grand Forks, which now is closed. His parents and a silent partner have provided backing.

Thomas is optimistic about the business. While some weekends this summer have been quiet, he says people tend to come in during the middle of the week.

The restaurant in Riverwalk Centre is attractive and inviting. It is decorated in bronze and soft green tones with tasteful art and soft-lamp lighting. There arebooths and tables in the main dining area with an adjacent meeting room.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gfherald.com or call (701) 772-1055.

Related Topics: FOOD
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