Old School Italian Dining at Mama Melrose'sby Roan Poulter, contributing writer
Disney's Hollywood Studios is a hard park to love lately. So much has been lost or is so far in the distant future that it seems to have become the unloved Disney destination. Of course, all that will change when they start opening the Star Wars and Toy Story-themed rides. Mama Melrose is a restaurant I visited some time ago, so be aware that the menu may have been changed.
Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano is almost a hidden gem. Many people would find little reason to venture behind the Muppets attraction now that it is essentially a dead end. However, if you choose to venture down those dark corridors, you will find a throwback to my childhood.
Honestly, Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano looks exactly how I remember my childhood. The seventies are on full and open display from the moment you enter. Your first clue will be the lack of acceptable lighting and walls so dark they might as well be black. For me this is much appreciated as it takes me back to the time when I sat in front of our television waiting for the original airings of The Muppet Show, which followed the greatest television show of all time, The Dukes of Hazzard. In a time of feathered hair and soft focused movies the Muppets were a vital piece of evening entertainment. Now, that's a lot to say about a show to talk about a restaurant. Why would I do that? Because if you don't find some nostalgia in the décor or overall theming, you'll be disappointed.
There are people who will say that anyone can make passable Italian cuisine. I agree, but on the other hand to make it at the highest levels there are a few cardinal rules. First, the bread and crusts must be freshly baked. Mama is doing a great job there. Second, the sauce must be flavorful; here they have failed. Their sauce could have easily come from a can at any grocery store. Third, any meats or seafood must be fresh or they shouldn't be offered. The mussels we were served the night we dined were unacceptable. Broken shell bits in the pasta and rubbery shellfish are a surefire way to ruin my meal.
Oak-fired Mussels - Cooked in a cioppino broth with grilled onions and herb croutons. I was not pleased with this dish and it would also put me off of ordering the cioppino in a future outing. It could have been a bad day in the kitchen or a poor shipment of seafood, but the mussels we had were unacceptable and mostly uneaten by us.
Margherita Flatbread - Fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, mozzarella, house-made marinara sauce, fresh basil, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. This sounds amazing. It was tasty, the crust especially, but lacked the panache that a margherita from Via Napoli at Epcot would have.
Wood-grilled Chicken and Penne Pasta - with house-made four-cheese sauce garnished with pecorino romano cheese and parsley. This was the tastiest thing we ordered. The fresh parmesan on top gave it a kick and pungency that balanced the perfectly cooked chicken.
Our ratings are as follows:
Dad (42): 3.1 of 5 – The feeling of bits of shell being crushed between my teeth ruined my meal and made me angry. Also, I thought the tomatoes on the pizza were too thick and there was not enough buffalo mozzarella.
Mom (42): 3.7 of 5 – Didn't care for the seafood, but the pizza was good and had a delicious crust.
Daughter (19): 3.5 of 5 – Tough to stay gluten free at an Italian restaurant, though they did offer choices.
Son (17): 4.0 of 5 – Thought the pizza was great. Thinks his dad was dumb for ordering shellfish in the first place.