Mamma Mia’s is a family restaurant in every sense of the word. In 1974, brothers Pasquale “Pat” and Giovanni “John” Viscariello, from Airola, Italy, opened a restaurant in Kingston and named it in honor of their mother. Today, there are six Mamma Mia’s restaurants: Kingston, Marshfield, Hanover, Carver, and two in Plymouth.
We visited the newest location, at the Pinehills in Plymouth, which opened in April. Had the evening been just a little warmer, we would have eaten on the pretty outdoor patio at black wrought-iron tables shaded by umbrellas in the colors of the Italian flag. Instead we settled in the cozy dining room, where the Tuscan gold walls are decorated with framed photographs of cute kids scarfing down pasta and meatballs; we learned later that the subjects are the original owners’ grandchildren.
The pleasantly noisy room was filled with diners of all ages, including many families. A large lounge is separated from the dining room.
Our appetizers were good, but not great (with one notable exception). But our entrées were outstanding. Portions are large, prices are reasonable, and service is friendly, so it’s no wonder that the restaurant attracts a lot of families.
An eggplant tower appetizer ($12) was an attractive stack of fried eggplant rounds, tomato slices, and fresh mozzarella, kind of a vertical Caprese salad. The eggplant was good, but the tomatoes were hard and not very flavorful. A sweet balsamic drizzle added punch and saved the dish.
Similarly, Cousin Vito’s artichoke salad ($7 small, $12 large) had more visual appeal than taste. The menu says it’s served over mixed greens, but ours came over iceberg lettuce.
Among our appetizers, the clear winner was a large portabella mushroom mounded with the restaurant’s “famous” seafood stuffing ($10). The moist, savory stuffing was loaded with pieces of shrimp, scallop, crab, and lobster, and the portabella was tender but still had some bite.
We figured the Italian specialties had to be good, and if they all measure up to Mamma’s Combo ($14), they’re very good indeed. This entrée combined a stuffed pepper, eggplant Parmesan, manicotti filled with creamy ricotta, and a homemade meatball, which was soft and just a little spicy. Everything was covered with red sauce, smooth and complex, with blended flavors that suggest long, slow simmering. We learned later that the brothers who opened the first Mamma Mia’s 40 years ago still make the red sauce for all the restaurants.
Chicken Marsala ($15) paired tender chicken breasts with big, fresh mushrooms, set atop an insanely large portion of angel hair. The sweet and smoky Marsala sauce was delicious, but had I been able to finish that mound of pasta (which I most certainly could not), I’m pretty sure I would have run out of sauce.
John’s seafood Florentine with pasta ($19) showed that the kitchen can do more than manicotti, meatballs, and Marsala. This multifaceted dish included scallops, shrimp, and big pieces of haddock in a casserole with fresh, wilted spinach, mushrooms, and melted Monterey cheddar. Delicate fish can easily be overwhelmed when it’s combined with other ingredients in a casserole, but here it was easy to discern the distinctive taste of each type of seafood. With this dish, we chose fettuccine, the only pasta made in house. Wide and chewy, it had the taste and texture of homemade.
We didn’t try the traditional, hand-tossed pizza, but we saw several pies on nearby tables, and there was a brisk business at the takeout counter. Tory Furtado, director of operations for the restaurant group, told us later that pizza is among the most popular items at all the locations. She also said that most of the restaurant’s “signature dishes” — such as chicken Parmesan, lasagna, and tortelloni — are made with the founders’ family recipes.
At lunch Mamma Mia’s offers smaller portions of its Italian specialties ($7-$11), along with sandwiches, subs, and panini. And on Saturday nights this summer, there’s live entertainment on the patio.
Mamma Mia’s Pinehills is a little off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth the effort to discover. And be sure to take the family.Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.