Mama Mia’s is for everyone, whether you just want to order a sandwich or splash around your post-track winnings.
Mama Mia’s is two storefronts — enter either side, but you’ll be in two different places. On the right, it’s a pizza parlor — an upscale one, though — with professionally dressed servers and white cloth napkins.
The door under the bakery sign leads to a larger, more formal dining room, with a large glass refrigerated case to showcase beautiful desserts, many of them homemade. White linens make it a bit formal. It’s horsey here: The long wall opposite the bar is lined with framed photos and newspaper clippings focused on the sport of kings. Horseshoes dangle from the ceiling, right side up so the luck doesn’t run out.
The weekday crowd here was composed of garrulous groups, mostly folks in dressy casual wear.
So we were happy in the smaller dining room, which was lively, too, but that was due to numerous staff who moved easily around, intent on their work and on working together efficiently.
I liked the looks of the more casual dining room, with the pizza counter to one side and another dining room behind. The booths here were padded. The tables had plenty of elbow room.
The only surprise on the Italian-focused menu for me was the prices, which seem very reasonable. Most entrees are less than $25, and include soup or salad or pasta and of course, bread.
You can get pizza, heroes, pasta, entrees; they cover all the Italian bases. A daily specials sheet held the stuff for the high rollers — oysters Rockefeller, filet mignon, lobster in white wine sauce, in pasta, in bruschetta, over spinach with cream sauce.
There are decent wines by the glass, reasonably priced, and their opposite, impressive wines by the bottle mostly over $100, including big California reds like Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Just what you want if you’re feeling flush.
Though we were without a reservation, we got a booth and menus right away, along with fresh sliced bread and butter. And here, the only note of the evening that wasn’t excellent — the bread was dry and without much flavor.
No matter, we forgot that as soon as we got our appetizer, asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto ($13).
It was a beautiful plate. Crunchy, elegantly pale asparagus spears were rolled in prosciutto and filled and topped with creamy melted cheese; they rested on a cushion of polenta. All of this over lovely arugula, which wilted a bit from the heat, the better to pick up the sauce.
We used the sharp knife supplied with the dish to split the portion, but the prosciutto we could cut with a fork.
The asparagus tips were just browned a bit, the Italian ham not too thinly sliced, and the cheese rich and a bit salty. Lots of capers, big enough to avoid if you don’t like them. It tasted as good as it looked.
The server recommended chicken saltimbocca ($22) and I was not disappointed. Two small, white-meat fillets were dipped in an egg batter, pan-fried until golden and topped with slices of ham. I might have tasted fresh sage. This served on sautéed baby spinach, heavy on the garlic.
I’d give a lot to be able to make sauce this good. It’s pan sauce from the chicken with some wine and butter, simple but fabulous. Sheryl had some. We both said, “Mmm.”
Their sautéed spinach reminded me how much I like the stuff, and even better, it pulled up that great sauce with every forkful.
They are serious about garlic at Mama Mia’s: it’s minced, it’s sliced thin and it’s everywhere. I put a few large pieces to the side, and there was still plenty more.
Sheryl ordered a salad, “to save room for dessert,” she explained. The avocado salad ($12) was meal-sized, with four or five chilled jumbo shrimp in addition to the avocado. She wasn’t too sure the slices of Mandarin orange went with the rest, but the dressing sure did.
“It has horseradish in it — for the shrimp. It makes sense.” she said.
Dinner progressed in an orderly fashion, with plates arriving and being taken away at the appropriate times. All of the staff we interacted with were pleasant and made us feel at home.
Ask your server which desserts are made there, as we did. Sheryl ordered a cannoli with chocolate chips and was pleased to get Lavazza coffee, like she makes at home.
The cannoli shell was crisp, no doubt due to the chocolate coating within. The filling was classic mascarpone with citrus flavoring and the ends were smothered in small chocolate chips.
“You can never have too many chips.” she said.
I had the citrus Napoleon (each $5.50) made with the most puffy puff pastry I’ve ever seen. It sandwiched a lemony pastry cream, piped with a fancy tip. It is impossible to eat this dessert without completely destroying it, so just get it over with. It’s a wonderful treat.
Our server packed up the leftovers efficiently, as she did everything else, and brought the tab, $65 before tax and tip.
So whether you are dining on the cheap or spending your winnings, you’ll find something just right. Even better, you can expect to be treated well at Mama Mia’s.
Mama Mia’s Pizza & Cafe
WHERE: 185 Ballston Ave., Saratoga Springs; (518) 583-7783; mamamiasaratoga.com
WHEN: 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $65 for food, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Accommodations made for children’s meals. Large parking lot. Reservations recommended.