thanks so much to Danny and the other local posters for the recs-- mama's (961 rice street st paul) is da bomb. i arbitrarily decided it deserves its own thread-- so here i go gushing about it:
for italian-american red sauce specialties & st-paul square-cut pizza, mama's may beat everything else in town, both sides of the river.
mama's is a little place, and they make the pizzas right in front where you walk in. their small dining area (16 or so tables) was filling up before 5 and packed by 5:15pm. first of all, every single member of staff comes from planet nice. we're being invaded. these people make the friendly midwestern hospitality workers in msp look like the denizens of a new jersey maximum security prison. genuine smiles, thank you's and your welcomes, from the sweet grandmotherly waitress shuffling to the table with your sodas to the bubbly waiter who refills them before you ask, to the tall teenager who looks up from his work behind the front counter, greeting each and every customer coming through the door with a thousand-watt smile. . . i watched a server at mama's tie a bib around the neck of an elderly patron with such genuine caring and tenderness that i had to dab at the corner of my eye with my paper napkin. wow these people are nice, i just can't say it enough.
secondly, there is an amazing mural. i won't even attempt to describe it--words fail me, so you must see it for yourself, but it sure adds to the happy ambiance. as Danny (i think) described in another thread, there are coin-operated t-v sets in all of the booths.
thirdly, the food is stellar. it's not italian, it's italian-american, so i don't want anyone coming after me when i say that the square-cut, thin crust pizza has great (not bland & floury, not limp) crust, great (not greasy, not bland) flavorful red sauce, great homemade sausage, and generous toppings popping through the cheese. the closest thing to a complaint i have about mama's is that they use canned mushrooms on the pizza, not fresh. imo mama's sets the bar for this regional type of pizza, and sets it high. the hot dago sandwich (mama is way too nice to use this anti-italian-american slur on the menu, so she spells it differently) is huge & phenomenal. dh describes it: "the perfect balance of seasoned meat, sauce, cheese and bread-- i haven't had a hot dago like this since it was served to me from (italian grandma's name's) hand." the dago is available several ways, dh prefers the cheese style. we're only a couple of visits in, so i'm looking forward to exploring the rest of mama's menu. the sides are cheap, plentiful and well-executed. three dollars for a small mountain of perfectly cooked onion rings? a two-dollar dinner salad (with tomatoes)??? heckuva deal. no wonder mama's is popular with all types of patrons-- from local teenagers on their first date, to octogenarian couples hungry for cube steaks and meatball sandwiches.
for chowhounds who may enjoy an adult beverage with dinner, mama's features a short wine list which includes american varietals, lambrusco, and three types of bartles and jaymes wine coolers. badda bing!!!
as if everything else wasn't perfect, at the end of the meal, the servers at mama's bring a mini-soft-serv ice cream cone to every diner, just to make sure everyone leaves the restaurant with a sweet taste in his/her mouth. the gesture perfectly encapsulates the hospitality at this little establishment. as you don your coat and make your way towards the door, each mama's employee thanks you again for stopping by, even while other waiting diners practically bowl you over on their way to seat themselves at your just-vacated booth. the sweet-tempered servers are already clearing and wiping the table, greeting the newcomers as if they are their first and only customers.
right now, mama's only takes cash, although they plan on taking credit cards when they get their new pos system in full gear. there is a cash-machine on-site that only has a $1 service charge, though.
mama's menu: http://www.mamaspizzaparlor.com/menu....