08 August 2012
I was introduced to Mama Cucina about 11 years ago when I was working for the American Cancer Society. Their regional office was just around the corner in Glen Allen. The first time I went to lunch there with some of my office mates, I was really surprised. The Italian food tasted really Italian, just the way I remembered when I was living in New York. What do I mean? Mama Cucina makes their own mozzarella, sausage, sauces and salad dressing every day. Their portions are huge and everything is made individually to your liking. I left there with a huge smile on my face, a full tummy and enough leftovers for lunch the next day.
I have been introducing friends from Fluvanna to Mama Cucina’s ever since and all except one (there is always one) agreed with me that eating there is a sumptuous treat. How Mama Cucina came to Glen Allen is an interesting tale. Sixteen years ago, Anthony from New York was on his way to Florida to open a restaurant when he stopped in Richmond. He liked the area so much that he decided to stay and open a traditional neighborhood restaurant in a shopping center on Cox Road. Word spread fast and local office workers pack the place for lunch and local families fill it for dinner. My husband and I dine at Mama Cucina’s as often as we can.
This month we went for lunch with our good friends, Margaret and Steve, who have been huge fans of Mama Cucina’s since we introduced them to our favorite Italian restaurant around a decade ago. Imagine our surprise when we learned that Anthony had sold Mama Cucina in April to the Panos family. But there was no reason to worry as the Panos family has been serving good food in the Richmond area for years. Some of you may remember Nick’s parent’s restaurant, The Crazy Greek in Richmond, which they owned and operated about 15 years ago. Before the restaurant exchanged hands, Nick Panos trained with Anthony, learning the recipes and cooking techniques that we have all enjoyed these many years. Nick has maintained the same menu with a few additions. His sister, Taula is the manager and runs the front. Most of the servers and cooking staff have remained the same, helping with the smooth transition and continuing the tradition of great food and excellent service.
Most important however, is the fine Italian food that is served daily. Lunch is served with large slices of warm Italian bread been dribbled with garlic and olive oil. Oil with herbs is served with the bread. Margaret ordered the Pork Chops Pizziola for $8.95. She loved her dish and described it as “three pork chops, tons of onions, peppers, mushrooms, marinara sauce, olives and fresh mozzarella”. Needless to say, lot’s of fresh and perfectly cooked food for a good price. Dick enjoyed one of his favorites, Chicken Margarita, consisting of chicken cutlets sautéed in a light marinara sauce and topped with provolone cheese, black olives and artichokes served over bowtie pasta for $8.50. Dick ate half of his dish and brought the rest home.
Steve and I tried two different specials. Steve ordered a new lunch menu item, soup and sandwich for $7.95. The Italian Wedding Soup was a light broth loaded with small homemade meatballs with a little escarole and spinach. The Sandwich Da Roma consisted of fresh Italian cold cuts, including ham, capricolla, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce and tomato on a large soft roll. I ordered Chicken Sicilian Style; chicken cutlets sautéed in a light red sauce and topped with prosciutto, zucchini and mozzarella over linguine for $8.95. The sauce was light and tasty and each flavor blended beautifully with the others. I ate one cutlet with all the trimming and half the pasta and brought the rest home.
We were all stuffed so we did not order dessert. But I can tell you from other visits that the cannoli are delicious. Their homemade sweet and smooth stuffing is placed into the crisp shell just before it is brought to your table.
Here are a few things you should know before you go to Mama Cucina. All the sauces are light and fresh – nothing heavy. You can change the dish anyway you like. Choose whichever pasta is your favorite as each dish is prepared individually. Don’t forget to check out the blackboard specials on your way in or while sitting at your table. You will be shocked by the size of your lunch (and dinner). Always bring a thermal bag with you for leftovers. The dinner menu is different from the lunch menu and includes a salad served family style at your table. Toula, the manager, informed me that Nick is willing to prepare a dinner item for you at lunch if you ask.
Mama Cucina Italian Restaurant
4028 Cox Road, Glen Allen
Monday through Friday
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Monday through Saturday
5 p.m. to 10 p.m.