The idea of a "neighborhood favorite" dining spot is rather nice- that one place you can always depend on as a nearby, no-hassle, familiar restaurant that provides a solid meal. Maybe not anything mind-blowing, but genuinely heart-warming food. We know a few friends who classify Mama Palma's in this category- a small, family friendly Italian cafe complete with a wood-fired brick oven for pizza production. A & I pass by every day on our way too and from University City, and we've made many comments about how convenient it would be to just stop for dinner one night after a particularly long day in the lab.
Although this wasn't quite the case at the time, we were in the market for a casual dinner location to start out a busy weekend. Granted, this was hardly our first visit. After a few visits during college as well as a more recent dinner with the parents, we're pretty familiar with the Mama Palma's scene. One thing we have never tried is their "famous" warm polenta bread plate ($9), so it was an easy choice to start the meal.
A went through a stage at one point where she was obsessed with anything made from corn, and polenta never fails to hit the spot. We were imagining some sort of crispy polenta base with a few toppings. We were more than a little surprised when we were served a rather regular looking pizza cut into bite-sized pieces. The flavors here were fantastic- a doughy bread base, a thin layer of super sweet, creamy polenta, fresh corn, and grilled peppers, finished off with a drizzle of pesto, a sprinkle of rosemary, and a shaving of parmesan. Random? A little. Delicious? Absolutely. However, we still think they should market this a little differently- it's really just like polenta and veggie covered Pokey Stix.
Pokey Stix, for those (sad few) of you who don't know what these are Source
Obviously the meal wouldn't be complete without a hefty serving of veggies, so we split a Greek salad ($11.75). A big pile of romaine, cucumbers, red onion, tomato, and probably $11.75 worth of fresh peppers- green, yellow and orange- were well complemented by kalamatas, a crumble of feta, and a few grinds of ground pepper over the top. The viniagrette was the highlight of the dish- lots of fresh mint, parsley, and oregano in a light balsamic base. We received mint in our CSA last week, and let me tell you, it makes any salad insanely delicious. This one was no exception.
A's boyfriend ordered a classic pasta dish- the chicken parm ($15). A large chicken breast is flattened out, deep fried, smothered with cheese and topped with tomato sauce. A no fail choice, right? While he seemed to enjoy the dish, A and I both tried a bite and were not impressed. The chicken was way too thin, causing it to overcook and ruining the meat to outer crisp ratio. Both the sauce and the pasta were just bland, and the whole thing was barely lukewarm. If you want boring, mediocre food, order this. It certainly didn't inspire me to want to try any of the other pasta dishes.
Of course we couldn't get out of here without getting a pizza. The list of options is absolutely endless, but we settled on a small veggie "Gourmet Delight" ($10.25). Eight inches of their standard super-thin crust is topped with red sauce, a generous amount of artichoke hearts, asparagus tips, and small blobs of goat cheese. Thinly sliced basil and grated parmesan top it off- no gooey mozzarella on this one. Overall the pizza is extremely light. As in, I could eat a whole one myself and not even notice. Although the flavors were enjoyable, this seemed more like a flatbread appetizer than a meal. Thankfully we had plenty of other food, otherwise the unsubstantial crust needs to be counterbalanced by some heavier toppings. We like our crust thick and chewy, and this pretty much falls in the category of "the opposite of what we like."
While our food was overall "pretty good", Mama Palma's missed the mark on becoming our neighborhood go-to. The service was adequate, but we've never felt totally welcomed by the staff. On busier nights, they're quick to remove every empty dish, as well as your water/drink glasses so that you're essentially forced to leave when they want you to. I understand that a restaurant is a business, but I also think the customers could be treated a bit more kindly. The fact that it is cash only is another negative in my book, and it's not inexpensive. Though conveniently located, we'll likely remain infrequent patrons.
What's your neighborhood favorite?
2229 Spruce St (@23rd)