Our coverage of the various Italian food options around the Walt Disney World Resort continues with Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We opened with what will hopefully be the worst of the bunch in Tony’s Town Square Restaurant over at Magic Kingdom as part of this review. We’ll definitely get over to Epcot for Tutto Italia and Via Napoli, but may skip Disney Springs, despite the fact that I’ve been to Maria & Enzo’s, Enzo’s Hideaway, Terralina Crafted Italian, etc. about a dozen times in total without writing any formal reviews. Perhaps some sort of quick overview would be prudent, but there isn’t a whole lot of interest in Disney Springs dining, despite the fact that it’s typically where you’ll find the best version of each type of cuisine. Of those three options, Maria & Enzo’s is easily the best. I would not willingly step inside either of the other two restaurants again. Should you have interest, you can hear my opinions on the various eateries at Disney Springs on the March 28th, 2019 episode of Walt Loved Podcasting.
While Tony’s Town Square offers a Dining Package that includes reserved viewing for the afternoon parade, Mama Melrose offers a similar Dining Package that includes seating in the reserved section for Fantasmic:
The Fantasmic! Dining Package no longer includes the appetizer, which is a somewhat recent revelation. The Package used to be a no-brainer on the Dining Plan even if you weren’t planning on seeing Fantasmic! because of the inclusion of the starter. If you are planning on seeing Fantasmic!, then it still makes sense to book the Package on the Dining Plan because it costs the same one credit as eating a la carte. For those paying out of pocket, the price of the Dining Package has come down a couple of dollars per person now that it no longer includes the appetizer, which is probably a good thing as it was an overwhelming amount of food when the starters were included. But moving forward, keep in mind that the appetizer is extra should you wish to add one. You’ll need to book the Dining Package specifically on this page if you’re doing so online. Regular reservations and a link to the most recent menu are also available on this page.
We’ll first focus on the dining experience, which should be similar on and off the Dining Package. Mama may be underappreciated in how successfully and how thoroughly the restaurant transports guests to “where Italy meets California” immediately after stepping foot inside.
There’s a real homeyness to it that “feels” authentic.
And while some number of Italian restaurants are going to try to do Old World Italy, I’m not sure you’ll see something quite like Mama Melrose very often. At least if you’ve never been to Buca di Beppo.
At far as Studios dining is concerned, outside of the much-more-expensive Hollywood Brown Derby, Mama Melrose is (arguably?) the most relaxing, calmest possible dining experience that I think you can enjoy at the Studios.
And that may go a long way. Mama currently opens at 11:30am and those who dine earlier in the day should enjoy the shortest waits and the least crowded experience. Here at 11:40am on a busy day, at least 75% of the tables remain empty, though they’ll continue to fill as the meal progresses. Still, it’s nice to get going in peace and quiet, which you may want to consider when you’re deciding when to eat. The Fantasmic Dining Package reservation times used to be relegated to off-peak times like 1:55pm or 3:35pm, but they’re now available throughout the day, which is probably a good thing. Once Galaxy’s Edge opens on August 29th, Mama will open at 10:30am for all of us that want to hit up a Chicken Parmesan with our morning coffee/whiskey.
Ten appetizers comprise the list of Antipasti. Unlike Tony’s, none of them are Chicken Wings, which probably bodes well:
For a number of years, the various Flatbreads were found under their own header, but that changed about two years ago when they were formally added to the list of Appetizers. At the time, the change was a bit curious, as it meant those using the Fantasmic! Dining Package could add a $15-$17 Flatbread to their order instead of an $8 soup or $10 salad. These days, categorizing them as appetizers probably causes some number of people to order a more expensive entree instead, thinking that the less expensive pizzas would be inadequate as a meal.
But the Flatbreads are freshly-made and sizable, here with the $15 “Mushroom Flatbread – Roasted Cremini and Button Mushrooms with a Roasted Vidalia Onion Spread topped with Fontina and Asiago finished with Balsamic Reduction and Fresh Herbs.” I appreciated the fact that they didn’t go with your typical mozzarella, instead substituting the buttery Fontina and nutty Asiago, which helps balance the sweet, roasted flavors of the Vidalia Onion Spread and toasty earthiness of the plethora of Mushrooms. The Balsamic adds a nice tang to the thin-crust, crispy pizza, in turn cutting a little bit of the richness from all of the toppings. Lovers of mushrooms, onions, and garlic are in for a real treat. This would be a suitable entree and with six individual slices, is also a very shareable appetizer.
Above is the $17 “Carne D’Italia Flatbread – Pepperoni, House-made Sausage, Pancetta, and spicy Marinara Sauce” from a previous visit. The Pancetta in particular stands out with a really meaty, salty flavor, while the Pepperoni adds a smoky quality with the House-made Sausage providing some depth and chew. The cheese here isn’t nearly as interesting as what we saw with the Mushroom Flatbread, but the thin layer of mildly spicy Marinara packs a little bit of a punch and makes each bite taste different than your standard pie. While it’s far from an overwhelming amount of toppings, what is there is flavorful and much higher quality than what you’d receive next door at PizzeRizzo. It doesn’t “feel” like much of an appetizer, but it would certainly do as an entree.
The $15 “Margherita Flatbread – Fresh Vine-ripened Tomatoes, Mozzarella, House-made Marinara Sauce, fresh Basil, and drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil” was surprisingly nuanced with bright red fruit on top of a more robust tomato sauce than I remember. The execution was solid too with the thin, crispy crust and the mozzarella baked up to just the right amount. Don’t tell anyone, but the prices on these Flatbreads haven’t gone up in several years, making them good values here in 2k19.
That’s particularly true considering this is what PizzeRizzo serves next door for $11…it’s not “bad,” but it’s literally a frozen pizza that Disney reheats by the thousand. I’d personally pay the $5 + $3 tip extra to enjoy the Flatbread at Mama Melrose, but sometimes you may be in more of a hurry or don’t want to deal with the whole table service experience.
We also tried a relatively new addition to the menu in the $12 “House-made Italian Meatball with Marinara, Fresh Ricotta, and Basil.” Looking back at the picture, I’m filled with some amount of rage because it was legitimately delicious.
Packed full of juicy short rib, meaty pork, and tender ground sirloin with a delicious blend of fresh spices, each bite was impossibly light and incredibly flavorful. I mean, when is the last time something at a Disney Italian restaurant actually looked this good? The little dollop of Ricotta added a salty smoothness to a few bites with the vibrant flavor of the tomato in the Marinara combining with the Meatball to make for an irresistible bite.
Because I’m not very smart, I asked whether the same or similar meatballs were served with the Spaghetti entree and was told no, that was not the case. There’s exactly one entree that’s served with meatballs. And instead of serving the same deliciousness that they already have in the kitchen in the form of these House-made Meatballs, they instead elect to go back to the frozen stuff to save a buck or two. On a bowl of pasta that costs more than twenty dollars. At Tony’s Town Square, there really isn’t a glimmer of hope on the menu. No proof that there’s magic to be had if only you knew where to look. At Mama Melrose, we know they can do good. But they choose not to.
I may like Mama’s complimentary bread service more than I should – the rolls are either the same or very similar to what’s served at Hollywood Brown Derby and Be Our Guest Restaurant, among others.
The bread is soft and fluffy with a crispy outside and they’re reliably served warm. It’s a little too easy to polish off two…or more. The olive oil accompaniment is an improvement over Tony’s with far more fresh herbs mixed in.
For the most part, the usual suspects make up the dozen entree selections. Again, Chicken Wings are nowhere in sight, which is only good news:
The menu hasn’t changed a whole lot over the last few years, though that doesn’t necessarily need to stop you from asking if they can whip up some Steak Alfredo or something for you. Actually, asking to modify a dish slightly is usually a good idea at most Disney restaurants because you know they’ll have to make it for you fresh. Here at Mama Melrose, they are not making the Chicken Parmesan to order, so if you ask for Penne instead of Spaghetti then you know they’ll have to put something together specifically for you and it will only be that much fresher.
We start with the $25 “Seafood Fra Diavolo – Shrimp, Mussels, Calamari, Fish, and Spaghetti tossed with Spicy Tomato Sauce,” which I guess is a fancy re-branding of the previous Seafood Cioppino in name only. I was impressed by the amount of “stuff” in the bowl, which may not be apparent from the lousy picture. There’s several large, fresh mussels that did a nice job of soaking up the flavors of the spicy tomato broth along with providing a suitably chewy texture. Four or five decent-size shrimp occupied the bowl along with quite a bit of calamari that had a little bit of a sweet, nutty flavor against the pepper in the sauce. The fish adds a lot of protein, making this a filling entree and considering the amount of seafood, not a bad deal at the $25 price point. The spaghetti was perhaps a minute overcooked, but added even more heft to the dish with a nice sprinkling of herbs on top to tie the whole thing together. It was an 8/10 for Disney or a 5/10 in the “real world,” which is something you could probably say about most dishes served at the theme parks. It’s also above average for Mama Melrose.
Next up we have the “Plant-based Polenta Cake, Mushroom, and Herb Cauliflower – Polenta layered with Sautéed Mushroom, Spinach, and Red Pepper with a Cashew-Cheese Sauce.” Opinions were mixed on this one, but I liked the Polenta Cake, which was a little bit crispy on the outside before giving way to a creamier interior. It served as a nice base for a pile of Mushrooms and other vegetables. The Cauliflower was too vinegary and sour for my tastes, but you may enjoy it more. The Cashew Cheese Sauce is actually that white blob on the left side of the plate and it didn’t carry a whole lot of flavor on its own, which might have helped perk up the dish if it had. It’s also incredibly oily for some reason, with a large pool collecting underneath everything in the dish. While this isn’t a home run, it’s probably a nice change of pace for the vegans and at less than twenty dollars, certainly won’t break the bank. Some sort of Zoodle Pasta would probably be appreciated in the future, though.
Next up, we’ve got the $24 “Mama’s Italian Pasta with Shrimp – Spaghetti tossed with Roasted Garlic, Tomato, fresh Basil, and Asiago-Herb Crostini,” which is also available without the Shrimp for $18. This resembles the look and portion size of something that I think you’d receive at a higher-end Italian restaurant where the pasta is meticulously prepared and the sauce is feverishly perfected throughout the evening to bring robust flavors in a relatively small package. There is none of that here, really, with the same overcooked spaghetti tossed with a mix of bland ingredients along with about six small shrimp.
The Crostini was appropriately crispy and covered in a nice layer of cheese and herbs. Overall, I’d say that it’s an inoffensive dish that’s definitely on the lighter side compared to a lot of the other entrees available. But it’s not something that I would seek out again.
On the opposite side of the size spectrum, we have the “Seasonally-inspired Chef’s Selection (Market Price) Featuring Authentic Italian Ingredients” that probably won’t be available by the time you visit. In this case, it’s a heaping pile of Short Rib on top of what must have been a pound of Risotto that’s inexplicably sitting on top of a thick layer of oil similar to what we saw with the Polenta Cake. The oil, mixed with all of the fat that’s inherent in Short Rib, made for a greasy affair and a largely unpleasant mouthfeel. Without the oil, I think we’d be in business, though. Hopefully it’s an issue that’s been fixed since our visit.
I apologize for what the $33 “Charred Strip Steak – Four-Cheese Macaroni with Pancetta, Aged Balsamic-Shallot Butter, and a Chianti Wine Reduction” looks like in the picture – the shiny glaze made it difficult to photograph.
The size of the steak is immense, which I think makes up for the fact that it’s a little tougher than your typical Disney New York cut. That may be less true if it isn’t overcooked, as ours was. But the creamy butter contrasts nicely with the intense flavor of the red wine reduction with a bit of rosemary and olive oil showing through. The macaroni and cheese underneath had a rich, cheesy flavor that benefited from the crispy, meaty pancetta that was generously mixed in with the pasta. The steak is juicy with the char helping to keep in as much flavor as possible. If I was going to pick out one steak at Walt Disney World on quality, this probably wouldn’t be it, but it’s a huge portion with some surprisingly nuanced flavors. And it’s the best “value” for Dining Package users as it’s easily the most expensive item on the menu. Remember that the adult price with Fantasmic tickets included is $43. So if you order this, you’re only $10 away from coming out ahead, which is going to be easy to do with the $5 non-alcoholic beverage and ~$8 dessert.
Here’s a past look at the $21 “Spaghetti and Meatballs with House-made Marinara, garnished with Pecorino Romano Cheese and Parsley.” It’s a tremendous portion. Even going in hungry and without an appetizer on a previous visit, I couldn’t finish it. While the Meatballs weren’t as good as what we saw during the appetizer course, they enjoyed a nice fresh quality with some nice spices and a nearly fall-apart texture, while still somehow staying together on top of the pasta. The flavor was much more straightforward, but still far from the junk that you’d be served at Tony’s. There isn’t much subtlety here compared to something you might order at Tutto Italia, but it does the job. You could do a pizza/pasta combo by sharing a bowl of Spaghetti and Meatballs and one of the flatbreads and each meal would come in under $20 for more food than you can probably eat. That’s not bad.
I’d skip the $28 “Pork Tenderloin topped with Prosciutto, Sage, Fontina Cheese, Tuscan Mashed Potatoes, Broccolini, and Lemon Caper Sauce.” The pork is tough and the overwhelming flavors are salt and lemon zest.
The $25 “Shrimp Campanelle – Sautéed Shrimp and Campanelle Pasta tossed in a Four-Cheese Sauce with Cauliflower, Sun-dried Tomatoes, fresh Spinach, and Sweet Onions” is an incredibly rich, creamy dish, with a surprisingly generous portion of large shrimp and a lot of vegetables. With all of the butter and cream, you’re in food-coma territory if you try to polish it off yourself, but it’s irresistibly cheesy. Very good. It might pair well with the Italia or Margherita Flatbread if you’re looking to share.
By default, the Fantasmic Dining Package should be served with the $6.50 Dessert Sampler, which includes “Miniature versions of Mama’s favorite Desserts – Valencia Blood Orange Cake, Lemon Cheesecake topped with Passion Fruit Pearls, and Tiramisù.” I thought the cake on the left was the only miss – dense and dry with an artificial orange flavor. The Tiramisu was incredibly light, almost like it was just a mousse rather than a more hearty dessert. That was just fine given the size of some of the entrees and the flavors of chocolate, coffee, and cream were nicely balanced, but don’t expect anything particularly decadent.
Disney may be overdoing the whole boba thing with so many appearing over at Pandora at Animal Kingdom, but I thought this dessert was just right with a really light cheesecake and the fruity mango topping. Each dessert is only two to four bites, so if you don’t like something, you’re not committing too much energy or tummy-space to any individual item. You should be able to order a different dessert if you’d like.
Seeing Fantasmic can be a bit of an unpleasant experience that isn’t a major departure from the herding of cattle. With a few thousand FastPass+ experiences up for grabs, it’s relatively easy to secure FP+ later in the day as people are constantly cancelling and changing their plans, making their selections available for anyone else to book. FP+ guarantees a seat to the show, much like the Dining Package, but the Dining Package section is front and center and much less congested leading up to the start of the show. It’s also located closest to the main exit, which makes departing at the conclusion of the production much easier. One tip if you do find yourself in the corner of the FP+ section furthest from the exit – walk along the bottom of the theater closest to the water instead of trying to push through the crowd exiting at the top. With the Dining Package, your seat should be better and it should be easier to get in and out of the theater. Those are all good things.
As far as value, the average entree costs $24.30 with the average dessert coming in at $7.13. Add $5 for the beverage and you’re at $36.43, which is about $7 shy of the adult Dining Package cost. The most expensive meal you could put together would be the $33 Steak, $9.50 Cappuccino Affogato dessert, and the $5 beverage. That meal exceeds the cost of the Dining Package by $4.50. So you may want to consider the Dining Package if you’re after the more expensive items and the reserved seating will make your day easier. Kids’ meals average about $14 and you’re paying $18 for them on the Dining Package, so each reserved seat costs about $4 there.
Overall, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano is one of the more pleasant dining experiences at Hollywood Studios. It’s very Americanized Italian food, but Olive Garden is a guilty pleasure for a reason. The experience offers an opportunity to get off your feet in a cool, relatively quiet atmosphere and the menu doesn’t necessarily break the bank with entree-size flatbread pizzas for $15-$17 and several entrees coming in around $20 each. Share a pizza and a pasta and you have a pretty decent meal for less than $20 per person.
For lunch, you’ll still find me at the Brown Derby, though.