With the introduction of “The Music of Pixar LIVE! A Symphony of Characters” Dining Package this summer, I thought it would be prudent to revisit Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. I review the symphony and offer some tips on seeing it here. Mama Melrose continues to offer the Fantasmic Dining Package by itself or in conjunction with Pixar LIVE! currently through August 27th.
As a brief reminder, below is what the Dining Package includes for the Pixar LIVE! Dining Package. Pricing and details are the same for the regular Fantasmic Dining Package, only you would obviously receive a seat in the reserved section of that nighttime spectacular rather than the evening symphony. Here’s pricing and what’s included:
If you opt for the Pixar Package as described, you can add reserved section tickets to Fantasmic for $5 more per adult and $3 more per child.
But let’s focus on the dining experience, whether you’re considering visiting for the Dining Package or paying a la carte. 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 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.
Here’s the menu:
Disney recently moved the Flatbread Pizzas to the “appetizers” section which seems kind of strange. On one hand, it may dissuade people from ordering them as entrees since they are in the appetizers section. But on the other hand, it now means that those using the various Dining Packages can order a $16 or $17 pizza as an app rather than being “forced” to order something like the $7 Vegetarian Soup.
Above is what the $17 “Carne D’Italia Flatbread – Pepperoni, House-made Sausage, Pancetta, and spicy Marinara Sauce” looks like. The pancetta in particular stands out with a really meaty, salty flavor and a nice crispy/chewy texture. Very satisfying. There’s a reasonable amount of cheese coverage over the light, spicy sauce and the thin, crispy crust. I think pricing is a little rough on it, especially now that we have Blaza Pizza to compare it to, but it’s world’s better than what PizzeRizzo is serving next door for about twice as much money after you consider a 20% tip added to the cost. And Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs doesn’t do us a whole lot of good when we’re standing in front of The Great Movie Ride.
I may like Mama’s bread basket 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 $16 “Rosemary Chicken Flatbread – Vidalia Onion Spread, Artichokes, Kalamata Olives, Shaved Red Onion, and Feta” was probably not as flavorful as it could have been and was served on a rather sad, over-sized, dirty-looking plate. And while it was piled high with ingredients, it “felt” like the chicken was defrosted and the artichokes didn’t have much flavor either. Even the olives, which should enjoy a rich, almost wine-like quality, were mushy and flavorless. But the crust was nicely crisp and the feta added a nice tang. It wasn’t great by any means, but as far as Disney theme park pizza goes, it was passable. And for the Studios, probably above average.
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. 15 dollars might be overpriced, but…
This is what PizzeRizzo serves next door for $10…it’s not “bad,” but it’s literally a frozen pizza that Disney reheats by the hundred. 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.
This is the $14 “Mushroom Flatbread – Roasted Cremini and Button Mushrooms with a Roasted Vidalia Onion Spread topped with Fontina and Asiago cheese finished with Balsamic Reduction and fresh Herbs.” The pizza is really good if you like the balanced flavors of garlic and onion with the sweet and tart flavors of the balsamic along with the earthiness of the chewy mushrooms. It “feels” like there’s a lot more cheese on it than the Margherita version with the same thin, crispy crust. Quite good and filling for the money.
For the main course, I went with an entree that I hadn’t previously tried in the $24 “Seafood Cioppino – Shrimp, Mussels, Calamari, Fish of the Day, and Whole-Wheat Spaghetti tossed with spicy Seafood Sauce.” I was impressed by the amount of “stuff” in the bowl, which may not be apparent from the lousy picture. But this was packed with 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 a few rings of calamari that had a little bit of a sweet, nutty flavor against the pepper in the sauce. The “Fish of the Day” is going to be mahi 80% of the time, and that situation is no different here. The fish didn’t have much flavor on its own, but added some more protein to what ended up being a really filling dish. The whole-wheat pasta was perhaps overcooked, but added even more heft to the dish, which had some fresh tomato and herbs mixed in with the pasta. Altogether, it was an 8/10 for Disney or a 5/10 in the “real world.” That’s above average for Mama Melrose.
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.
A quick look at some past entrees, here with the $20 “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. The meatballs had a surprisingly fresh quality about them too with some nice spices and a nearly fall-apart texture, while still somehow staying together on top of the pasta. 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 pasta 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 Saltimbocca – 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. You’re in food-coma territory if you try to polish it off yourself, but it’s irresistibly cheesy. Very good.
This is an older picture of the Chicken Parmesan. Hopefully the current plating doesn’t make it look so sad rubbed up against the corner.
Back to the Dining Package meal, which finishes with the dessert sampler. We were beyond stuffed by this point, as you probably will be too unless you go light on the appetizer and entree. This is ordinarily $6 and 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 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 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.
Overall, I thought $45 was a reasonable price for the food, the restaurant experience, and a seat in the reserved section for “The Music of Pixar Live! A Symphony of Characters.”
Obviously, it depends on what you order, but we got:
- $15 Margherita Flatbread + $33 Steak + $6 Dessert + $3 Diet Coke = $57.
- $16 Rosemary Chicken Flatbread + $24 Seafood Cioppino + $6 Dessert + $3 Diet Coke (this body ain’t free) = $49.
For the $45 per person cost. It may be worth noting that additional discounts are not accepted, so take that into consideration if you’d ordinarily receive 20% off with a Tables in Wonderland card.
But since FastPass+ isn’t available for Pixar LIVE! and the reserved seating section is front and center, there may be some value in the peace of mind of being able to see a limited-run show with a guaranteed seat.
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 $14-$17 and several entrees coming in around $20 each.
The Dining Package is a no-brainer if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan and may present solid value if you’re paying out of pocket, arrive with a large appetite, and want to see one of the shows offered.
I felt like I got my money’s worth and then some.