At night, Mamma Zu sits on an ominous ill-lighted corner in Oregon Hill. The windowless building looks like a uniform outlet, an adult video store, or a corner bar – take your pick. Inside, you’ll find the decor dark, mismatched, eclectic and a large dining room full of hungry patrons.
What this restaurant lacks in decor and elegance it gains with good food. Very good food. The menu boasts classic (no Olive Garden crap here) Italian dishes. There’s no physical paper menus here, everything’s listed on the massive chalkboard on one wall. Can’t see it? Turn your head. Your favorite dish has a big X on it? They don’t have it, order something else. Forget “have it your way” hospitality, Mamma Zu has customers playing their way; of course, this can make pretentious diners feel powerless, making for one interesting customer service experience. For me, I prefer the raw un-fluffy service and ambiance centered around good food, not fancy font menus or hand stitched table linens. If you’re open to mediocre service, no ass-kissing, and food that’ll make you melt with delight, this is your place.
My dining companions and I started with a few dishes. Not a fan of eggs or tuna, I made a pass for the eggs in tuna sauce ($5) but I quickly fell in love with the squid, bean, and arugula antipasti ($14). After checking out other online thoughts and reviews, this was one cherished dish. The fresh and peppery arugula paired with warm olive oil and mellow white beans and squid is amazing, nothing compares. Also ordered Sweetbreads – my first experience and although a little chewy, I haven’t decided a yay or nay opinion but I was impressed with the mushroom/sage/wine sauce (if you think sweetbreads is sugary bread, get the real deal here). I was also pleased they serve one of my favorite nostalgic brews, Abita Purple Haze.
Main course are all served family style. After much deliberation we settled on the Branzino ($23), Lamb Sausage ($17), spaghetti & meatballs ($15), and Rockfish ($22). A quick rundown… bone-in fish freaks me out so I passed on the Branzino, the Rockfish was incredibly mild and buttery, Spaghetti & Meatballs was simple and lovely, and the Lamb Sausage won my heart. The lamb was spicy and full of sexy flavors (yeah, flavors can be sexy) and was paired with creamy polenta and warm white beans. The flavors was comforting and humble.
Mamma Zu offers your choice Cannoli or Tiramisu for dessert, we were all too stuffed so we refrained.
Mamma Zu isn’t one of Richmond’s top restaurant for nothing, this place is an experience and the food is exceptional. For me, it solidifies the ongoing admiration I have for local eateries and the servers, cooks, and team that delivers authentic deserving food.