Mama Melrose’s is an Italian restaurant in Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. This dining review features food photos, thoughts on the quality, our experiences here, value for money, and how Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano compares to other themed table service options at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
This review comes as many readers have been encouraging us to revisit Mama Melrose, a restaurant at which we hadn’t dined in nearly a decade. We weren’t impressed with what we had at the time, but weren’t necessarily averse to the menu. The bigger sticking point for us was the restaurant’s theme, which we feel is boring as compared to alternatives at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Unfortunately, our recent experience at Mama Melrose’s was not a positive one. When restaurants have been recommended to us by many people, it makes it a bit more difficult to do reviews like this. I felt a bit guilty reading comments replying to our scathing review of Tony’s Town Square. It’s certainly not my goal to make people feel badly about things they enjoy.
If you are a fan of Mama Melrose’s and might be upset by it discussed in an unflattering light, maybe stop reading now? Our disappointing experience at a restaurant doesn’t negate your enjoyment of it, and we certainly aren’t of the belief that our opinions are the gospel. As with Tony’s, we can understand why some people like Mama Melrose’s, and reasonable minds may vary on it (or any restaurant at Walt Disney World, for that matter). If it’s any consolation, Mama Melrose’s doesn’t take the crown from Tony’s Town Square as “worst Italian cuisine at Walt Disney World.”
With that said, let’s start by taking a look at the restaurant’s theme and backstory…
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano is a Disney-MGM Studios original, dating to the early years of the park. Originally, the restaurant was to be part of an expansive Muppet Studio area, and would be called the Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor, which would feature a variety of props and gags.
By the time those plans fell through, the Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor was already in development. Needing to be reworked without a Muppets connection, Imagineers came up with the official storyline that a young girl from a small village in Italy fell in love with Hollywood and set out for America with dreams of a career on the big screen.
To pay the bills, she cooked for her friends in showbiz. She had a larger than life personality, and studio moguls dubbed her Mama Melrose, after Melrose Ave. The nickname stuck, and eventually, she opened an Italian restaurant at the behest of her Hollywood friends, which showcased her eclectic and vivacious personality.
Housed in a prop storage and equipment warehouse in an area that was used by the studios for shooting movies based in New York City’s Little Italy, Mama Melrose quickly became a popular spot. Serving Cal-Italian cuisine, Mama Melrose’s earned a reputation as “where Italy meets California in the heart of the Backlot.”
In summary, the backstory is that this is a Cal-Italian restaurant on a backlot in Los Angeles, that is used for filming scenes set in New York City’s Little Italy. This means the fake for-the-cameras setting is New York City and the peel-back-the-curtain “behind the scenes” setting is Los Angeles. Italy is not the setting, but there’s Italian-inspired ‘stuff’ on display because of the Little Italy connection.
If you’re confused, you are not alone. The original Disney-MGM Studios got a little too clever (in my opinion) with how it framed these setting-within-a-setting restaurants, and none of them work as well as the official backstory suggests. It’s the same deal at Sci-Fi Dine-In, but I’d argue that the theme works fine there if you just ignore the behind the scenes elements, which are easy enough to do.
By contrast, spending a little time perusing the walls and details at Mama Melrose’s is more confusing than anything, as it’s a hodgepodge of stuff from Italy, New York City, and Southern California with little discernible reason as to why it’s all there. Well, now you know why, but that explanation is probably still a bit lacking.
Setting aside the official backstory, the decor in Mama Melrose’s is not terrible. It feels like the home of an eclectic grandma who proudly displays every random things her friends and family have given her, with little rhyme or reason as to why.
Those are the crème de la crème of themed dining at Walt Disney World, and both are at roughly the same price-points as Mama Melrose.
Mama Melrose’s is more homey and charming than it is themed; it’s like the precursor to Buca di Beppo. In my estimation, that’s part of the problem. This atmosphere is now synonymous with the Buca di Beppo chain, and those restaurants arguably do it better. It doesn’t matter that Walt Disney World did this first.
If you’ve been to that chain, you might think, “oh, this is the Disney version of Buca di Beppo” upon entering Mama Melrose’s. In fact, I’d say Mama Melrose’s is similar to Buca di Beppo in more ways than one. Speaking of which, let’s move on to the food portion of this Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano review…
Bread service is pretty typical, with standard rolls accompanied by some olive oil and herbs.
The bread was warm from the oven and doughy, and were surprisingly tasty. Much better than the cold/old crusty bread I was half expecting. So far, so good.
Continuing with the House-made Italian Meatball with Marinara, Fresh Ricotta, and Basil. This is a special blend of…none of us can totally remember. I think short rib and pork.
Regardless, it was surprisingly good, with the meatball itself being flavorful and rich without being overly fatty. Everything about the dish was of a higher quality and attention to detail than we’d find in any of the entrees.
Likewise, I really enjoyed the Mushroom Flatbread (“Roasted Cremini and Button Mushrooms with a Roasted Vidalia Onion Spread topped with a Fontina and Asiago Cheese finished with Balsamic Reduction and fresh Herbs.”)
The mushrooms were hearty and savory, and the creaminess of the spread and cheese worked well with the tang of the balsamic reduction. There was perhaps a tad too much balsamic, but this is still something I’d absolutely order again, if I returned to Mama Melrose’s, and it’d be a go-to appetizer elsewhere.
For my entree, I had the Seasonally-inspired Chef’s Selection, which was braised short rib over risotto.
This was probably the highlight of the entrees, which isn’t saying a ton. While I did a terrible job with this photo, you can see the pool of oil at the bottom of the dish; the overly greasy, fatty, and creamy nature of the dish dragged it down. I can get behind an indulgent plate of short ribs, but this was just too much.
Not terrible, but too heavy–especially on a hot day in a theme park. The portion size is also much larger than it probably appears in the photo. I ate it all…and felt like taking a 3-hour nap afterwards.
Sarah ordered the Polenta Cake, Mushroom, and Herb Cauliflower (“Polenta layered with Sautéed Mushroom, Spinach, and Red Pepper with a Cashew-Cheese Sauce.”)
The thinking here was that this would be healthier and lighter relative to the rest of the menu. It was not. As you can see, this was also very oily, and that somehow didn’t do anything to enhance this relatively flavor-less dish. The vegetables weren’t fresh, and there was nothing interesting about it.
I tried this as well, eager to see if Walt Disney World’s improving vegan options had spread to Mama Melrose’s. They have definitely not.
Next, we’ve got the Mama’s Italian Pasta with Shrimp (“Spaghetti tossed with Roasted Garlic, Tomato, fresh Basil, and Asiago-Herb Crostini”).
As far as options at Mama Melrose’s go, this is a fairly safe option. Neither the pasta (overly-chewy) nor the shrimp (also overly-chewy) will wow you, but at least there’s a lot of it…I guess?
Finally, the Seafood Cioppino (“Shrimp, Mussels, Calamari, Fish, and Spaghetti tossed with spicy Cioppino Sauce”).
If you like rubbery seafood in bland sauce from a can, this is perfect for you! In fairness, there is a generous portion of seafood here and the spicy tomato sauce isn’t half bad, but it’s nothing special. Not a terrible choice if you find yourself at Mama Melrose’s and don’t want something richer.
Having had our fill of oily, salty, heavy, and large entrees (plus, if we’re being fair, delicious appetizers), none of us were in a position to have dessert. That’s slightly unfortunate, as there are a variety of traditional options that I generally love, and prices aren’t too bad. Oh well.
Overall, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano is one of our least favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. First and most obvious is that the entrees just are not good. However, even if you are craving comfort food, you can just as easily get that in a much better setting at either 50’s Prime Time Cafe or Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. If you want good Italian cuisine, you’re better served by a multitude of restaurants at Walt Disney World, including a couple that are a short walk from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That leaves Mama Melrose’s in no man’s land; even if you get what you deem to be a satisfactory meal here, you could’ve done better elsewhere.
Have you dined at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano? Do you agree or disagree with our review? What do you like or dislike on the menu here? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!