Who’s ready for cozy, home-cooked Italian meal?
We recently made our way over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to have just that. Other standouts in the park, like 50s Prime Time Cafe and The Hollywood Brown Derby, tend to be locations that pop to mind first when in this park, and one spot, in particular, has a tendency to be overlooked. It has been quite a while since we’ve dined at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano so we set out to see what has been going on in this cozy corner of Hollywood Studios. Though we’ve had mixed reviews in the past, we’re back to see how it has been holding up!
Tucked away in the back corner of the park is Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. You basically hit a dead-end once you find it. Head to Muppet Courtyard, past MuppetVision 3D, past PizzeRizzo, and keep walking. There she is. The theming at this restaurant is pretty top-notch, but you have to look closely to get the full story.
The location is supposed to be a studio backlot (how appropriate!) with a Little Italy/NYC themed set out front. This eventually became the facade of the spot Mama Melrose decided to set up shop (more on that in a bit!). The outside is decorated with a fun portrait of the Mona Lisa (rockin’ some sweet shades) and some red, white, and green pennant flags — the colors of Italy (where else?!).
One of our favorite parts about this restaurant is the decor! In the waiting area and entryway, you can see photos of various celebs on the walls. Wanna know the interesting backstory on these guys? Well back in the day when (then) MGM Studios first opened, they had a special thing called the Star Today promotion. Basically, a “celebrity” (we’ll use that term loosely ?) would be scheduled to be in MGM on any given day to meet guests and sign autographs…just like REAL Hollywood, get it?! The program only survived about a year, but when it was done, the story goes that Imagineers saved the photos the celebs would use when signing autographs and hung them on the walls as one of Mama Melrose’s mementos she had saved over the years.
A bit more about Mama Melrose and her mementos. The story behind this spot was years ago, a bright-eyed Italian girl moved to Hollywood to become a star. That…didn’t happen. Instead, she got bit parts in films and while waiting for her time to shoot each day, she’d cook her Papa’s classic Sicilian cooking for all the other extras on the film sets.
Her cooking was such a hit, even the film bigwigs took a liking to her food, eventually giving her the nickname Mama Melrose. She eventually set up shop in a studio backlot and opened an eatery to feed all her Hollywood pals. That brings us to the spot we see today!
We absolutely love the decor on the walls! It may seem random, but these walls are full of things from Mama Melrose’s past and there are so many fun pieces to look at! You’ll see plenty of nods to her Italian heritage as well as loads of goodies she picked up during her time in Hollywood.
You’ll notice that the walls are more crayon than brick at this point. In the decades this spot has been open, generations of kids (and probably adults) have taken to graffitiing up the walls. We’re not sure when or how this started, but for as long as we can remember there’s been scribblings on the bricks. It’s one of the few places in Disney World you’ll actually find graffiti NOT actively being removed!
Up close, you can see how much detail goes into these gorgeous grapevines all over the ceiling.
Another one of our favorite items is the Melrose Ave sign. There are several California street signs throughout the restaurant, but this one honors Mama herself!
Mama Melrose’s offers the use of Mobile Dine Check-In, which allows guests to check-in on the My Disney Experience app and bypass checking-in with a host. After you check-in, you’ll be notified your table is ready via text then you can head to the podium to be seated.
As you go past the arches in the entryway to be seated, you’ll pass the kitchen which is bustling with Cast Members.
The seating in Mama Melrose’s is pretty standard with tables, chairs, and booths. There are two main dining rooms indoors, but no outdoor or bar seating here.
We were seated at this table (yay booth seats!) and since we were against the wall, we had a great view of the restaurant while we ate.
The atmosphere at Mama Melrose’s is charming and full of history and memorabilia, no doubt, but how did the food compare?
Mama Melrose’s has been inconsistent in the past, but generally, we tend to enjoy our meals here! It’s good in the same way Olive Garden or any other chain Italian eatery is good — it’s basic, simple, approachable Italian food. You can never look at the menu and still probably guess half the items served (think Spaghetti and Meatballs, Caesar Salads, basic flatbreads). The food here is relatively predictable, and that’s not always a bad thing. But in a (Disney) World full of so many unique options vying for your attention, it is often forgotten. That’s not to say they haven’t surprised us from time to time.
There is an extensive drink list on one side of the menu with specialty drinks, wines, beers, and more.
As far as food goes, the menu is a pretty traditional American Italian menu. Appetizers include flatbreads, soups, and salads while entrees include classics like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan. Nothing wrong with classic Italian food, but something to keep in mind if you prefer to be more adventurous with your eats.
While many restaurants in Disney World have a limited menu following reopening, Mama Melrose has always been on the slimmer side, options-wise. That said, the menu is slightly trimmed down from where it was prior.
Even though we were given a hardcopy menu, we also had a QR code that would pull up the dinner menu on our phone. This has become popular since Disney World’s reopening to lower the number of touchpoints.
To start our meal, we ordered water and iced tea. The tea was just plain, unsweet iced tea so nothing special to note there.
With our drinks came a basket with a couple of bread rolls.
The rolls were served with an olive oil and Italian seasoning mix (yum city if you like dipping bread in oil!).
For an appetizer, we decided to try one of the more unique items: Fried Calamari. We say “unique” here cause, compared to the other options like tomatoes with mozzarella or a meatball, this looks downright exotic. Calamari it is! The calamari was served with Sottaceto Misto, Spicy Aïoli, and Charred Lemon for $14.
We were intrigued by the Sottaceto Misto since it is pickled vegetables (including pickles themselves). We thought the pickled pickles sounded pretty wacky, but we actually enjoyed it! It accompanied the calamari very well and brought a little bit of sweetness and acidity.
The star of this dish was the spicy aïoli. Even though the calamari was fried really well, this sauce was a great addition. The charred lemon was also a must for this dish and enhanced the appetizer overall. We gave our calamari a good squirt with the warm lemon before digging in!
This was a big portion so it’s quite shareable. This is definitely one for the seafood lovers. Squid isn’t up everyone’s alley — it can be quite rubbery or fishy at times. This had a bit of fishiness to it, but nothing too strong. The calamari was good and the additions to the plate elevated it from the basic calamari you’d find in many eateries.
As our entree, we were torn between their actually REALLY good Charred Strip Steak or a pasta. We’ve had that steak a couple of times and genuinely still think it’s one of our favorite steaks at Disney, but we ended up choosing the Shrimp Campanelle. This dish features Sauteed Shrimp and Campanelle Pasta tossed in Four-Cheese Sauce with Cauliflower, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Fresh Spinach, and Sweet Onions for $25.
When we tasted it, we noticed it was VERY cheesy (which we didn’t mind). The pieces of shrimp were big and juicy and cooked very well.
We personally loved the cauliflower, spinach, and sun-dried tomato in the entree. If you’ve had sun-dried tomatoes you know it can be like a “POW!” of tomato flavor once you bite down on a piece and there were PLENTY in here! For balance, we would have preferred if there were slightly less sun-dried tomatoes and more spinach instead.
The veggies are marinated in white wine and if you aren’t a shrimp fan, you can substitute chicken. Overall we thought this was a solid pasta dish and it reminded us a lot of grown-up mac ‘n cheese (with sneaky veggies hiding inside, of course!). Not the best we’ve ever had, but we’ve certainly had worse. It’s on par, if not slightly better, than the pasta offered at some quick-service locations in Disney World hotels.
This was a bit pricey for what you get, but most items on the menu are in this price range. If you are a pickier eater but looking to expand your horizons a bit, you will possibly enjoy this.
And last but not least, we picked the Chocolate and Cherry Tort for dessert! This Instagrammable treat is made with Ghirardelli creamy chocolate, infused with Morello cherries, cherry coulis, and whipped cream for $7.50.
This dessert was fine. The chocolate mousse was very rich and creamy but at the end of the day it was just another dome of chocolate mousse. This needed much more cherry, in our opinion. That teeny little squirt of red is all the cherry coulis we got. Morello cherries have SO much flavor so we would have loved a WHOLE lot more of that in here.
Chocolate fans would enjoy this, but it was not a stand-out to us. The other dessert options were kind of boring and predictable — a cannoli, tiramisu, gelato, or sorbet. That said, one of the all-time cutest desserts here IS still on the menu: the Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake! While it’s on the Kids’ Menu, we’ve been able to order it in the past. This is way fun for kids and adults alike.
Unless you’re dead set on finishing your meal with dessert or one of the options here is really singing to you, we recommend, especially without the dining plan, grabbing a dessert somewhere else in the park. A lot of table service restaurants don’t have the best desserts and there are usually better ones a quick walk away at many quick-service locations.
Nosh or Not
You might want to dine at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano if…
- You want a sit-down meal in a theme park without a ton of options
- You love approachable, simple Italian food
- You enjoy looking at unique, kitschy decor
You might not want to dine at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano if…
- You want a quick bite and don’t want to commit to a full meal.
- You are looking for something adventurous to eat. The food here is very simplistic and predictable.
- You want a more vibrant atmosphere. The decor is cute, but it still looks like a fairly generic eatery. Hollywood Studios has restaurants with fun atmospheres including 50s Prime Time Cafe and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant where you can eat like you’re at a drive-in movie!
Although it has that hit-or-miss reputation, our latest meals here have been pretty solid. You’re not going to find those famed “Authentic Sicilian” recipes that Mama inherited from her Papa here — it’s honestly like a slightly more fun version of Olive Garden. This has rarely been our #1 spot in Hollywood Studios, but it’s certainly not worth disregarding. For those in the mood for Italian food, this will hit the spot nicely! This cozy little restaurant was good, but it’s up against some heavy-hitter restaurants and we’d probably pick those over Mama’s. That said, sometimes you just want a big bowl of creamy pasta with no pomp and frills, and Mama’s can deliver that plus a few surprises.
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Is Mama Melrose a must-do for you at Disney World? Let us know in the comments!