Spotlight: Mama Mia! That's pizza

Pizzeria’s simple menu is simply divine

Mama Mia pizza.

Mama Mia pizza.

When you sink your teeth in the Big Mama pizza at Mama Mia's Pizzeria, thank Facebook.

That's right. Facebook. Even if you're not on it, you've heard about it. Now it's doing something good for you.

Pizza cook Alan Hayden  tosses a crust during the lunch rush at Mama Mia's Pizzeria on Houston Levee, where crusts are made in-house.

Photo by Jim Weber

Pizza cook Alan Hayden tosses a crust during the lunch rush at Mama Mia's Pizzeria on Houston Levee, where crusts are made in-house.

Mama Mia's Pizzeria specialties include the Big Mama (top) and the Healthy Mama.

Photo by Jim Weber

Mama Mia's Pizzeria specialties include the Big Mama (top) and the Healthy Mama.

Denise Smith and her daughter Elizabeth, 5, watch as Grey Smith, 7, makes his own pizza -- a kids' specialty called the Kiddie Mama -- at Mama Mia's Pizzeria.

Photo by Jim Weber

Denise Smith and her daughter Elizabeth, 5, watch as Grey Smith, 7, makes his own pizza -- a kids' specialty called the Kiddie Mama -- at Mama Mia's Pizzeria.

My friend Emily told me about Mama Mia's a few months ago, swearing it was the best pizza in town. I had it stored in my mental tickler, but I didn't have it on my official list. When Emily and I "friended" each other on Facebook, I browsed her page and found she had a photo album of pictures from Mama Mia's.

It took me only a minute to suspect I was heading out to Cordova for pizza. A quick review of Mama Mia's Web site, which includes the boast of a perfect 100 score from the Health Department and a claim to local ingredients, sealed the deal.

It's a simple menu: Breadsticks, salads, calzones and wedgies (think stromboli) and pizza.

We chose three pizzas: The Big Mama, the Healthy Mama and the Meaty Mama. I'd happily eat any of them again, if only for the excellent crust.

The pizza dough is made daily -- there's a big ol' Hobart mixer right behind the counter for everyone to see -- and left to proof for three days in the cooler before it goes to the oven.

The three-day proof intrigued me (the information is on the Web site), so I called owner Brian Lurie to find out the reasoning behind it.

"It was kind of trial and error," he said. After trying different kinds of flour, he ended up going with one high in gluten.

A little food science later, he discovered that the protein in the flour will react to a very small amount of yeast, about a teaspoon per 100 pounds of dough, and rise slowly.

The result is a moderately thin but chewy crust with a slight crisp to the bottom. It holds up to the generous toppings, and it's foldable, New York style.

The Big Mama was the favorite. The first thing I noticed was that there were no sausage pellets on the pizza. Go Mama! There was true Italian sausage, crumbled, just like you'd do it at home. The combination of salami and pepperoni provided deep cured-meat flavor, and the fresh vegetables -- onions, bell peppers and mushrooms -- lent taste and texture. There were a few too many black olives for me, but that's nothing to quibble about as they're easily brushed off the top.

The Meaty Mama is the Big Mama minus the veggies. I can definitely see that some people would like this pizza best; a friend told me her family would pick the onions and the peppers off the Big Mama, but I like the aromatics and thus Meaty Mama comes in behind Big Mama.

But right in the middle, coming in a very solid second, was the Healthy Mama. I'm not delusional -- I know this is not a low-calorie or low-fat dinner -- but it's better nutritionally than the meaty versions. And it is mighty tasty.

Spinach, artichoke hearts and fresh Roma tomato slices nestle in a bed of mozzarella and feta cheese. The feta gives a salty kick; the spinach, earthiness; and the artichokes and tomatoes brighten the flavors of the pie. One caveat: It came to the table a little watery, which is to be expected when you use fresh tomatoes. Let it sit a few minutes before digging in and the juices from the tomatoes will meld with the sauce.

Here's a tip for pizza lovers seeking a bargain. Go to homeofthebigmama.com and enter your e-mail address to receive coupons twice a month. Prices range from $9.99 for a 12-inch cheese pizza to $22.99 for the 18-inch Big Mama.

Mama Mia's Pizzeria

Address: 1105 N. Houston Levee, Suite 113

Telephone: (901) 756-6166

Hours: 11 a.m-10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Price: $

Handicapped access: Yes

Alcoholic beverages: Beer; no corkage fee on wine

Don't miss: The Big Mama pizza is the specialty of the house

Web site: homeofthebigmama.com

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 3

gravybiscuit writes:

I've had the privilege of eating at pizzerias all over the United States and out of all of them, Mama Mia's makes my favorite slice of pie. Keep up the great work guys! We are lucky to have you in Memphis.

BTW, the meatball and cheddar is excellent! :-)

rachaelamberly writes:

Congrats on the "spotlight," Brian!! I absolutely loved being an employee for Mamma Mia's, and still talk about how good the pizza is all the way up here in Seattle!
I'm coming to visit this Summer!!

ascent writes:

I also think Mama Mia's is the best in town. Usually get a Veggie Mama and add cheddar and pepperoni (I know, I know... but it ends up just like we like it) -- or, my new personal favorite is just cheddar and pepperoni. With the cheese dripping off the side and the crust just right.. WOW, it's good stuff.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.