A passel of pizza toppings, all of them kosher

Mama Leah's also has tuna subs, salads and lasagna

Eats: dining reviews, Hot Stuff

October 07, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mama Leah's adheres to dietary laws that are thousands of years old, but it doesn't neglect the modern-day dietary Bible known as Atkins, either.

This kosher pizza joint on Reisterstown Road will gladly make your pizzas on low-carb crusts. And if Atkins isn't your particular dietary religion, there are also lactose-free pizzas with no cheese, pizzas with whole-wheat crusts, and white pizzas with lots of cheese but no tomato sauce.

Not that Mama Leah's is so concerned with healthful eating. Even if you get the low-carb pizza, are you going to be able to resist the fries, onion rings or garlic knots? A meal at Mama Leah's will definitely meet the strictest kosher requirements, but your jeans may be less forgiving.

The restaurant, which moved from a different Reisterstown Road location to the Woodholme Square shopping center in 2000, also has lasagna, tuna subs, salads, soft-serve ice cream and soup (in the winter months).

The fries, served in one of those Ocean City-style paper cups, are particularly tough to resist. They're cut thick, cooked to a rich brown and then salted just enough to counter the almost carmelized sweetness of the potatoes. Like the onion rings, they are hand-cut by owner Javin Sher and cooked to order.

As for the ice cream, what's to say? There's no such thing as bad soft serve, especially when it comes topped with rainbow sprinkles.

The interior at Mama Leah's is nothing fancy - linoleum floors, hard-seated booths and a counter where customers place their orders.

On my lunchtime visit, a gaggle of teens - some boys in yarmulkes, some not - shared pizzas at a table in the middle of the room.

Sher said about 80 percent of his customers are observant Jews. Yet people who aren't Jewish should not be intimidated.

The place is casual and friendly, and the positive vibe starts with Sher, who has more than a little bit of the doting Jewish parent in him. All customers who order spicy food get a large cup of water with their meal, even if they don't ask for it.

I appreciated the thoughtfulness, but the water didn't begin to douse the fire generated by my falafel, which I had foolishly ordered spicy. The falafel, a generous mix of fried, cumin-y chickpea balls, lettuce and tomato in a large, made-on-the-premises pita, would have been terrific, but it was almost too hot to eat because of the chokingly hot tahini sauce.

Fortunately, a raspberry smoothie neutralized the pain. The smoothies, made with ice cream, are new on the menu and as rich as milkshakes.

Because Mama Leah's is a dairy kosher restaurant, it serves no meat. But a good alternative to a pepperoni pie is the Israeli pizza. Crumbled chunks of those cumin-y falafel balls create a meaty texture, and the homemade sauce is enlivened with tiny slivers of eggplant. The crust (I had regular old full-carb) is chewy and nicely flavored, with cheese baked in.

The Israeli is one of dozens of topping options offered at Mama Leah's. Others include the five-alarm pizza, with jalapeno peppers (no chance I'll ever try that), and the omelet pizza, made with a layer of eggs and cheese instead of tomato sauce.

And in case you're wondering, there is no Mama Leah. Sher says the previous owner chose the name because it sounds both Italian and Jewish. And also because the restaurant used to be across the street from a Papa John's.

Mama Leah's

Where: 1852 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville

Call: 410-653-7600

Open: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday; Saturday hours vary

Credit cards: MC, V

Prices: Pizzas are $5.95 to $19.28, entrees are $4.04 to $6.66

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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