Chicken Florentine with fettucine served at Mamma Lucia, an… (John Lindner, Baltimore…)
Dining adventures at Gateway Overlook begin in the parking lot. In true Columbia fashion, one doesn't so much drive through as wend around. With a big-box centerpiece, this mall also has satellite buildings, many filled with restaurants. Lots of cars, no grid. Pack your GPS.
Mamma Lucia resides in the same section as the more easily spotted Trader Joe's. Like its neighbors, Mama Lucia is a chain, a regional one started in Rockville. Its owners advertise "down home Italian cooking" and hefty portions.
11:58 a.m. We're shown to our seats while our drink orders are taken. A server sets down a basket of crispy golden toast and a dish of seasoned olive oil that's loaded with garlic bits. Mamma's opinion seems to be, if something works, go heavy. That impression remained true throughout meal.
Our server, a model of efficiency and enthusiasm, raved about the mussels, and we bit. She also congratulated us on our entree choices: a couple of pasta dishes. Maybe it was an act, but she seemed sincerely excited about her fare, and it worked for us.
12:07 p.m. My dining companion tore into the large bowl of mussels ($9) and sided with our server's assessment. I was impressed with their tenderness but thought the cook was a bit heavy handed with the lemon in the stock. A light white bread, dinner roll-like, served to sop up the lemon mussel stock if you needed more than the mussel shells could deliver.
12:25 p.m. Mamma Lucia's boast about sending you home with half your meal wrapped may have something to do with the bread they ply you with. Our entrees arrived looking generous for lunch portions but not stupid big. We took that as a good thing.
My companion's chicken Florentine, at $12, and my shrimp Montese with angel hair (penne is recommended, but Mamma doesn't blink as substitutes) at $14 were in taste spectrum line with the starters. They were pleasing works very carefully colored within the lines of a wide palate range.
The Florentine, which comes with a veal option, dripped with creamy sauce and mozzarella lightened by plenty of spinach. The fettuccine was firm and held up well, and you could cut the chicken with a fork.
The Montese's rose sauce might make you wonder if you've tasted it elsewhere, like at home. And you may have. Mamma Lucia sells sauce by the jar. And again, the kitchen doesn't skimp. The dish was just graced with crab and filled out by at least half a dozen shrimp.
12:42 p.m. We slowed to a stop, and our server was right there to clear the plates and take a tiramisu order. Yes, it's big. At $6, the dessert is built for two, and we left a couple of forkfuls of the cakey concoction on the plate.
12:55 p.m. We did depart with leftovers, very satisfied and with only one complaint.
Mamma Lucia's works the popular palate by the numbers. It didn't get to be a chain by being quirky. But that doesn't mean it can't deliver an approachable, even embraceable, menu. It fills its niche well.
What surprised us was the annoyingly loud music. The staff is young, and we wondered if they cranked the tunes so the kitchen staff could enjoy it, too. On the other hand, what young kitchen staff wants to hear the Hollies' "Air That I Breathe" and other '70s mellow rock hits? I'd have guessed they were back there clapping hot dinner plates over their ears.
Aside from that, Mamma Lucia has an open and accommodating dining area ready to take on famished shoppers. The only things keeping us from getting in and out with time to spare for a little shopping were our appetites and a server with a good sales pitch.
- Have you been to Mamma Lucia in Elkridge? Write your own review.
Where: 6630 Marie Curie Drive, Elkridge
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Lunch entrées: $8-$14
[Key: ¿¿¿¿: Outstanding; ¿¿¿: Good; ¿¿: Fair or Uneven; ¿: Poor]