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Shannnon DeCelle

Just Like Mom Used to Make
By B.A. Nilsson

Mama’s Family Restaurant

Routes 146 & 146A, Clifton Park, 371-7313. Serving Sun noon-9, Mon 11-9, Tue-Thu 11-10, Fri 11-11, Sat 11-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza and easygoing Italian fare

Entrée price range: $8 (meatless pasta) to $17 (stuffed garlic clams)

Ambiance: comfortable

Mama is not at Mama’s any more. Stephanie Van Auken presided there for some 22 years, but sold the place about two months ago to Matt Williams, who hasn’t really changed much about the restaurant.

It’s a somewhat lonely outpost amid a sea of chain restaurants and fast-food outlets in Clifton Park, and, with that level of competition, it holds its own. There’s an extensive menu in addition to pizza selections, and you have the option of take-out with all of the items.

Eating in is more comfy than you’d guess from the outside of the diminutive building. Nothing fancy, but you won’t suffer the phalanx of TV sets and/or fatuous wall decorations you’d see in such joints as Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday. And the menu here is more reasonably priced.

Our server thoughtfully mentioned that to order antipasto with a salad bar yonder would be excessive, and so we instead sampled other appetizers with a platter of samples ($8). You already know what’s coming: fried mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers and jalapeno poppers and a few cheese-rich, bacon-encrusted potato skins. We ate of them sparingly, having learned from long experience that they tend to take over the appetite. (As a next-day leftovers treat, they fare poorly when microwave reheated.)

Besides, the salad bar beckoned. It’s a standard-fare assembly, but with a generous array of side salads. The greens are fresh and the bar was freshened frequently during the time of our visit. It’s definitely a two-trips kind of array, especially if you want to keep your green salad and items like pasta salad separate.

If you’d rather have a served-at-the-table salad, they’re available in the dinner, chef’s, chicken Caesar and Buffalo chicken varieties, priced from $5 to $10 depending upon size and complexity.

You have a cornucopia of other appetizers, soups, salads, subs, burgers, wings and the like in addition to more formal entrées to choose from, abetted by a specials list that changes regularly. The personality of your meal will depend on what you want to get out of the place, but it will be casual and the food won’t offer any surprises. This place is about items like pasta Milano and pizza.

Pasta Milano ($15) mixes large shrimp with broccoli florets and decorations of red peppers and prosciutto over a big bowl of linguine. The flavors speak for themselves, boosted with plenty of garlic. It’s a huge serving, and can be split for two for an extra $4.

A number of similar dishes fall under the menu’s “gourmet pasta” category, like angel hair with broccoli ($11), fettuccine Alfredo ($12, add chicken or shrimp for $4), and linguine with clam sauce ($12).

Meat-based entrées include chicken and eggplant—including a multi-sized chicken parmigiana, which ranges from an 8-ounce serving ($10) to a four-cheese-topped pound ($16). In the all-things-to-all-diners category, you’ll find chicken Sorrento ($16), which features eggplant and cappicola, listed next to chicken fingers ($10), the worst thing ever to happen to a poor hen.

The $15 veal parmigiana turns out to be a giant portion with suitably tender cutlets of breaded veal beneath a good sauce and a lot of mozzarella cheese. (For a dollar more, it’s available with a confluence of four cheeses.) Traditional items like veal and peppers ($12) and veal Sorrento ($15) also are available.

Seafood items include stuffed sole ($12), which revealed itself as a plump but somewhat dry roll of fish with a bready crabmeat filling and butter as a principal flavoring agent. There are a few shrimp dishes, a $10 fish-and-chips dinner, baked or fried scallops ($14) and fried clams ($10), among other items.

For the Atkins crowd, there are low-carb items scattered throughout the menu, identified as such in a back-page listing.

Then there’s pizza. We paid another visit, this time as takeout customers, to cash in one of the menu coupons: $2 off a 12-cut pie with an order of 20 chicken wings and a two-liter bottle of soda. We phoned it in, found parking alongside the restaurant, and watched, impressed, as the assembly line of teenage workers distributed an impressive stream of such orders to the parade of clientele.

No surprises with the wings, which were crisp and remained so because they weren’t drowning in sauce. A broccoli-sausage pizza ($13.50) was as expected, a mainstream preparation in a field crowded with better and worse.

There are house specialty pies, too, like the blue-cheese and chicken-wing pizza, which I’m eager to sample, the lasagna pizza, and even a breakfast pizza made with eggs, mozzarella, and your choice of breakfast meat (bacon is one of them).

In sum, Mama’s perseveres in a neighborhood that has changed fantastically over the years. Its pricing and service and decor identify it as a middle-of-the-road eatery and it fulfills this category nicely.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Cappiello Festa Italiana takes place this weekend (Friday-Sunday, June 24-26) in Schenectady’s Central Park. It’s an annual celebration of Italian culture with food, children’s activities, bocce, cooking and wine demonstrations, casino games, children’s rides, strolling mandolinist and vocal musicians, several bands and dance groups. Featured entertainment is by the Tuscan Duo at 8 PM Saturday and tenor Michael Amante at 7 PM Sunday. Admission is free. For more info, check out www.festa-italiana.com, or call 372-5656. . . . The Van Dyck Restaurant (237 Union Street, Schenectady) begins brewing beer again this week. The facility was part of the Van Dyck’s extensive refurbishment eight years ago and welcomes back brewmaster Jason Furman, who was part of the original crew. He’s promising to start off with an amber ale, an India Pale Ale, a traditional German wheat beer and a raspberry wheat beer; the second week of brewing will produce the Van Dyck’s “Coal Porter,” a classic pilsner, the popular “Edison Electric Light” and a traditional English bitter. Furman will be brewing in the evenings, when customers can watch him at work. For more information, call the restaurant at 381-1111. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banils son.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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