November 02, 2009

Oh Mama: Mamma Zu in Richmond

A couple of weeks ago, I had dinner at Richmond's Mamma Zu, an Italian restaurant in the Oregon Hill neighborhood. I went with my roommate and a colleague of mine who's a former Mamma Zu waitress. I took her unwavering support of the restaurant as a good sign; most waitresses learn the inner workings of a restaurant and never want to eat there again, but not so with this place. And the best part? Since she had worked there for nine years and remained friends with the owner, we were treated to several free appetizers before we even got around to eating our amazing entrées.

Despite all the hype I had heard about Mamma Zu from my colleague, I'll admit that the snob in me was a little put off by the restaurant's exterior (especially the sketchy bar-like lack of windows that suggests sleepy drunks and neon lights are just around the corner). In Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives lingo, Mamma Zu qualifies as a dive. Apparently Fieri even approached the owner about filming an episode there, but was rebuffed because the restaurant has had a line around the block every night since it opened in 1993 and didn't need any more press. I took this as a good sign.

Between the three of us at dinner, we ate: a white pizza, chicory greens sautéed with lots of garlic and olive oil, and fried oysters, just as appetizers. My roommate ordered Eggplant Parmesan, the former Mamma Zu waitress ordered duck, and I had orichiette and broccoletti sautéed in a spicy Italian sausage, ricotta, and tomato sauce. The sauce was hot without being overpowering, and the broccoletti greens gave the dish a bitter note that balanced it perfectly.

We finished the night with an order of tiramisu that was good, if you like that sort of thing. I never have, but I could appreciate its quality nonetheless, especially because it was doused in booze.

If you're ever in Richmond, check out Mamma Zu. Even though a lot of the reviews you'll find online cite bad service and big crowds, I had a great time and the food was worth a short wait. Even if you don't have the luxury of knowing a former employee, I imagine that getting there early will cut down on the crowds and the long waits.

Also: I reverse-engineered the sauce from my dinner, because I had been obsessing about it for a week the way a normal person does about money, love, or material goods. I'll post the recipe next.


  1. Did you ever post the reverse-engineered sauce. My fiance and I love Mamma Zu and I've been working to do the same, but have had mixed success. Any input you have would be awesome.

  2. I never did! I'll try to remember how I did it...I was never quite able to get the texture right, but it's been a while and maybe I know more?