Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mamma Lucia serves down-home dishes

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Owner Jimmy Constantinou displays some of the popular dishes at his College Park restaurant, Mamma Lucia Pizza and Pasta. They are linguine alla mare chiara (right) and cozze adriatico.
It isn’t often that a restaurateur boasts of having ketchup in his blood to illustrate his connection to the food industry as Jimmy Constantinou does but, as he points out, running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart.

‘‘I love it,” he says. The ‘‘ketchup in the blood” expression came from his father, also a restaurateur. Constantinou, owner-operator of College Park’s Mamma Lucia, has worked in restaurants since he was a teenager and says they require a lot of time and dedication. And he knows what he is talking about — before opening Mamma Lucia, he owned restaurants in Burtonsville and Bethesda.

The menu at Mamma Lucia makes good on its promise of down-home Italian cooking. It retains Italian names for each dish and provides an explanation of ingredients for the uninitiated. Lunch portions range from $7 to $13, while dinners are between $10 and $22. As if it weren’t already challenging to pick just one dish, there is a board with specials like the Shrimp and Crab Alfredo to make choosing even more difficult.

Constantinou highlights the Salsicce alla Napoletana (sausage and penne pasta in a light marinara sauce) as one of the eatery’s most popular dishes.

Dayle Dougherty, who has worked at Mamma Lucia for more than a year agrees. ‘‘It was one of the first dishes I tried when I came here,” she said.

Dougherty also adds that for a while she was, ‘‘addicted to the Pollo Brunello” (chicken, mushrooms and penne pasta in a creamy Marsala sauce).

There are several pasta dishes, including many tempting varieties of spaghetti and ravioli, as well as lasagna. Dishes that feature chicken, seafood and veal are listed on the menu in separate sections. All of the dinner entrees, including other customer favorites like the Pollo alla Francese (chicken breast dipped in egg and sautéed in a lemon and wine sauce) or Cappelini Adriatico (scallops, shrimp and crabmeat in a cherry tomato sauce over angel hair pasta), are served in generous portions accompanied by bread and salad.

The restaurant is both classy and convenient. Its walls are painted with murals of what is presumably the Italian coastline. The tables are outfitted with tablecloths and cloth napkins. A hostess seats customers who choose to dine in, while others can go to the front counter to pick up take-out orders, try a complimentary garlic knot or order pizza by the slice. The staff is attentive and the banter at the front counter is lively, but not boisterous.

‘‘It’s the best job. Everyone’s so friendly, and the food is so good,” says Dougherty.

The lunch hour is the busiest time of day at Mamma Lucia. This is when slices of New York style pizza and subs are readily available. A 14-inch thin crust pizza is $12. The subs and hot specialties, including the cheese calzone and the meatball parmigiana sub, range in cost from $5 to $8.

John Genzano, who was in town from Atlantic City, enjoyed a glass of wine and his meal and said he was likely to return the next time he was in the area.

This restaurant, part neighborhood pizza place, part fine dining, has a lot to offer

Whether you take time to dine in and enjoy a glass of wine, or take the order with you, you are sure to enjoy Mamma Lucia’s fresh ingredients and down-home style.

Mamma Lucia

4734 Cherry Hill Road (College Park Plaza), College Park

Phone: 301-513-0605

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday