Vol 7 No. 41 - July 4, 2007

Mamma Onesti’s - welcoming and delicious

Mamma Onesti's
From left, Franceska Scarpino and Laura Sergo shows plates of mussels in white wine and Chicken Fiorentina served at Mama Onesti’s.

By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer

There is something about Mamma Onesti’s that feels utterly comforting. It has to do with the sweetness of the waitresses, who wear T-shirts with a logo "Life is too short to not be Italian," and the window boxes of basil, rosemary, cucumbers, eggplant and zucchini at the entrance. It's about the conversations you’ll hear around you from people suggesting their favorite dishes and reminiscing that it tastes just like mama made it. Best of all, it’s in the kitchen’s successes like the splendid homemade crusty rolls that appear almost immediately, piled high with a sprinkling of freshly chopped garlic and a drizzle of good olive oil. Italian the way it used to be before the designer food invasion.

This restaurant in the Bradenton Commons Shopping Center is a smaller version of what was the original Mamma Onesti’s in Sarasota. Laura Sergo was a waitress there. Approximately a year ago, Laura approached Frank Scarpino, the owner, and suggested a partnership.

Laura explained, "We had worked together for about 10 years, so we sure could trust each other."

They closed the original Mamma Onesti’s and together spruced up what was once a sandwich shop. Keeping the original name in tribute to Frank’s grandmother, they added sheer curtains to soften the floor to ceiling windows, tiled the floors, painted the walls with warm earth-colors and hung up a few pictures of Italy.

They added a small bar, which is perfect for a glass of wine while waiting for a take-out order or to enjoy a cup of soup, sandwich, light snack or late-night bowl of pasta. They added lighting that is subdued and soft and placed rattan wrapped Chianti bottles on every table, reflecting the owners’ pride in their establishment. The result is as welcoming as the owners themselves.

The short menu is appropriate for this small dining room, yet there’s plenty to choose from. Dishes, like the décor, are far from trendy but still a cut above meatballs and spaghetti, although this kitchen does work wonders with that dish also. Food is simply prepared and delicious.

Start perhaps with a glass of wine. The selection is reasonably priced and the owners are quick to recommend a good bottle from the list.

If your main dish will be pasta, and that’s probably a smart way to go, then starting with one of Mamma Onesti’s sprightly salads, all lightly dressed, might be a good idea. Salads are the Caesar with crisp romaine and garlicky croutons, Gorgonzola on mixed greens or a special antipasto with marinated vegetables.

Or begin with a platter of large, green-lipped New Zealand mussels. Mussels are one of the grandest-flavored morsels to come from the sea. These mussels are steamed open, their top shell removed, and then they are drowned in a succulent, buttery white wine sauce. Not only delicious, but healthy too. When it comes to Omega-3, the miracle fatty acid found in fish, mussels have more of it than any other shellfish.

Pasta dishes shine. Terrific, cheesy tortellini in tomato sauce was smoothed by a bit of basil. The same sauce went beautifully with a number of pastas: spaghetti, rigatoni or ravioli. Or try spaghetti carbonara, with sprightly tomato sauce enriched by eggs, bits of onion, garlic, peas, smokey pancetta and sweet basil. The lasagna was tasty, meaty and mellow. All pasta portions are quite generous.

Other entrees could be as fine as simply grilled New York strip steak. You could order it as "pizzaiola" with a jazzy topping of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and roasted sweet red pepper. Veal and chicken are served seven different ways; with capers and lemon butter sauce, parmigiana or with Marsala wine and a heaping of mushrooms among them.

The Chicken Fiorentina was a sure fire winner – three breast cutlets in that wonderful tomato sauce layered with spinach, prosciutto and provolone and then popped quickly in and out of the broiler, juicy and full of flavor.

Mama Onesti’s Chicken Fiorentina and Mussels in white wine

Chicken Fiorentina
4 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. flour
1 c. tomato sauce,
1 c. chicken stock
1 Tbs. butter
2 slices of prosciutto
3 slices of provolone cheese
1 c. spinach
4 medallions of chicken breast pounded thin.

Heat olive oil, lightly flour chicken and add to oil. Sauté till golden. Add butter, stock and tomato sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. Layer the prosciutto, spinach and provolone cheese. Broil till cheese melts and serve.

Mussels in white wine
4 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbs. butter
1 c. seafood stock
3 oz. white wine
Fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oil then add garlic and sauté till golden. Add butter, stock and white wine, then bring to a boil. Add mussels and simmer for 4 minutes. Garnish with basil and serve.

Mamma Onesti’s Italian Restaurant
4625 Cortez Road
Bradenton • 798-3067


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