Richmond >Food & Dining > Mamma Zu
501 S Pine St, Richmond, VA | Directions 2322037.538922 -77.450266
Neighborhoods: Oregon Hill, Fan - Oregon Hill - Carver
wellbridal – However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The faultfinder will find faults in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town's poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. May be they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that they are above being supported by the town; but it often happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means. Which should be more disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends, Turn the old, return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
Moved me to tears. – I am Italian born and raised, and as such I take my food very seriously.
After years of living abroad, I had resigned myself to only find good Italian food in my own kitchen. I am so grateful to my girlfriend for taking the time to find a place even I would love.
The food was simply fantastic, the Veal Marsala in particular really had me speechless for how delicious and true to the original recipe it was.
I found the atmosphere to be actually much closer to home than any other eatery. In all honesty, I do not dine out to chat with the wait staff, and really enjoyed not being disturbed every two seconds by a waiter in search of a good tip.
The blackboard menu had a very nostalgic feel to it, it made me miss some of my favorite food joints, and the owner himself was happy to answer my doubt about what kind of pasta they used for amatriciana. When he heard that I really wish it could have been bucatini, he promptly told our waiter to serve it to me with the 'special pasta'. If you feel intimidated by the Italian names you should simply try asking, or better yet enlarge your knowledge of Italian food past the baked spaghetti at your local Greek-Italian diner.
Their tiramisu was also fantastic and it was loaded with lots of gran marnier, not something you will see at a place trying to cut corners.
Overall this was a fantastic dining experience and I look forward to the next chance I have to visit again.
Where I would have my last meal – I live in Houston, Texas but have been to Mamma Zu's on 3 different occasions when I was in Richmond visiting my friends in GWAR over the years. They took me there the first time in 2001 and I have been hooked ever since. Without reservation I would say that if I was on death row and allowed to eat one final meal (in the restaurant of course) I would pick Mamma Zu's the food is always to die for and with a large enough group you get such a wonderful array of different flavors. I gladly accept the fact that they only accept AMEX or cash and won't take reservations it's just part of the ambiance of the place. Waiting is just a good chance to sample the awesome wine and get fired up for your meal.
I'm coming back to Richmond in early August for the Gwar-B-Q and counting down the days until I can say I've been to Mamma Zu's a fourth time!
eat well, entertain yourself. – I moved to Richmond from France, having grown up traveling and eating around Italy. The food at Mamma Zu's is fresh, cooked well, and unpretentious. It easily rivals the best meals I've shared in restaurants and homes in Italy. We eat there about once a week and have never had a disappointing meal.
As for the common complaints about the place, I really think Mamma Zu's embodies a very European restaurant culture, which is not superior to American dining culture, but is signifigantly different.
I find the staff knowledable and not over bearing, it allows you to be absorbed in your date, group, or paperback without a ready pitcher of ice water hovering or having to exchange a bunch of half-hearted pleasantries with a waiter or waitress you don't know. Some people find this rude, but it can also be very relaxing not to have to chit chat and fein intertest in someone's feined interest about "How are we doing today?" The staff are professionals, it's obvious they work together as a well-oiled team and have a huge loyalty to the establishment, they don't make mistakes, but nor do they perform like monkies for tips.
If you enjoyed being served by wait staff acting as servants, I can understand a sting of disappointment, but for many the feeling of being served by a fellow professional is much more comfortable than the waters cum lackies that one encounters who know nothing about food, and everything about striking up an instant repartee in a misplaced effort to make customers feel "special".
I don't know what to say about folks who complain about waiting. I suppose they see the meal as a goal to be acocmplished, the sooner the better. I've personally never seen anyone die of starvation at or near the restaurant, so I can't help but think these exaggerated woes stem from customer's inability to entertain themselves or talk at length with the folks they came with. The wait is part of the experience of any meal, the chance to slow down and converse and build anticipation. If you make the wait part of the meal, leisurely and unrushed, perhaps it would not offend?
I disagree that the decor is shabby chic or contrived in any way, it's merely utilitarian, comfortable, and pretty minimal. Again it is not there to entertain or distract, but rather allows you focus on savoring the meal without a lot of bells and whistles.
I suppose all I wanted to say is that many of the things that seem to irk people about this restaurant can be positive points if perceived slightly differently. My recommendation would be to go with people you really like, people you really want to talk to and share a meal with, don't be intimidated by the menu-try something you haven't had before, consider the wait a time of leisure to chat and people watch and catch a glimpse of dishes you may want to order - have a glass of wine while you wait!, and try not to think that you're doing everyone in the restaurant a favor by eating there, consider the experience mutual.
Best Food, Anywhere – First of all I'd like to address the alleged "surliness" of the staff - I've been going to 'Zu once a week for lunch for the past month and at least once a month for dinner for the past two years. I have never, EVER had a bad experience with any of the staff. Consider the amount of work they are doing before passing comments about their attitudes - and maybe check YOUR attitude at the door. If you want someone constantly bugging you every 2 minutes, you can always go to TGI Fridays, Applebee's, or some other establishment. That being said ...
If you like Italian joints that have pictures of the Rat Pack on the walls and a phony "Italian" atmosphere, "Zu ain't for you ... It's ALL about the food here. And fresher food I have yet to find. And it's always perfectly prepared with the proper balance of seasoning. Prices are more than fair and reasonable, with the most expensive item being the lamb chops. And they are worth every penny.
The sweetbreads are borderline orgasmic.
As is every dish on the menu.
For what it's worth, I'm Italian and grew up in a HARD-core Italian Brooklyn neighborhood. We love our food.
I've eaten in exactly ONE place that gave 'Zu a run for the money, and the only edge they had was fresh, home made pasta.
Bottom Line: If you're into "decor" and generic "Italian-American" food, there are plenty of places in town for that. If you LOVE great food, Mamma 'Zu sets the standard.
Jaroche6 is lost – Can you beat the food? Overall, you could try.... but probably not. The wine selection is perfect and reflects the taste and attitude of the owner. This establishment is not trying to be anything more than it is. A surly owned, bullish, dimly lit, Italian food corner joint. Pumping out a consistent product at a volume you couldn't even begin to comprehend. If you are in, prepare for sin. If you are out, like jaroche6, good riddance. Mamma doesn't need (or probably even want) you. Wake up Richmond, smell the monkey shit coffee. You are not the center of the universe. Every diner is merely a guest paying to play. That is, of course, unless you are allowed to play for free.
Blacklisted – My girlfriend and I have lived in Richmond going on two years now. We have yet to find a high quality Italian restaurant. We've tried Joe's Inn and Sidewalk Cafe (not strictly Italian or Greek), Chianti Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, and Mary Angela's off the top of my head. All of those restaurants are solid but nothing to write home about. I had heard by both word of mouth and praise over the internet that Mamma Zu's was superb. Last Friday we gave it a try. We will not be going back.
First, you will read a lot of reviews praising the fact that it is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, very typical to Carytown. It is. With most small Carytown restaurants, there is a substantial wait, around 20-30 minutes. Of course, it was a Friday so we expected to wait.
The atmosphere attempts to be reminiscent of a European restaurant. It fails miserably. It is very difficult to be homey and quaint, when there are 10-20 people standing around in the middle of the restaurant.
Mamma Zu's tries so hard to be similar to a European restaurant that its menu can be found on a blackboard above the bar. A litany of Italian dishes, foreign to most Americans, are listed with absolutely no explanation. Oddly, you won't even find that in Italy!
The following is a WARNING to all: Mamma Zu's only accept cash, personal checks, and American Express. Simply put, it does not accept Visa or Mastercard.
The food: unique and quality. I have no real complaints about the food, but you can find similar quality elsewhere without the hassle.
My summary of Mamma Zu's: A Carytown bar/restaurant trying to distinguish itself from the rest and succeeding; however, this distinction is no honor.
My recommendation: Instead of making a trip to Mamma Zu's, try Athens Tavern, a Greek restaurant hidden across the street from Starbucks in Carytown. The food is amazing! The restaurant is spacious enough not to overcrowd in the same extent as Mamma Zu's. AND although it has a blackboard menu for specials (coupled with its normal menu), the wait staff impecably and tirelessly describes all the dishes without complaint.
In addition, try Bistro 27, a French restaurant closer to downtown Richmond. It is spacious and the food matches and EXCEEDS anything Mamma Zu's has to offer.
BRAVO – If your idea of Italia food is Olive garden, Carrabas and Macaroni grill this is not the place for you. Open mind and open mouth.
Awful. Never Returning. – In short, I will never visit this place again! We decided to visit at the suggestion of a friend who is connected to All Things Richmond. Trusting her judgment, and those of several reviewers online (tho, there are many who feel that this place is not worth it - we soon found out why), we ended up dining at the restaurant on Tuesday evening. Mamma Zu's is situated inside of a dilapidated old building in Oregon Hill. Inside, if the lights had been lit, you would have seen dirty walls, ceilings, and other unattractive elements in the settings that would perhaps have you thinking otherwise about dining at the establishment. The menu is written on a board behind the bar - a nice trick, if only they would explain what half of what's listed on the board really means! Mamma Zu's is definitely looking for a schtick, but since it's trying to find it in so many ways, it fails miserably at all of them. A few I noticed: rude wait staff, apparently hearing the reviewers who state you "go there for the food, not for the service." Don't take a date here... they will not be impressed. In fact, we had a couple sitting next to us and the lady kept shutting her ears because of all the noise (every once and awhile, amid the loud raucous among the restaurant, you'll hear a kitchen cook exclaim the name of a waitress in order to get their attention. I'm sorry, but I just paid handsomely for a bottle of wine and an entree to impress someone, and you're screaming loud enough to distract the whole place? I don't think so.) Our waitress promptly arrived, asking what it was we would like to eat. My friend ordered a Coke, while I ordered a Diet. "No Diet," she countered. No diet? "Fair enough," I say, and I stick with water. The food arrives relatively promptly, no complaints there. I had mushroom rissotto, a safe bet, seeing as I originally viewed it as the only relatively simple dish on the menu. It wasn't until sitting down I noticed the smaller writing on the lower left corner with the less expensive pasta's written down. That's another thing about this place - it tries to do Gourmet, but fails miserably! It seems to me the only reason the prices here are so expensive is so the guests can feel that they're dining in an exclusive restaurant (and believe me, if "snooty" is your scene, you just might love this place. It seems to me those less aware of real gourmet tend to gravitate to these places en masse, as if to say, "hey, I can do it too!" Believe me, if you want to eat well, there are many other options at your disposal.) and so the restaurant can nickle and dime you for all they're worth. More on that in just a moment, but first the food: my risotto was decent, with just the right amount of sauce, firmness, and Maitake mushroom. I'd probably have it again, if I was forced here against my will. My friend was less fortunate: He had the Spaghetti and Meatballs. When I tried it, my first instinct was to suggest that the sauce was made from ketchup. When I tasted the meatballs and asked him what kind of meat he thought it was, his reply was "gross meat." Enough said. At any rate, we ate a little more and finally had our fill (truth be told, we had our fill long ago, but we tried to enjoy ourselves.) Receiving the check, I whipped out my credit card. Well, at Mamma Zu's, the only thing they take is American Express! Along with cash or check, this was the only option available. Not carrying cash and not being American Express cardholders my friend left to hunt down an ATM machine while I waited. And waited. Only twenty minutes went by, but that was twenty minutes of my own time. Twenty minutes I could have spent at a coffeeshop getting the taste of this poor experience out of my mouth. Twenty minutes I could have been at home, writing this review about how horrible this place truly is. Remember what I said about nickle and diming you? This place does it oh so well. What a shame.
Food as Opera – Best food I've ever eaten. I keep wondering what is the secret? This is the highest quality food prepared with respect for the ingredients. Made with a passionate generosity that intimidates some. When you step inside, you are in Ed's World - know that and succumb. The music, the lighting, the aromas, and of course the food, are all part of creating an experience that makes people feel as though they are in a privileged secret club teeming with possibilities - both gastronomical and interpersonal. Vasaio has created an opera that goes on year after year and loses none of its impact. Many are put off by host Dave's lack of social ease in taking names and seating people. But for many reasons he is indispensable to the place, and someone willing to wrangle the sometimes tactless folks who are used to a different style of restaurant experience. In the words of a genious: "If you don't like it - don't come back. And tell your friends!"
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