The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
About usI am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we visited Mom's Italian Villa at 1257 Market St. downtown.
The restaurantMom's Italian Villa is an anomaly downtown. The restaurant-right next to Porkers Bar-B-Que-is like walking into an abandoned antique store. We arrived on a Monday night and were the only patrons throughout our entire meal. The booths and tables are many, but the crowd was nonexistent. Our server told us the lunch business is incredibly busy. I must have walked by this place a hundred times, yet I've only ever considered walking in once (they were closed) a few years ago. The "no credit cards" policy is understandable, but a rarity in 2014. The restaurant has been in business since 1962, serving the recipes of Ollie "Mom" Parker. Since her death, her grandson Randy has kept the restaurant the way she left it. This includes the rock-bottom prices for many of the entrées and pizzas. You'd be hard-pressed to find cheaper Italian food in Chattanooga. Upon entry, it should be obvious that Mom's will be far different from upscale joints like Alleia, Boccaccia and Tony's. This is a throwback to a bygone age, simple and a tad funky. And, again, bring cash.
The service/drinks/appetizerOur server never introduced herself and seemed quite surprised to have any customers walking through the door at all. We were allowed to choose our seats, and I ordered an Amstel Light because they didn't have any of the "special" Italian beers in the refrigerator. It should be noted that you can bring your own wine to drink for a nominal "corking" fee. We didn't. Friends who speak fondly about Mom's are quick to point out the quality of the food. "It's great for the price," they say. Is that an endorsement? Or a willingness to just eat subpar food? Lauren ordered a water, and our server brought over a basket of garlic bread and an antipasto salad. The garlic bread was salty and buttery. I didn't care for the salad, but Lauren enjoyed it. It should be noted that our server was very friendly, but the entire operation seemed a bit frazzled and off-putting. It wasn't that we didn't feel welcome, but we kind of felt like everybody had to drop what they'd rather be doing to cater to us. That's a weird way to feel in a restaurant.
The entréesThere were several other people in the restaurant working other than the server, an older woman and a 30s-ish male. The male was loudly cursing at some point about something, which didn't seem to faze anybody on the staff. Perhaps this is the norm? For dinner, Lauren ordered a pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms. I ordered a "regular"-size portion of homemade lasagna. Our food arrived in a flash-10 minutes or less-and appeared adequate and as listed on the menu. Lauren's pizza was a very simple thin-crust pie with the ordered ingredients. My lasagna was what I expected for the price-definitely homemade, but quickly reheated to order. It was a tad wet-feeling, but the flavor was spot-on. I can't fault them for this, though, and I almost managed to clean my plate. The portion size was plenty for an adult human. Lauren said her pizza was "good" and exactly what she expected for the $6.85 price tag. I've heard from friends that the spaghetti and meatballs are the bee's knees.
Would we go back?We're on the fence about Mom's Italian Villa. For a cheap Italian fix, you're unlikely to find a better option. But having said that, when I want Italian food, I WANT ITALIAN FOOD. This doesn't mean a DiGiorno pizza and Stouffer's lasagna. I want exquisite pasta and the gourmet decadence of homemade sauce and gluttony. Mom's Italian Villa just kind of falls flat. There's no debating the longevity of the place, but I'd hesitate to recommend it to visitors or friends when there are better options for just a tad more money. You really can't beat the price, though. Our meal was just about $18 before tip.
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