Since moving to Charlotte from Chicago, it seemed like I forgot how to speak Italian, as in food. While it was my regular go-to in Chi-town, I have ignored one of my favorite cuisines since moving to the Queen City. Shortly after landing here, an acquaintance recommended Mama Ricotta’s as a spot I had to try. I still haven’t made it there, but I did recently venture over to its sister concept, Little Mama’s Italian, from esteemed local restaurateur Frank Scibelli. Aside from his two Italian staples, he also owns Midwood Smokehouse, Yafo Kitchen, and Paco’s Tacos and Tequila.
Little Mama’s SouthPark location presents a welcoming setting from the get-go as we were warmly greeted immediately upon entering the premises. Consisting of two rooms, the main dining area features multiple tables along with a few booths, but the focal point of the room is the mozzarella bar that’s featured prominently on the menu.
I ended up in the more intimate of the two rooms, with tables spaced out in the middle as well as a few sizable booths to accommodate larger parties along the wall. COVID-19 protocols were followed and I felt comfortable eating there.
Before our order hit the table, we were offered fresh-baked rolls straight from the oven along with an excellent chili flake-infused oil to dip it in.
As I mentioned, mozzarella is the main attraction here. A mozzarella presentation at Little Mama’s offers a made-to-order fresh ball of mozzarella along with two sides for $21. Instead of going all-in, I opted for the $7 fior di latte, which consisted of a generous amount of mozzarella with one accompaniment. I chose the heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil, and looking around the room, that seemed to be a go-to choice for many.
People say size doesn’t matter, but in this case, I was floored by what appeared before me. The plate included two large slices of mozzarella and three very tasty tomatoes, along with a healthy sprinkling of fresh basil — all bathed in a generous pool of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
To say this was a good deal would not do it justice. The cost of a similar plate from my hometown could run you anywhere from $14 to $17. While it was an incredible value, unfortunately, the mozzarella was not as delish as the tomatoes. It tasted a bit hard — definitely not as soft and creamy as I would have liked, and kind of bland — until I got to the end. The last few bites were saltier and made my palate happy.
Our serve Danny explained that it took a salt bath where they stretch it at the end before it’s ready to be served and followed the explanation with an apology. I told him there was nothing to apologize for, although I do suggest perhaps they could add the salt throughout as it took the taste level to a place I hadn’t experienced with the rest.
For our entrees, we chose Tomassino’s broiled chicken, which is marinated with herbs, garlic, lemon, and high-grade EVOO accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes. Price points are $18 for a generous serving and $32 for a family portion.
There was a nice sear to the chicken that enhanced its taste. Sitting atop them like a crown were cooked tomatoes that burst with the flavor of summer. The garlic mashed potatoes exhibited the essence of garlic and were not at all lumpy. Everything was surrounded by a pool of olive oil and that’s a pool I would like to jump in and did with each bite, swirling it around before savoring the combination of flavors.
Fresh pasta is another specialty of the house. I opted for the fresh fettuccine alla Pugliese that featured Italian butter, parmesan, toasted bread crumbs, and truffle oil. You tell me it’s made with truffle oil and I’m ordering it.
The breadcrumbs sitting on top were toasted and added a nice crunch to the dish. The fettuccine was fresh as spring rain and wonderfully creamy. Side note: Beware of the addicting quality of their truffle oil.
Single and family portions are available for $17/$31. You can add chicken, sausage, shrimp, or salmon for an additional charge. The single was more than enough for two so we had plenty to take home for the next day. On the menu, this version is for dine-in only. Our server mentioned that it doesn’t travel as well and is better to eat immediately. I beg to differ, as we enjoyed it just as much the day after, only missing the breadcrumbs we devoured as soon as the first bite zinged our taste buds.
We left room for dessert and I went with the Nutella pie, because how can you pass up Nutella? It’s described as a chocolate-hazelnut spread whipped with mascarpone cheese and peanut butter, sitting on a graham cracker crust and topped with dulce de leche and chocolate sauce.
My first impression was … Wow — it is big! For nine bucks, you can’t go wrong. Considering my consistent disappointment with desserts in the Queen City, this is one I’m not going to complain about. I’m a fool for peanut butter, as I was raised on Reese’s, and between the richness from the interior, and the dulce de leche and chocolate sauce to twirl it through, this was a winning finale to the meal.
Danny offered impeccable service and helped elevate the experience to another level. It seems to be a pattern in Charlotte, as the majority of my destinations have made me feel very welcome.
Little Mama’s Italian is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, and swapping brunch for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. They’re open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Little Mama’s earns 3.5 bites out of four due to excellent food, very generous portions for the price, and exceptional service. Hold my place at the table, mama, I’m coming home.
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