Mama Mia! A great place for old-world style Italian cuisine
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Mama Mia Too, housed in the 112-year-old Holbrook House, is the perfect venue for the authentic, old-world Italian dishes peppering the menu.
The wooden tables in the restaurant have white linen tablecloths covered with plastic overlay because those bubbling sauces tend to get messy.
The vibe is Italian mother, which makes sense considering the name.
“I was missing my mama,” said owner Ralph Hanna. “So I named the restaurant after her.”
Hanna was born in Cairo to an Egyptian father and Italian mother. In 1970, at age 16, he moved to Italy to work in restaurants. He worked in Milan, Venice, Santa Margarita and Portofino learning how to cook. Italian cooking quickly became his favorite.
He moved to Cornelius in 1993 and opened the original Mama Mia, which closed in 1998. Mama Mia Too opened in 1997.
Italian restaurants in the U.S. tend to focus on the old standbys such as
lasagna, spaghetti and chicken marsala. However, if you ask Hanna to name the best items on his menu, he starts with seafood dishes.
“The zuppa del pesce is amazing,” Hanna said with a gruff yet lilting accent. “Also the lobster ravoli, red snapper, scallops with spinach …”
He stops for a second.
“Not that the pastas are not good here, but the seafood is just superb!”
In 2000, Ralph met a woman named Amani, an electrical engineer, at his church. Originally from Egypt, she was visiting her sister in the area. The two were engaged one week later. Twelve years have passed and they have 3 children between them and the same full-time job.
“We basically live here at the restaurant,” said Amani Hanna, who greets all the customers, sets the reservations and work schedules, closes the restaurant and keeps an eye on all the small details.
Mama Mia Too is truly a second home to the family. The upstairs is outfitted with a bed, computers, sporting equipment and desks for their children, who come to the restaurant for the dinner service.
The food at Mama Mia Too is all cooked by Ralph Hanna. He is the head chef all day, every day. The sauces are all made to order except the marinara and meat sauces, which simmer for days. Fresh ingredients are key. Even the bread is homemade, served piping hot with a crisp crust. The seafood and meat are delivered fresh daily.
The customers return over and over to eat the Italian dishes.
“We’ve had some of the same customers since we’ve opened,” said Ralph Hanna with a happy shrug.
One of these frequent customers, Marcello Giancaterini, attests to the excellence and authenticity of the food.
“The pasta is delicious,” he said with a wink and a grin. “It is better than in Italy and I should know because I am Italian!”
The restaurant is the perfect business for Ralph Hanna and his family.
“I get to meet a lot of people and I get to cook a lot of good food,” he said contentedly.
His wife agrees. “It is hard work, but the rewards are many.” q