HUNTERSVILE – File Mama’s Pizza Express under the old cliché don’t judge a book by its cover.
The unassuming building sits on a busy corner with a peeling awning and some bright neon signs.
The food comes in to-go tins or boxes, and the workers are clad in hats and T-shirts as they wend their way throughout the open food preparation area.
But the taste. Oh that taste!
One bite will transport you to the finest of Italian restaurants with fresh tomatoes, subtle spices, tender pasta and crispy crusts.
Owner Frank Manis employs a chef from Italy who makes or oversees all of the food.
“The authenticity of the food makes all the difference,” Manis said. “We make just about everything, including all of our pasta, in-house.”
Manis opened the first Mama’s Pizza in the University City area in 2006 followed by the Huntersville location and then the Cornelius location. The Huntersville shop is more of a take-out joint with an attached Italian deli.
The concept is to serve and deliver not only pizza, but also full meals.
In fact, there are 75 items that customers can get delivered, making this the go-to place for a gourmet meal at a casual price.
Another location is in the works to create an even larger delivery area.
The reason behind the heavenly food has to do with two things: homemade pasta and homemade sauce. The cooks use an industrial-size mixer to create dough and then make pasta sheets, which can be cut into any type of pasta.
“This is what separates us from everyone else,” Manis said. “I just didn’t like the taste of many store-bought pastas. This way it always tastes amazing, and we can create any type of pasta we want.”
The sauce recipe is so secret that only one person knows the ingredients. The result is a superior meal that would cost three times as much in a restaurant.
All of the pasta dishes are homemade from the pasta to the sauce to the meat, which is ground and seasoned in-house.
“And the dishes are made after you order,” Manis said. “We do not pre-make our items.”
Pasta dishes range from chicken parmigiana to lasagna and chicken marsala. They also make tiramisu, cannoli, soups, tortellini salad and tuna salad.
The pizza is baked in a real oven on a stone.
“This makes a big difference,” Manis said. “It takes a bit longer as we don’t run air through the crust, but the taste is much better.”
Pizza chef Alex Yanes has a special way of noting that the pizza is baked to perfection.
“I don’t use a timer,” Yanes said. “I use my nose.”
The pizza is primo with a New York-style crust and excellent cheese and toppings – some of the best in the area. The panini sandwiches are baked, not pressed so the ingredients stand on their own.
This store also offers a small Italian deli with Boar’s Head meat cut fresh at low prices, dried pastas direct from Italy and various other sundries, making it feel like an old-school corner market.
There are also take-out meal deals combining pastas, pizzas, salads and bread serving four or more starting at $16.95 or two pizza slices and a soda for $5.25 until 4 p.m.
Manis has created an affordable, amazing place to grab some high-quality grub.
Want to go? Mama’s Pizza Express, 500 S. Old Statesville Road, Huntersville, 704-947-3223.