Local Pizza Joint Becoming a Foodie Destination After Glowing Review; Owner Vows That It’s ‘Worth the Hype’

By A. Campbell

Mama’s Too, a small pizza shop on Broadway at 106th Street, has joined the ranks of Levain Bakery on West 74th and Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam near 87th — a New York neighborhood joint with outsize gastronomic appeal. The shop has been a hit with locals since it opened in 2017, but a glowing New York Times review late last year made it into a foodie destination, drawing people from around the city and even out of town.

Stepping inside the small pizzeria, customers are greeted by the warmth emanating from two enormous ovens as well as a display counter showcasing the day’s freshly baked square and round pies. The work behind the counter is fast-paced, with two cooks overseeing preparation, baking, and slicing while a third takes orders, offering succinct descriptions of each colorful pizza to inquisitive customers.

It’s been a little more than two months since Mama’s Too and its owner, Frank Tuttolomondo, received the praiseworthy review and one star from New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells. Other New York-centric dining guides had already written positive reviews of the restaurant, but Wells’ endorsement was a major coup for both Tuttolomondo and the Upper West Side culinary community in general. Wells himself had recently characterized the neighborhood’s dining scene (borrowed from a Gael Greene quote) as “neither good enough nor bad enough to write about.”

Frank Tuttolomondo.

“I think the Times article really changed things in terms of getting people up here from all over the city,” Tuttolomondo said. Mama’s Too plays host to a steady stream of customers at all times of day. He emphasized, however, that a glowing review would be meaningless without a superior product. “The Times gave us exposure, but we followed up with a good product. I think everyone who read about us came in and felt satisfied that it was worth the hype.”

While Wells used his column to wax lyrical about the neoclassical age in New York City pizza, we wanted to get right to the point: What makes Mama’s Too pizza different from other slices around town?

First, and perhaps most importantly, the slices can be easily – even daintily – eaten by hand. Tuttolomondo’s creations sidestep the common Neapolitan pizza booby trap of being dazzling on top, soggy on bottom. Instead, the cheesy crust at Mama’s Too effortlessly supports an array of toppings while still remaining chewy and perfectly puffed. Second, it is likely that much of the difference customers note when they describe Mama’s Too slices as “fresh” and “light” comes from the chef’s commitment to exercising control over his ingredients.

“Most of our toppings are made in-house,” Tuttolomondo said. A selection of these include sausage braised in red wine, roasted peppers, homemade vodka sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and poached pears overlaid with sweet gorgonzola and honey. In describing his restaurant and his culinary aesthetic as a departure from, but not a competition with, his family’s first pizzeria – Mama’s, (941 Amsterdam Avenue) Tuttolomondo noted his need to exercise creativity.

“I wanted something different – my own recipe, my own establishment, something more contemporary that attracts a generation like mine,” he said.

Generationally speaking, Mama’s Too has successfully leveraged its recent spate of good publicity through an active Instagram presence in which followers are regularly treated to mouthwatering photos of freshly baked pies.

“We found them on Instagram. They have a pizza porn Instagram page,” said a customer named Elena. “We live four blocks from here and it was just really great to learn that we had a good pizza place near us.”

View this post on Instagram

thanks for the kind words @ericleath

A post shared by Mama's TOO! (@mamas_too) on

While locals like Elena who live close by may find it “somewhat unjustifiable” to order delivery from Mama’s Too since they are within walking distance of the shop, Tuttolomondo emphasized that the business has increased its staff since opening and has now begun offering delivery. Tuttolomondo admitted that he received significant outcry from locals during the restaurant’s early days when delivery was not an option. In order to meet demand from hungry customers, he invested in a second pizza oven and brought on additional employees and delivery men. Now, Upper West Siders who would prefer to stay inside can now order online or by phone, but not through commonly used platforms like Seamless and Caviar.

“I wanted to do away with third party platforms because they don’t really represent the establishment the way I’d want them to,” Tuttolomondo noted.

In describing his relationship with the community, Tuttolomondo underscored the loyalty and high standards that Upper West Siders have for new restaurants like his.

“The local customers here are the greatest,” he said. “The Upper West Side is a very tight-knit neighborhood, everyone knows each other. They’re very supportive when you do something great, when the service is great and the vibe is good. It’s a pleasure to just know that, for such a subjective food, I’m glad to see that so many people like my pizza.”

FOOD, NEWS | 29 comments | permalink
    1. Susan says:

      This is the most authentic Italian-American pizza in NYC. Delicious!! I wish they delivered to 153rd Street. I’d order every week!

    2. Danielle says:

      I wish I could say that I’ve tried the famed pizza.

      Unfortunately my husband and I have tried on numerous occasions to grab a slice and they’re either not open (when their hours say they should be) or have fun out of pizza. It’s become somewhat of a joke now!

      I’m dying to try it one day!

    3. Minx says:

      Im glad to hear that delivery from Mama’s Too is available again. The pizza is delicious and Im happy to wait for it.

    4. These guys are great but I’m realizing cheese doesn’t make me feel great. Can they please start using plant-based cheese on at least ONE pie there though?

    5. shesays says:

      Their customer service is non-existent. Pizza is greasy. Enjoy, lemmings.

      • hesays says:

        I absolutely agree. Screaming at you to “make a straight line, make a straight line!” every two minutes is unnecessary and rude. I get that they’re feeling really important and cocky but c’mon. And soooo greasy

    6. grandmasterbeta says:

      I have to say I’m likin their pizza. Don’t like the lines much. Wish their other location would copy their recipe and distribute the load 😉

    7. Leon says:

      This reads more like a paid advertisement than anything else. I’m sure their pizza is great (though most of the pizzas in the pictures look overcooked), but it might be best to stick to the news – I feel bad for their neighboring competitors.

      • Juan says:

        Agreed – very odd article. I hope the author at least got a free slice out of it!

      • Jeff says:

        An Upper West Side pizzeria becoming a destination (and getting a star from the Times) is absolutely a newsworthy story for the West Side Rag to cover.

        Mama’s Too is a special place, and if other pizzerias want glowing coverage, they can step up their game.

    8. jerry says:

      The hype is so overdone it doesn’t belong in The Rag. After 4 tries to order a pie, I finally got a slice from a guy hanging around. OK, nothing great. Let’s hear it for Sal & Carmine’s – and if it’s within your range, Made in NY Pizza (80/Amsterdam) -it’s the best, plus great friendly attitude.

    9. Bill Williams says:

      Most of the people raving about this are NYC imports and don’t know what a good slice is. Fortunately, there is a great slice place right in the neighborhood free from the lemmings.

    10. Sarah says:

      It’s on the heavy side, but good.

      Total crapshoot as to whether they’ll have anything at any given time you walk by, though.

    11. LP says:

      Tried to go at least 4 times. Went all different times of day, finally got in and had a house slice. It was wonderfully tasty. It had the right amount of burnt but the springs of basil was an overkill. Looking forward to other flavors when I return to NYC in April.

    12. Shondu says:

      I liked the original location and how the slices used to be super cheap at $2. Now it’s $2.50. I’m not entirely sure why they made a 2nd location that small and so close by but I’m glad they’re getting the attention they deserve. It’s definitely what of the best tasting slices and good looking slices in the Upper West Side.

    13. Stefanie says:

      Mamas Too is fine but seriously “a glowing New York Times review late last year made it into a foodie destination, drawing people from around the city and even out of town“???

      The original mamas from back before they even moved to the Amsterdam location had been drawing people from around the city and out of town for decades. I remember going to mamas back when they were between 104 and 105th on Broadway. Anytime my out of town relatives come they always buy a few pies to take back home with them.

      • Bancster says:

        Yes Stefanie, a glowing NY Times Review! That’s what NYT printed, and that’s why the author mentioned as such. People are visiting from out of the neighborhood and from out of town. Another incontrovertible fact!

        Why so sour?

    14. UWSer says:

      I, too, have encountered them closed at 12:15 on a weekday. Finally did get a chance to go, had to wait 20 minutes. Absolutely wonderful pizza…had two slices of the ‘house pie.’ The crust is indeed a bit burnt (one commenter notes it looks overdone) but I loved it…the crust is amazing. And the cheese is also high end. Found the sauce a touch sweet for my taste, but it was made with fresh tomatoes and herbs. I also disagree that these slices could be eaten ‘daintily’ as the article mentions. I think it would be very hard to fold one up and walk down the street with it. The slices are squat….wide and thick with a lot of sauce and cheese…you’d be wearing it.

      It does not remind me of classic NY pizza…for that the best place in my mind is Joe’s in the Village.

      But this place is great. Whether it is worth making a special trip (and perhaps finding it closed) or waiting on a 20 minute line to find that they don’t have the kind of pizza you want and having to wait more is another story. But two fresh slices out of the oven and a can of coke was a great investment of $9.50…excellent product in the end.

    15. Lorraine says:

      The owner was not welcoming and had a bad attitude when asked if he had a slice of pizza. They don’t sell slices! When asked which pizza just has sauce and cheese he said pick anyone and pointed to trays of different pizzas, then charged me $4.50! The house slice costs less which would have been the one with just sauce and cheese!The pizza was good but too oily and they had no napkins! The door was kept wide open on a very cold day with the breeze right on me and the music was too loud. No I would never go back there nor recommend it to anyone.He changed his attitude when I said to him I read a review about the pizza and I wanted to try it. Then he put on his friendlier persona.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Lorraine everything you said is true. This place has become a tourist destination, and it will be for the forseeable future, so the crowds, the lines, and the lack of available pizza will be the norm. The house slice is very different than the square slices. If are able to get it, and it is made properly (I agree with others who state they tend to burn the pizza), you will find the house slice to be crispy, light, not oily, and just delicious. All the square slices are made in a very different way that are soaked with oil, and the dough is heavy.

      • SP says:

        You don’t know what you’re talking about, they do sell slices. That’s their primary business. Your comment is either woefully ignorant and misinformed or it’s a hit job. Either way, you’ve failed.

    16. Mark Moore says:

      Mama’s uses good ingredients but they burn the heck out of everything. Everything there is burnt.

    17. Gene says:

      I made an order at 12PM today and received it at 2pm. In No world is the pizza worth 1 and a half hours more than any other pizza would take. Enjoy the crowds while it lasts, which should be no more than a month or a few…

    18. js says:

      There was a time when Barney Greengrass and Levain were – happily – neighborhood places, for residents.
      They are now overwhelmed by Instagram tourists, and impossible to get in. (Similarly brunch at Good Enough to Eat, Sarabeths etc).

      So A Modest Proposal- establishment of priority lines for NYC residents 🙂
      Tourists can wait for hours and take selfies.

    19. sam says:

      As longtime customers of Mamas, we watched and waited as they built Mamas 2. Look, its good. No question. And their square slices are of the type that are “having a moment”. But I would definitely not wait on line for a slice, let alone travel. We went at the beginning, and frankly, the slices were always burnt. Each to his own. Mamas (1) and Sal and Carmines are still tops in the area in my book

    20. Nick says:

      The guy who runs the place has a major attitude. Loosen up my friend or you’ll be back at your dads place around the corner real soon. Another guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. The pizza is ok.