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.”
“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.”
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.”