Mama Lucia’s, Washington, DC

Folks here in Chevy Chase, DC, are thrilled! After 11 months of Groundhog Day there’s a new dining option in the neighborhood. It’s Mama Lucia’s, a carryout expansion of a Maryland suburban chain featuring pizzas, sandwiches, and red sauce Italian food. Red sauce Italian food is especially welcome now. It’s tasty, comforting, and — this is especially important for carryout — it travels beautifully. We have a bunch of dining options that feature beautiful, delicate, and creatively conceived dishes that, much as a new car loses a third of its value a soon as you drive it off the lot, begin declining as soon as they’re boxed for carry out. You can take a lasagna, re-heat it, freeze it, and then reheat and serve it again. Just add a touch of oil and some red pepper flakes.

Nancy and I ordered dinner at Mama Lucia’s almost as soon as it opened, and I went to pick it up so I could take a look inside.

Mama Lucia’s occupies the space formerly occupied by a deli, Pumpernickel’s, that offered good bagels (pace, New Yorkers), sandwiches, and pizza. It was much beloved and had absolutely filthy floors — almost as filthy as the floors of the now-defunct American City Diner a block up the street. So the first thing you notice when you step inside is that Mama Lucia’s is utterly, miraculously clean.

Nancy, ever health conscious, ordered spaghetti squash, which she’d never tried before, with marinara sauce.

As you can see, Nancy already had scooped out half and saved it in a plastic container while I was opening a $10 bottle of red wine. (No Bionic Frog in the cellars at Stately Tanner Manor.) The spaghetti squash came with a generous garden salad and two slices of garlic bread.

I ordered eggplant parmigiana, which came with a salad (I chose caesar), some spaghetti with marinara, and two slices of garlic bread. I also ordered a side of sausage with peppers and onions, which came with two mores slices of garlic bread.

The first thing you notice about Mama Lucia’s food is that the portions are huge. People hereabouts talk all the time about entrees serving two people at various restaurants, and I always scoff. At Mama Lucia’s it’s true. Mama Lucia’s is a huge bargain, which is great for those who are struggling financially because of COVID or who’ve been confined so long that they eat out almost every night just to see a fresh face at the door delivering the food, or just to get out of the damned house for a few minutes.

Mama Lucia’s food is not fine dining, but, oh, is it comforting! And popular. Despite the local plethora of pizza places, a parade of pizzas pours out their door. Sorry. I got carried away. But they sell lots of big pizzas, and many grocery bags of food containers.

The food itself is pretty good. Nancy observed that spaghetti squash is “not as good as pasta,” but she liked the marinara sauce. And the garlic bread. And a taste of my spaghetti. I thought the spaghetti was a bit overcooked, but I always cook pasta for a minute short of the lowest recommended time: say, 7 minutes if the box recommends 8-11 minutes. And my own tastes are for heavily seasoned marinara. Take a look at my pasta sauce recipe to get a sense of my taste, and assess my comments accordingly.

I liked the eggplant parmigiana, with its nice thin slices of eggplant piled high and topped with marinara and just the right amount of mozzarella. And the sausage and peppers were good.

I was skeptical of the garlic bread at first. Mama Lucia’s serves sandwich-thickness garlic bread. I grew up with thick slices. So I was not impressed, but I kept eating and eating it. I stopped when it was all gone. It’s addictive.

The sausage and peppers, like the rest of the food, were pretty good. They came in the marinara sauce and with two more slices of garlic bread. But here’s a tip: order the sausage and peppers. Cook up a pot of pasta. Heat up a separate pot, toss in a few peppercorns and some crushed red pepper flakes. After minute, add some crushed fennel seeds and then some oil. Sauté some two or three minced cloves of garlic. Add the sausage and peppers. Then add a little basil and maybe some oregano. Maybe add some Kalamata olives and capers to make it a puttanesca, if you like. Cook up a pot of pasta, removing the pasta one minute before the earliest “done” time. Plate the pasta and add some sausage and peppers. You have just made dinner for four for $9 — plus a couple of dollars tip, a buck for the pasta, and a few cents of cupboard costs.

Well, you might fight over the garlic bread, so add an order or two of garlic bread. And spend a bit more on the pasta if you like or, better, add another dollar to the tip.

UPDATE: The leftover spaghetti squash went to spaghetti squash fan Liza Tanner Boyd, who comments below that she liked it.

Whatever you choose, give Mama Lucia’s a try. Actually, I know you will. It fills a niche, and fills it well. And think about my idea for the sausage and peppers.

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