At Mama Marias in Carroll Gardens, history and family can literally be tasted as food and culture collide in photos on the walls, the food on your plate and the bottles lined up on the bar.Opened in 1996 following the success of the Esposito familys Sals Pizzeria, next door since 1970 and founded in 1957, Mama Mariasnamed after the family matriarchfeatures a menu blending traditional southern Italian favorites and more contemporary items introduced by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in 2012 as part of his Kitchen Nightmares show.Now, everything is fresh and the kitchen does occasionally run out of ingredients, according to second-generation owner John Esposito.A hands-down winner is the Ricotta Cavatelli ($14), with its mouthwatering tomato-braised short rib ragu served atop homemade pasta, which soaks up the sauce and makes this a fantastic comfort food option.Similarly, the Gnocchi ($14) the second-most popular itemstands out, proving simple really works wonders. Pan-seared on the outside to crisp perfection, the inside remains pillowy, perfect to eat with house-made sausage and broccoli rabe in a garlic and olive oil sauce.Theres nothing simpler than pasta with meat sauce, so if youre eating on a Sunday, order Mamas Sunday Sauce ($13.95), freshly made pasta served in a classic Italian beef ragu. The Striped Bass ($24) is artfully presented and has fork-tender meat, mixing with the sauce of roasted plum tomatoes, Gaeta olives, grilled zucchini, red onions and garlic for a burst of flavor that balances nicely against basmati rice.Mama Marias is more than just a dinner spot. Lunch specials include an appetizer (minestrone soup or house salad) and an entrée, including Rigatoni A La Vodka, Chicken Parmigiana or Francese, Margherita Pizza and Fish of the Day.Its a family place where you can bring your children, said customer Dee Scarantino. I love a bowl of marinara pasta, the kale salad and the $10 special of a pizza or burger and wine or beer.The aforementioned Cavalo Nero Salad ($8) is both sweet and tangy with pine nuts, parmesan cheese and sherry vinaigrette. The Pear Salad ($12) with arugula and sprinkle of gorgonzola hits a refreshing note.It would be a mistake to overlook the traditional Eggplant Parmigiana ($15), which has both crispy-yet-tender eggplant cheese bathed in a savory tomato sauce.Classics, done well, like lasagna and eggplant parm are never going to go away, said Esposito.A complimentary nibble of dessert is also provided because we want customers to feel good about the place and leave a sweet taste in their mouth, noted Esposito. The Tiramisu ($6) is 10 years in development and is oddly refreshing, soft, balanced and airy. Mama Marias and Sals Pizzeria are among fewer than a dozen Court Street businesses that have been around through the past half-century and it is easy to see why. Heres to classics like them never going away. MAMA MARIAS307 Court Street718-246-2601www.salspizzastore.comMonday through Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.Sundays from 12 to 11 p.m.
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