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DINING OUT: Italian food just like Mama Maria made

At Mama Maria’s 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 family’s Sal’s Pizzeria, next door since 1970 and founded in 1957, Mama Maria’s—named after the family matriarch—features 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 item—stands 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.

There’s nothing simpler than pasta with meat sauce, so if you’re eating on a Sunday, order Mama’s 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 Maria’s 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.

“It’s 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 Maria’s and Sal’s 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. Here’s to classics like them never going away.

MAMA MARIA’S

307 Court Street

718-246-2601

www.salspizzastore.com

Monday through Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sundays from 12 to 11 p.m.

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