As you approach the small shop at the end of the shopping center, nothing about Mama’s Pizza seems old. The storefront’s heavy wood rafters supported by stacked stone columns look much like the surrounding Alpharetta area, a product of the booming construction of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
However, as soon as you step inside and see the mosaic of regulars adorning the walls, you realize that these guys have been doing this for a long time.
Owner Peter Vavaroutsos, at 23, immigrated to New York City from Greece in 1958 and started making pies. In 1979, he moved his family to Atlanta and opened Mama’s Pizza in Roswell. After multiple moves searching for the perfect locale, Vavaroutsos, who runs the business with his son Jimmy, finally settled in the current location in 2003.
Vavaroutsos built his business around getting to know his customers, greeting regulars like family and gently reminding them when they forget to order one of their favorite toppings, and they have repaid him with fierce loyalty. Many swear by their New York-style pizza, and readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution voted it best pizza in Atlanta last year in a “Best of The Big A” poll.
The menu is as no frills as the restaurant, with a clear focus on pizza. You won’t find any cleverly titled specialty pizzas here, and the toppings selection is about as traditional as they come. Customers build their own pies, with the Supreme pizza — pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, Italian sausage, green olives, beef, black olives and ham — the only pre-configured pie on the menu.
Pizzas come either small (12 inches), large (16 inches), or by the slice, and there are three styles of crust to choose from in the thin-crusted Napolitana or White pizzas, or the thicker Sicilian.
As I lift my first slice of Supreme Napolitana style pizza ($17.50, 12 inches), gooey cheese overflows off the edges and, to my surprise, the crust doesn’t falter, supporting the formidable weight of the toppings. The startlingly crunchy crust isn’t merely a vessel for the toppings, as the dough’s bready and slightly sour notes will have you greedily finishing every bite. Unlike many pizzas, Mama’s Pizza retains that crunch down to the last slice, so those ordering out shouldn’t worry about rushing home to find a soggy mess of mozzarella and pizza sauce.
The same holds true for the much thicker Sicilian style pizza, which comes as a 12-by-12 inch or 16-by-16 inch square. Although you must bite through a solid inch and a half of dough to get there, your reward is the same foundation of super crunchy crust. The heartier Sicilian is good, but the surplus of dough gives the edge to the Napolitana style for maintaining a better balance between the toppings and crust.
Jimmy V. handles most of the cooking these days and still uses the same sauce recipe that his father created back in the 1950s. With hints of basil and oregano, the pizza sauce is milder than most, but still well balanced. While I prefer my sauce with more punch to it, Vavaroutsos’ recipe still works well and doesn’t tread into bland territory.
Vavaroutsos learned to make one thing quite well — the pizza — and built the rest of the menu around it. Many of the appetizers are simply reworked pizza ingredients, like an order of two meatballs ($3.05) or Italian sausages ($3.15). However, both the mozzarella sticks ($5.95) and chicken fingers ($6.05) fall flat, tasting like they are fresh from the frozen-food aisle.
If you must get an appetizer before your pie, go with the small Greek salad ($4.95), which features hefty chunks of feta cheese tossed in a light Greek dressing with iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, ham, pepperoncini and black olives. The meatball parmigiana sub ($6.25), topped with melted parmesan cheese and more of Vavaroutsos’ pizza sauce, doesn’t push any envelopes, but remains a satisfying sandwich. Similarly, fans of Italian sausage will enjoy the sausage parmigiana sub ($6.45).
While I won’t go so far as to say that the pizza is the best in Atlanta, Mama’s Pizza crafts a satisfying New York-style pizza, and those living in the area should make a point to stop by.MAMA’S PIZZA 3665 Old Milton Parkway, Alpharetta. 770-751-6001