Through the years, my family and I had a few choice restaurants we frequented for meals: Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Rose & Crown in Epcot, The ESPN Club on the BoardWalk (no joke), and (drum roll please) Mama Melrose’s at Hollywood Studios.
Let’s talk about that last one. Let’s also ignore the fact that the restaurant was originally supposed to be part of an extensive Muppet land when MGM-Studios first opened. (Unfortunately, due to disagreements between the Henson family and Disney after Jim’s death, this whole deal fell through.)
Anyway, I always liked this corner of the Studios. It’s cozy and private, and when it’s nighttime, it feels sort of romantic. Not that you want to feel all romantic at dinner with your parents or anything, but it’s a nice change of pace after jumping from attraction to attraction to park to park and feeling gorgeous and sweaty while doing so. (Nice image, I know.)
The fun starts in the lobby/waiting room where several Star Cards are hung up on the walls. Now all the actors and actresses have basically peaked in the mid-90s, except for a handful of those lucky enough to have long careers in the entertainment industry or others who experienced some kind of revival. While I wish they updated these sometime (ever?), I do enjoy glancing at them.
To give the environment an Italian feel, check out the finish on the walls above and these youngsters:
Now once you are seated, the lighting inside the main dining room is dimmed, and the pizza cooking in the ovens hits you. There are twinkly lights draped across the ceiling and tons of memorabilia on the walls — paintings and signs and albums and postcards. And the music! The music. An endless loop of Italian songs and California tunes. (Sure to be stuck in your head for the rest of the evening, I assure you.)
As a huge baseball fan, this was one of my favorite discoveries:
To really get into the Melrose mood, try this familiar tune.
So what about the food, you ask? Well, as someone who comes from a town of innumerable Italian restaurants, Mama Melrose’s has the best Penne pasta I have ever had in my life. (Plus the portion is huge so you will be rolling out of the restaurant, I promise.) I have yet to have a mediocre meal here — from the sangria to the calamari to the pizza — I always leave satisfied and stuffed.
It’s actually become quite a special spot for me. During my first Disney vacation with James, we enjoyed a meal there for our anniversary. And it was the last stop in a crazy tour of restaurants on our extended Disney honeymoon.
Even after I’ve found out about the original plans for this space, I’m not sure if I would want Gonzo and Rizzo to take over this space. (Gasp! I know.) On its own, it’s a sweet break away from the hustle and bustle, and the total package of the spot — decor, sound, taste — makes you forgot you are even in a theme park at all.
This is part of the reason I get frustrated with those who turn their nose up to “theme park dining”. I know I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in Walt Disney World, and Mama Melrose’s has certainly remained at the top of my list.