Photo Courtesy of Mama Louisa's

Mama Louisa’s Introduces First Major Menu Update in 40 Years

December 8, 2016
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By Jackie Tran
By Jackie Tran

Mama Louisa’s has been a Tucson staple for Italian-American cuisine made from scratch for a whopping 60 years.

Classics like Joe’s Special have served as the favorite for both loyal regulars and chefs. The comforting combination of house-made linguini, hot pepper seeds, garlic oil, melted cheese, and house sauce has been Mama Louisa’s signature dish since 1956.

It all started with Luigi “Louisa” Casadei, who sold the restaurant to Joe Elefante Sr. Shortly after, his son Joe Elefante Jr. moved to Tucson and thus the family business began.

Now, Joe Jr.’s son, third generation owner and current executive chef Michael Elefante, is introducing the first major menu update in over 40 years.

To avoid alienating fond regulars, the menu now features two distinct segments — a Heritage Menu and a Third Generation Menu. Traditional recipes – like Joe’s Special – are found in the Heritage Menu, while the Third Generation menu includes updated culinary concepts.

Although Michael grew up working at Mama Louisa’s, he also spent a considerable amount of time honing his chops at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. Years ago, Elefante left the family business to work and train in the kitchens of restaurants such as CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar and Cayton’s Burger Bistro. As a result, he’s now applying his modern-trained culinary repertoire to the Italian-American classics.

Historically, relish trays tended to be boring carrots and celery, but the Mama Louisa’s Relish Tray provides gourmet antipasti flair. The assortment of items includes Stuffed Peppadews with Marscarpone and Ricotta, Truffled Three Bean Salad, Pepperoncini-Pickled Cornichons, House-Made Pancetta, Marinated Spicy Peppers, and Italian Olive Mix. The variety of textures and flavors makes it a must-have for any table.

Relish tray at Mama Louisa's (Credit: Jackie Tran)
Relish tray at Mama Louisa’s (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mac ‘n Cheese gets an Italian touch with campanelle pasta, parmesan, pecorino, provolone, mozzarella, and a crunchy breadcrumb top. The ruffled campanelle clings onto cheese better than macaroni, while the sharp Italian cheeses provide distinct savoriness.

The Chopped Salad is stacked like a Napoleon salad, featuring crunchy sheets of pasta croutons with layers of romaine lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomato, pepperoncini, and blue cheese.

Brining and proper cooking temperature make the Pork Chop extra juicy. The accompanying polenta is silky smooth and cheesy, while the raspberry gastrique provides a tart counterpoint. Arugula salad adds a touch of bitterness to balance out the dish.

Pepperoncini juice makes another appearance in the marinade for the Sicilian Grilled Skirt Steak. Pesto and mini vegetables add a wide range of savory flavors. The freshness of the house-made pasta shines with a simple dressing of extra-virgin oil, garlic, and parmesan.

Skirt steak at Mama Louisa's (Credit: Jackie Tran)
Skirt steak at Mama Louisa’s (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The desserts will remain largely the same with some reworked recipes. The chefs will rotate featured items such as a seasonal panna cotta or zeppole.

Mama Louisa’s Third Generation Menu

  • Casereccio Bread with EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar
  • Flatbread Sliders
  • Polenta Fritters
  • Relish Tray
  • Mac ‘n Cheese
  • Steamers
  • Caprese
  • Chopped Salad
  • Sicilian Grilled Skirt Steak
  • Pork Chop
  • Cioppino
  • Milanese

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Article By

Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...

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