Mama’s Pizza: St. Paul’s Immortal Italian Eatery
What would you do with a gallon of Peachie’s Famous Red Sauce?
If you’ve ever eaten at Mama’s Pizza, that iconic Italian joint in St. Paul, you know what I’m talking about. You might obsess over these pies, like I do. Owner Tony Mudzinski can often be seen making them, at a station right behind the host counter, wearing a jacket with heart candies embroidered on the front and back. He’s a handsome man, Chef Tony, with a neighborly charm but a focused face. After all, he’s running a 53-year-old business but he’s making sure your pizza is perfect right now.
It always is. Peachie’s Famous Red Sauce glues together a cracker-like crust and – I swear – a quarter- inch-thick layer of cheese. The red sauce is the difference-maker, though, the reason you get this pizza from this Italian joint and not that pizza from that other Italian joint. Chef Tony must know this, because he applies enough red sauce to cover the whole chest of your shirt if you don’t bite carefully.
The sauce is thick, and I mean thick, and seasoned just so. It’s precisely what you wish your homemade sauce would turn out like. It’s named after Tony’s mother, Patricia “Peachie” Mudzinski, who ran the restaurant from 1980 until Tony and his sisters took over in 1999.
St. Paul residents and visitors have flocked to Mama’s since 1964, when Tony’s uncle opened up shop. Mama’s Pizza stands tall, in a building that has most certainly earned the glory of scars. Back in August, Mama’s Pizza had to close for 10 days when a driver plowed his car into the building’s front face. Tony didn’t have much to tell the Pioneer Press when it happened, probably because it’s nothing new.
A water main burst 10 years ago, and Mama’s had to renovate afterward. Three years ago, Mama’s was damaged when a building next door was burned. Hell, this isn’t even the first time the building has taken a car to the face. It happened two years ago, too. They take it in stride at the restaurant: staffers sometimes wear T-shirts that say “If you
build rebuild rebuild REBUILD IT, they will come.”
And they come. My last time there, I heard the woman in the booth behind me tell the waitress about how she makes it a priority to visit when she’s in town. She’s only in Minnesota three weeks a year, she said. Recording artist G-Eazy recognized real, as he called in Mama’s to cater for his latest album release party.
My wife will accept no substitutes when it comes to her birthday dinner. Chef Tony knows this, too. One year, he gave my wife something extra: a camouflage hoodie with the Mama’s logo embroidered on the front.
She rings in a new age with an order of mostaccioli, large, with cheese and two meatballs. Peachie’s Famous Red Sauce touches every last noodle in that pasta mountain they call “a large.” If you finish a third of your dish, that’s a good-sized meal. If I see you eat the whole thing, I’m probably going to call the UFO hotline on you. And don’t worry if you take it to go: they line the bottoms of their tin to-go trays with – you guessed it – more sauce.
When you have a special Hot Diego sandwich, sauce mingles with cheese to create a moat around it on the plate. It’s also a camouflage. When it comes to you, it’s hard to believe sometimes that you’ve ordered a sandwich. My mother-in-law doesn’t leave without one. When I asked for her take, all I got was “Sloppy and heavenly, just the way I like it!”
I order pasta when I dine out with family, but I order pizza when I’ve got the table space to do so. My last time at Mama’s, I hadn’t even planned to dine in but wound up eating half a large pizza before settling up – and if you don’t believe me about quarter-inch-thick layers of cheese, at least believe this:
Mama’s offers build-your-own pizzas, with a 15-inch cheese starting at $14. They have smaller sizes, too, but why would you do that to yourself? Get a large. Specialty pizzas include a meat combo, and a Flavor Explosion with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, pineapple and banana pepper.
Chef Tony doesn’t love offering American dishes, according to an interview he did with the Pioneer Press, but it’s a necessary evil. Chicken, fried jumbo shrimp, deep fried fish and pork chops are on the menu. A one-third-pound hamburger is on the menu for $3. That’s not a typo. Lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise bring it up to $4. The entire menu can be seen here.
Look under the “Take Home Specialties” section. Mama’s sells Peachie’s Famous Red Sauce by the gallon. A jug is $20. So, what would you do with that? I would try to cash the whole jug on a single pan of lasagna. I’d load 10 pounds of sausage, six pounds of bacon, 16 blocks of sharp cheddar, and four containers of cream cheese. Now you know why I don’t cook at home.
Besides, having your meal at Mama’s comes with one final benefit: the free miniature ice cream cones offered at your meal’s conclusion. Take a few licks. Cold sugar. Another lick. Bite off the top. Headache. Another lick. CRUNCH goes the cone. It’s their non-provocative way of kissing people goodbye, right before we kiss each other goodbye and vow to be back soon.
RELATED: This month-long celebration began Monday, where Frank (that’s me) showed us to his new Saturday morning seat at Newport’s North Pole Restaurant. Wednesday, we covered the food truck we chase around the Twin Cities for pasties, pies, and scotch eggs. Minor clean-up edits were made shortly after this article’s publication.