Let’s talk Mama Melrose! Located deep in the back of Hollywood Studios, outside the exit of MuppetVision3D, you’ll find an Italian Restaurant that seems….out of place. Well, it’s tucked in the back for a reason, and that reason is BACK STORY!!! You all know how much I love a back story! So here we go!!
Mama Melrose was initially built to be part of the Muppet Studios area that never materialized. There was supposed to be a restaurant called “The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor” run by Gonzo and his best rat buddy Rizzo. Swedish Chef would serve as the head chef and guests would get to watch him cooking in the kitchen from the dining area. Meals would then be delivered to the tables by Rat Waiters, just like in Muppets Take Manhattan.
Of course, this all died with Jim Henson in 1990. So instead, Imagineers decided to design and build another Italian restaurant in its place. At first, they considered paying homage to Annette Funicello but eventually landed on a new character, who would come to be known as Mama Melrose.
As the story goes, years ago, an optimistic young Sicilian girl sailed to America to make it as an actress in Hollywood, but only ever got to play stand-in for actresses named Gina, Sophia, or Anna. While she waited, she cooked for her fellow extras, using her father’s Sicilian recipes with a little Californian flavor mixed in. She was so kind she generously fed her fellow starving actors. Her cooking was so good, she decided to start feeding everyone. She set up a little restaurant on a studio backlot with a Little Italy/NYC-themed set out front, complete with a totally hip painting of Mona Lisa and red, white, and green pennants (like the Italian flag). Studio Executives nicknamed her “Mama Melrose.”
Mama and her friends converted an old warehouse on the backlot that had previously stored film equipment into the family restaurant we know today. But they didn’t have a lot of money and that is why it still has an industrial feel to it. Not having any money leftover, Mama decorated the space with whatever she had. This is why the decor is so varied, from Italian items to movie posters to whatever. She did what she could. The floorboards are worn in places from the weight of the heavy equipment they had to move out. It also became a popular hangout for Hollywood celebrities, and their photos are found hanging on the walls.
And that’s the story of Mama Melrose! Pretty cool, huh? I mean, not as cool as a Muppet-themed restaurant would have been, but ya get what ya get, right? So once you get your table (which will be either table or booth or a mix of the two) you’ll walk through the open kitchen that you can still see into even though it isn’t Swedish Chef. There are two indoor dining rooms but no patio or outdoor seating areas. If you look closely at the walls, you’ll notice crayon graffiti. It is completely acceptable to write on the walls here. Who knew? Leave your mark!!
The food is your standard Italian fare. Is it the most spectacular thing you’ll ever eat? Of course not. Is it good? You bet. The appetizers can be a meal all by themselves. My favorite order is Mama’s Caesar Salad and a flatbread pizza, both appetizers. As someone with Celiac Disease, I don’t like to eat at Italian restaurants. Not for any reason other than it’s just not the same. But that isn’t the case at Walt Disney World. Not only is the food really good, but the chefs also go out of their way to make sure your dining experience is safe for you. As always, ask to speak to the chef before ordering if you have food allergies.
Have you dined at Mama Melrose? What did you think?