Mama's Cafe (This restaurant is now closed)
Timberlyne Shopping Center
Chapel Hill, NC
Hours: Mon-Thu: 11:30 am-9 pm Fri: 11
Review Date: October 12, 1999
Reviewers: Ricki Zameck, Manon Baratt, and Kathy Marx
Mama's Cafe is a small, nondescript diner, but Mama and the food she prepares make it a worthwhile experience. The cafe initially appears to have a fairly standard selection of Italian food, but upon closer inspection (and talking to Mama herself), it becomes obvious that a vegetarian or vegan has a lot of options here. Mama sat down with us and explained that she could modify many of the selections to be vegan dishes (by either leaving out the cheese or using soy "cheese"). All of us commented that the chef (Mama) is very flexible. The menu is not large, but about half of it is either vegetarian or vegan. The menu basically consists of pasta specialties, calzones, stromboli, sandwiches, hot subs, pizza, and vegetarian specialties. Mama also mentioned that if she is notified a couple of days in advance, she would make one of her personal favorites... basmati rice, saffron, and tofu. She hadn't mentioned this to me when I called in advance, so you should specifically ask for that dish if you are interested in it.
There are no main entrees on the menu, but there are daily specials. Two of us ordered the special soup of the day, Lentil Noodle Soup ($2.99). One comment was, "very tasty with curry - nice combo - a tad salty but very good." The other comment was, "quite good but did not have a strong lentil flavor - it was a little too mild for me and had lots of noodles in it... not too many lentils."
We had a hard time deciding which of the vegetarian specialties to choose, but two of us decided on vegetarian wraps, and the third chose Veggie Lasagna ($5.99). We passed up the Veggie Cheeseburger ($3.99), Veggie Pastas ($5.75), and Veggie Cheese Wrap ($4.99), but I imagine they were as delicious as the dishes we selected. Ricki said of the Veggie Lasagna, "wonderful - nicely prepared veggies with very flavorful tomato sauce, large portions!" She also liked the way the filling was finely ground up, rather than large chunks of vegetables. Manon had Mama's Veggie Wrap ($4.75) and thought it was good, except it needed a little more spice. I chose the Strictly Vegetarian Wrap ($4.75), and thought that it was quite large for a wrap, stuffed very full, and had a mild but interesting sesame sauce. The vegetables appeared to be stir-fried, and they were cooked just the right amount of time.
The portions are large, especially for the price. We were too full to order desserts, but a few desserts, some homemade, are offered. Colombo frozen yogurt is available, as well as brownies and baklava, none of which is vegan.
The iced tea was worth noting...two of us ordered it, and one of the restaurant workers commented that it is real "Southern" iced tea, thick and sweet. It has a great taste, not too sweet, and comes with as many refills as you want.
I would recommend Mama's Cafe for a quick lunch or dinner.There are no waitpersons, you just order and pay at the counter. The atmosphere is not conducive to a long, relaxing dining experience. The fluorescent lighting and take-out style (although there is limited seating) make the place appear that it is intended for quick dining. But the food is great, very tasty, reasonably priced, and there is a fairly decent vegetarian/vegan selection, along with an extremely flexible chef.