Foodie Spotlight: Great menu, exquisite atmosphere make Mama Carolla’s one of Indy’s best

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Indianapolis is quickly becoming one of the hottest food cities in America.  A destination for true foodies who are interested in everything from fine dining to food trucks.  This column will put the spotlight on one of these local hot spots to help get the word out and share in the love of all things food.

Review by Dustin Heller (@eatindywatchindie on Instagram)

Shine your shoes and comb your hair, foodies—it’s date night in the spotlight this week!  For this special occasion, we’re paying a visit to perhaps the most romantic restaurant in the entire city, Mama Carolla’s.  Is there anything more romantic than exquisite Italian food in a gorgeous Mediterranean villa setting?  Mama Carolla’s is located at 1031 E. 54th St. (right along to the Monon Trail), where they’ve been serving the SoBro area for over 20 years.

Photo by @davepluimer

Even before you walk in the front door, you can sense the charm of the place with the hanging globe lights and the Roman statue welcoming you.  Once inside, the atmosphere is picturesque; the dining areas are quaint little rooms that only hold a handful of tables, making for a very intimate setting.  The interior is unquestionably beautiful, but I’d be remiss to not mention their amazing patio overlooking the Monon.  They even keep it open during the winter with toasty heat lamps. Good food and great scenery, what could be better?

The restaurant itself might have the feel of Old Italy, but the food is vibrant and lively and the menu is chock-full of Italian favorites.  From the long list of antipasti and salads to the bountiful entrée options and dessert, there is something for everyone’s palate.  With so many choices and only one stomach to fill, here are my “can’t miss” items for your next trip to Mama Carolla’s.

Steamed Mussels: Don’t take my word for it, it says it right there on the menu under Steamed Mussels: ”A Must Try!!”  In my opinion, the mussels are not only “must try,” they are worthy of a trip to Mama Carolla’s all by themselves.  For those not familiar with mussels, they have a mild flavor and typically blend really well with the dish they’re accompanying.  In this case, it is an out-of-this-world seafood sauce that that has a little bit of everything, including some heat.  Arnold Schwarzenegger would even say Mama Carolla’s has nice mussels.  See what I did there? Yeah, not all that funny.

Photo by @davepluimer

Holly’s Artichoke Fritters: Is it just me, or are fritters extremely underrated?  A fritter is more or less fried batter that can be stuffed with pretty much anything.   Holly’s delicious fritters are stuffed with artichokes and my personal favorite, goat cheese.  They are fried to a golden brown, served on a bed of marinated tomatoes and covered with melted mozzarella.  The last piece of this masterpiece is the lemon aioli that gives this dish its finishing touch.  Voila!

Photo by @davepluimer

Misto Mare: What do you get when you take the very best of what the ocean has to offer and you throw it all into one delicious dish?  Answer: Misto Mare.  The literal translation from Italian is Mixed Sea, and this pasta dish is bursting at the seams with seafood.  Mama Carolla’s mixes their fresh linguine with shrimp, scallops, clams, squid and crab meat (I know, crazy, right?) that has been sautéed with garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and spicy red pepper.  This is definitely the dish for the seafood lovers out there.

Photo by @davepluimer

Chicken Rigatoni: You won’t find this dish under the “chicken” section of the menu. Instead, it’s appropriately listed under the “Mama’s Specialties” section.  That’s because it’s special!  Rigatoni is a tube-shaped pasta that can vary in size; the ones in this dish are more flat and wide.  They are served big strips of chicken that have been sautéed with spinach, pancetta, garlic, crushed red pepper and Romano cheese in a delightfully spicy white wine sauce.   The red pepper definitely gives this dish some kick, but it didn’t stop me from eating the whole plate.

Photo by @davepluimer

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