Our party of four spent New Year’s Eve at Mama Lacona’s in Urbandale and had a surprisingly nice supper. Mama Lacona’s has had its share of trouble over the years keeping up with the growth and maturation of the Des Moines restaurant business and it is good to see that an icon of the Des Moines restuarant landscape has its act together. You can Google them to see some pretty scary reviews over the years. I had dropped it off my list of restaurants about a decade ago. Still, it has a loyal and vocal following, not unlike the aging population of “Greatest Generation” folk that sing the praises of Noah’s Ark Restaurant and Lounge (and won’t quit going on and on about Babe’s). But after closing down their 86th Street location they have reopened in a new spot in Urbandale in a nicer “clocktower-style” strip mall just west of the Pilot Truck Stop off of Douglas Avenue. One side benefit (I’m being charitable here) of the recession is that there are fairly new restaurant leases ready for new tenants. Mama Lacona’s found the recently closed Maverick Grill and probably saved the landlord (and the restaurant) a bundle on having to do a complete build-out. I hope that grease trap that forced them to close the other location was already in place. Also helping the new location is the fact that Mama Lacona’s has now hired a professional manager to run the place.
Not surprising for a major holiday, the restaurant was very busy but I saw no mob of people waiting for seats. It appears that management did a good job of requiring reservations and timing the flow properly. We got there before 7:00 just as the first round of diners were leaving. The layout reminds me of the old Mondo’s in Clive with the grill and kitchen right there where you can see the action. And action there was. The cooks were working very hard and seemed to be getting the job done.
Given that this was a special event evening I will pass on writing about the service. I am sure that they had a lot of extra help hired to assist with serving. I will say that Katie Lacona was personally watching all of the tables and staff the entire night.
On to the food. For New Year’s they had two specials, a Maine Lobster tail with veal and a Steak de Burgo with Jumbo Shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. We got one of each. I also sampled the Wood Grilled Chicken Marsala with sweet mushroom marsala wine sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. These are all “meat and potatoes” sorts of dishes and they were done properly for the most part. I thought that the sauces were expertly prepared. The lobster might have been a tad overcooked but I thought that the veal was tasty. One in our party thought that the veal breading was a bit mushy, but I’ve never seen breading soaked in a sauce that did not end up a bit mushy. The asparagus was very good considering that this is the wrong season for anything locally grown (I assume it came from some other part of the world). The sauce used in the Chicken Marsala was quite savory as was the sauce that came with the Steak de Burgo. Speaking of the steak, it was small, but the meat was fork tender and perfectly cooked. The jumbo shrimp were, well, jumbo shrimp. We did not try the pizza but we might try that on a return visit.
For dessert, we ordered the tiramasù, spumoni sundae, and crème brûlée. I can only speak to the crème brûlée. It was good enough that I didn’t offer to share any. Everyone else fought over the spumoni, so I take it that it was well prepared.
I would count the visit as a success. The place is very large and is great for serving larger parties. There are at least three private rooms or areas that can be turned into private rooms. The energy flowing from the enthusiastic cooking staff helped the ambiance. Although I did not try it, the bar area was large, wrapping around half of two walls. The bar seems to have a number of beers on tap and together with the number of large-screen TVs scattered around I can see that the owners are also trying to cover the sports bar crowd. I would say that Mama Lacona’s is successful at being what it is aiming for, a locally-owned family restaurant. Lets just hope that the reviews improve and that the customers keep coming back.
Mama Lacona’s Italian Restaurant
3825 121st St.