If you attended Arlington Heights High School in the ’90s as I did, you were probably a regular at one of two Westside restaurants: the now-defunct Under the Tower and Mama’s Pizza, the latter of which hosted an all-you-can-eat lunch special, the Yellow Jacket Country Club. (Just $3.99 with your student I.D.!) Since lunches were only 45 minutes long, the second story of Mama’s original Camp Bowie location (which was eventually razed and replaced with a bank) was brimming with often-stoned pizza-lusting teens cramming slices of pie into their faces like feral animals. It was less a social hour and more the stuff of a NatGeo documentary.
Mama’s is one of those eateries I can never judge objectively – I’ve affectionately dubbed them Mother’s Milk restaurants. The place set my palate for pizza, and while this town has seen a sharp rise of kitchens purveying gourmet, crafty, organic pie loaded with precious toppings like truffle oil and caramelized whatever, there’s still a special place in my heart for Mama’s and its ilk.
Just a few weeks ago, Mama’s turned 50. Mama’s franchises are all over, including West Berry Street (the oldest), North Fielder Road, Cityview, Mansfield, North Richland Hills, and an upcoming spot in Hudson Oaks. The owner of the Camp Bowie locale (and a few others) for the last 15 years has been Jordan Scott, another former AHHS student. Naturally.
The menu at Mama’s has evolved a little to keep up with the times, but you can still get the same fresh-made, old-school pizza with grated hillocks of real cheese, pools of delicious oil, fresh toppings, and hand-rolled crust. Only now you can also branch out and enjoy (gasp!) thin-crust pie, a chicken alfredo and margherita pizza, and a few Roy Pope-level toppings. The kitchen also serves wings and a few healthier options.
On a recent lunch visit, the dining room was buzzing with families, workers, and all manner of other folk – with a noticeable absence of Arlington Heights students. (It’s summer.)
The newer (to me) Camp Bowie location may lack the nostalgia (for me) of its long-gone predecessor, but its rustic wood-tones, mounted animal heads, and exposed air ducts weren’t without charm. There are a few TVs hung around the dining room for anyone who wants to watch some sportsball. (You have to pretend to like soccer only for a couple more weeks.)
The buffet was stocked and rotated countless times during my short visit to the now-Ridglea-area joint. The salad bar, plush with romaine lettuce, spinach, and various other pizza toppings, also housed a couple of desserts.
The pizza was, in a word, gooey. Just like I remembered. Each slice contained so much cheese it weighed about the same as a mid-sized Subaru. The lunch buffet toppings weren’t exactly exotic: pepperoni and mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni, cheese, and so on. But I was impressed when the pie swapper brought out a glistening giant wheel of chicken alfredo pizza, dripping with cream sauce and topped with spinach and hunks of bird.
At $8, Mama’s buffet represents one of the better lunch values around town, and these days I don’t have to rush back to campus for physics class, so I can finally eat at Mama’s buffet at the pace of an adult human.