As you approach the small shop at the end of the shopping center, nothing about Mama’s Pizza seems old. The storefront’s heavy wooden rafters supported by stacked stone columns look much like the surrounding Alpharetta area, a product of the booming construction of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
However, as soon as you step inside and see the mosaic of regulars adorning the walls, you realize that these guys have been doing this for a long time. Owner Peter Vavaroutsos, at 23, immigrated to New York City from Greece in 1958 and started making pies. In 1979, he moved his family to Atlanta and opened Mama’s Pizza in Roswell. After multiple moves searching for perfect locale, Vavaroutsos, who runs the business with his son Jimmy, finally settled in the current location in 2003.
Vavaroutsos built his business around getting to know his customers, greeting regulars like family and gently reminding them when they forgot to order one of their favorite toppings, and they have repaid him with fierce loyalty. Many swear by their New York-style pizza, and readers of The Atlanta Juournal-Constitution voted it best pizza in Atlanta last year in a “Best of The Big A” poll.
The menu is as no frills as the restaurant, with a clear focus on pizza. You won’t find any cleverly titled specialty pizzas here, and the toppings selection is about as traditional as they come. Customers build their own pies, with the Supreme Pizza – pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, Italian sausage, green olives, beef, black olives and ham – the only pre-configured pie on the menu.
Pizza comes either small (12 inches), large (16 inches), or by the slice, and there are three styles to choose from in the thin-crust Napolitana or White pizzas, or the thicker Sicilian.
As I lift my first slice of Supreme Napolitana style pizza ($17.50, 12 inches), gooey cheese overflows off the edges and, to my surprise, the crust doesn’t falter, supporting the formidable weight of toppings. The startlingly crunchy crust isn’t merely a vessel for the toppings, as the dough’s bready and slightly sour notes will have you greedily finishing every bite. Unlike many pizzas, Mama’s Pizza retains that crunch down to the last slice, so those ordering out shouldn’t worry about rushing home to find a soggy mess of mozzarella and pizza sauce.
The same hold true for the much thicker Sicilian style pizza, which comes as a 12-by-12 inch or 16-by-16 inch square. Although you must bite through a solid inch and a half of dough to get there, your reward is the same foundation of super crunchy crust. The heartier Sicilian is good, but the surplus of dough gives the edge to the Napolitana style for maintaining a better balance between the toppings and crust.
Jimmy V. handles most of the cooking these days and still uses the same sauce recipe that his father created back in the 1950s. With hints of basil and oregano, the pizza sauce is milder than most, but still well balanced. While I prefer my sauce with more punch to it, Vavaroutsos’ recipe still works well and doesn’t tread into bland territory.
Vavaroutsos learned to make one thing quite well – the pizza – and built the rest of the menu around it. Many of the appetizers are simple reworked pizza ingredients, like an order of two meatballs ($3.05) or Italian sausage ($3.14). However, both the mozzarella sticks ($5.95) and chicken fingers ($6.05) fall flat, tasting like they are fresh from the frozen-food aisle.
If you get an appetite before your pie, go with the small Greek salad ($4.95), which features hefty chunks of feta cheese tossed in light Greek dressing with iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, ham, pepperoncini and black olives. The meatball parmigiana sub ($6.25), topped with melted Parmesan cheese and more of Vavaroutsos’ pizza sauce, doesn’t punch any envelopes, but remains a satisfying sandwich. Similarly, fans of Italian sausage will enjoy the sausage parmigiana sub ($6.45).
While I won’t go so far as to say that the pizza is the best in Atlanta, Mama’s Pizza crafts a satisfying New York-style pizza, and those living in the area should make a point to stop by.
- Jon Watson - Mama's Pizza Restaurant Review, Alpharetta May 26, 2011
Pizza is like barbecue. Everyone has a favorite version and personal preferences always come into play. Here are three pizzerias in North Fulton offering standout pies that offer to make experimentation worthwhile.
Peter Vavaroutsos and his son Jimmy run this homey little pizza parlor on Old Milton Parkway. The elder Vavaroutsos has been making pies since 1958, when he moved to New York City from Greece. The family came to Atlanta in 1979 and for the last six and a half years has been in business in north Fulton, finally settling at this location in Alpharetta.
What do Greeks know about pizza, you might say? Plenty, judging by the pies we shared. The crust of the Napolitano version is thin and crisp enough to stand up to the toppings, yet tender to the bite. The dough itself is tasty enough that both of us ate every scrap, even the rims of the slices.
On my sausage, garlic, and black olive pizza the sausage was sliced in large diagonal slivers and plentiful. The hot cheese stretched into nice long strings as I lifted a slice to my plate. One bite and the ooey gooey goodness let me know this pizza was a star. The only thing that keeps the pie from being top tier for me is a lack of acidic punch to the sauce. But that’s based solely on personal preferences.
The pizza sauce is the father’s recipe, unchanged since the ’50s, and the mild, smooth flavor is be design, Jimmy said. “I have a friend [in the pizza business] who puts so many spices into his sauce that I get heartburn.”
He lets his cheese take center stage. “That’s where the flavor is. Our cheese comes out nice and fluffy and blends well with the sauce.”
The secret to the crust is the high gluten spring wheat flower, he said. No sugar or oil is used.
During our conversation, Jimmy’s father, Pete, was sitting in a back booth, peeling head after head of fresh garlic by hand. Jimmy said his dad will chop up the cloves and mix them with oil fr kitchen use. No store-bought products for Mama’s.
And Pete makes sure that kind of labor-intensive attention to every facet of the pizzeria’s cuisine is standard operating procedure. “He’s like a dinosaur,” Jimmy said admiringly. “He does everything the old-fashioned way.”
- Joan Durbin Dining Destinations - Alpharetta Neighbor April 6, 2010
Having traveled extensively throughout the U.S., I have sampled many of the best pizza joints available. As a charter member of one of the best informational sites available, pizzatherapy.com, I can state unequivocally that nothing in Atlanta compares to the likes of Pepe’s or Sally’s or Modern in New Haven, several in New York or a few others from D.C. to L.A.
I’ve eaten at several of those nominated herein, but my favorite continues to be Mama’s in Alpharetta. I’ve patronized Jimmy’s place for more than 20 years and have never once been disappointed. No frou-frou, just simple, plain adherence to the basics – great crust, sauce and cheese. And very generous toppings.
It’s somewhat remote for in-town Atlantans, but do yourself a favor and give it a try if you’re seeking no-nonsense N.Y. style pizza served with a smiling, attentive staff. I’ve patronized this place for more than 20 years and followed their various incarnations in Roswell, Canton and Alpharetta. I’ve entertained my family, staff, relatives and friends many times and never once been disappointed.
After moving from New York to the Atlanta area in 1987 we were desperately seeking a New York style pizza place. After a few failures we finally landed at Mama’s Pizza which was then located in the Roswell Mall. Euphoria set in when we had our first pie and we have been steady customers ever since even though Mama’s changed locations a number of times since then. If you are looking for the best NY style pizza in the Atlanta metro area Mama’s is the place for you.
- The Mansel Family