First, you've gotta give Linda Robbins credit for the name.
"Jo-Mamas Pizza" is playful, especially coming from a woman serious enough to drive an hour from Guffey to run the Woodland Park eatery.
Robbins and her husband opened in the former Pizza Factory spot in April 2007, tossing picnic tables and games to make room for booths and a few tables under a cute mural that includes Florence's Ponte Vecchio and a happy squirrel who's scored some pizza crust.
Though well-established already, thanks in part to the couple's sponsorship of area youth sports, Jo-Mamas has seen some change. Most notably, Gary Filipiak, a 20-year restaurant veteran, has arrived to lead the kitchen. With his input, the crew just released a seasonal menu, which leaves absent items like chicken wings but doesn't affect the paninis, pastas and pizzas.
At the heart of many dishes is a sauce stewed for eight hours with organic spices. (Robbins also sources from Wellington's Grant Family Farms in warmer months.) It tastes great with mozzarella-topped eggplant, onions and tomatoes as an appetizer ($7.50), and in the Mama-Cotti ($11.95) — basically your average manicotti, but for the overcooked, crunchy pasta bottom on ours. It's also pleasing in the basic five-cheese ravioli ($10.95).
The pizza dough is also made in house, with toppings cut to order. Some pies, like the 12-inch Jo-Mamas Special, bearing olives, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, banana peppers and asiago, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, are a bit pricey at $18.45.
"We have to charge a little more," acknowledges Robbins. "We try to use the finest ingredients." But as complex as that pizza is, not all those flavors come through fully; we enjoyed a simple, thin slice of pepperoni pizza more during a later lunch visit, where $5 specials highlight generally cheaper prices.
And Jo-Mamas really shines with a lunchtime staple — sandwiches. Each is available as a sub, panini or "San-Ritos," the last of which is a house-created item wherein dough is folded around your ingredients, pressed in a panini grill, then baked.
The Ultimate Italiano ($9.30) lives up to its name, loaded with mortadella, capicola, pepperoni, ham, salami and veggie fixings. The flavor was great and our sub bread was baked perfectly crisp, though the center of the otherwise flawless sandwich was cold.
The Sloppy Bird ($7.85) of smoked turkey and provolone topped in cole slaw, which we ordered as a panini on a nice, fluffy focaccia, proved as tasty as it did wet. Lastly, a Reuben ($8.35) San-Ritos sported lean meat and good flavor, but elevated form over function: the pastrami and kraut was skewed into one side of the wrap, leaving the other a little doughy. A forgotten Thousand Island dip (we took it to-go) probably would have helped.
On that note, our servers were sharp in recommending which items to pair with each sandwich style, but staff need to remember that the kitchen's wide open. Diners don't want to hear grumbling about a missing stapler or shouts of 86'd items across the dining room, or worst of all, see hands go unwashed between the register and oven.
Jo-Mamas clearly has the basics of Italian cooking down. But much like its dessert tiramisu ($3.95), which was marred by a Hershey's garnish, it's a few tweaks away from excellence.