The pandemic has been a nightmare for restaurants in the Tampa area. Labor shortages and rising costs…this has led to some large places closing down. The one that crushed me last month was when I visited Italy Mia in Saint Peter. It’s been my go-to place for great chicken parmesan since I moved to Florida 10 years ago. Truth be told, the last few visits weren’t that great, but I continued to think they were dealing with the pandemic issues I mentioned. Last month, when I arrived, my heart sank. The doors were locked. It was dark inside. They were usually closed on Mondays – but it wasn’t a Monday. And looking out the windows, it was clear that Italia Mia hadn’t been open for a few weeks, if not months.
A guy who runs a marital arts gym next door to Italia Mia told me the new owners can’t make it work. New owners? This was news to me. I had noticed personnel changes over the past year, but didn’t think much of it. Come and find out, those times when I didn’t really enjoy the food…it was after the original owners left. Some Q105 listeners let me know that they opened a new spot called Italian Touch. I looked up the place online and sure enough there was the little Italian who had served me on the hompeage several times. When I opened the menu it was almost an exact match with Italia Mia. So after yesterday’s show, I went to see if the magic was still there.
The new location is far from Italia Mia geographically. Mama Rosa’s Italian cuisine is located in the Kenneth City neighborhood (8211 46th Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33709). Even if it’s far away, on the taste bud side, it’s the 100% Italia Mia experience that I thought was long gone. As soon as I walked in, that mesmerizing smell of good Italian food got me excited. As I passed the counter and entered the dining room, there she was… Mama Rosa. Working alone in a room twice the size of Italia Mia, she moved frantically from table to table. After the first bite of my salad, I knew my favorite Italian spot was back. The dressing has that vinegar and garlic punch that I loved at Italia Mia. When the Chicken Parmesan submarine arrived, I violently attacked it. It was just as I remembered…fresh bread with a crunch on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside, a flavorful sauce and chicken cooked to perfection.
Italia Mia’s lunch specials are also at Italian Touch. With the rising prices of everything from gas to groceries, I don’t know how they can charge just $8.95. Choices include ravioli, lasagna and one of my favorites – ziti with sausage, peppers and onions in marinara. Bread and salad are included. Lunch specials end at 3 p.m. A personal pizza with topping is $9.95. I must have been to Italia Mia 30 or 40 times before trying their pizza because the Chicken Parm was my thing. But the pizza is fantastic too. You can get it by the slice during lunch time.