Dramatic comebacks are usually associated with famous musicians or sports stars, but sometimes popular restaurants can also get in on the act. That’s exactly what happened with the Big Mama Italian-style restaurant in Tel Aviv. After six years of not having an official outlet open to the public for sit-down meals, the legendary restaurant is now back.
Big Mama started its journey some 20 years ago when it opened on Rabbi Akiva Street in the Carmel Market area. It very quickly turned into a Tel Aviv institution known for serving fresh and innovative toppings on pizzas and pastas. After years of success, the restaurant moved to a new location on Hillel Hazaken Street until it closed in 2007. Despite there not being not a restaurant open to the public, die-hard fans were able to order from Big Mama’s distribution center in the Montefiore neighborhood, which is still in operation.
It’s taken some years, but Big Mama is finally open to the public again with a brand new restaurant on Hahashmonaim Street. As part of the comeback, they’ve reintroduced some of the classic dishes from the 1990s, as well as some fresh new ideas.
Upon a recent visit, I and my companion had the opportunity to sample some dishes from the new and improved menu. The restaurant is very unassuming from the outside and is decorated quite simply on the inside. With a relatively small number of tables, the atmosphere is kept intimate.
Despite the restaurant’s being almost empty when we arrived for our early dinner, we had the pleasure of listening to a great soundtrack in the background. The classic songs were so good, that my companion couldn’t stop herself from singing along.
The owners at Big Mama have put a strong emphasis on affordability and offer a unique fixed price menu. At lunchtime, they offer an appetizer, main course and beverage for NIS 39, with the option to add a dessert for NIS 9. From 5 p.m., the evening menu is split into a NIS 49 or a NIS 59 deal, depending on which dishes are ordered. The evening menu also includes focaccia served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Conscious of not wanting to fill up too much on bread, my companion and I had a couple of pieces each, and it was more than enough.
As well as very reasonably priced food, Big Mama offers an unbelievably inexpensive alcohol menu. A glass of Lambrusco starts at NIS 12, or NIS 55 for a bottle, while a glass of red or white wine costs NIS 15. Not wanting to miss out on this great deal, we each had a glass of wine. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio, while my companion opted for a Merlot. Neither of us was disappointed with our choice.
As for the meal, for starters I ordered the wasabi salad, which consisted of baby spinach, green beans, wasabi peas, feta cheese and focaccia chunks.
For a starter in a relatively inexpensive restaurant, I was very impressed with the portion size the presentation. It was extremely tasty, and all the ingredients seemed to work very well together, even if the peas seemed a little out of place at first.
My companion had the Caprese salad with basil, rocket, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and mozzarella.
Again, the portion was huge and equally well presented. We both agreed that it was one of the freshest and tastiest salads we’d tasted in a long time.
When it came to the main course, I decided to sample one of the classic dishes that was served 20 years ago in the original Big Mama restaurant. The pasta radiatore covered in thick butter sauce with white wine, cream and slices of goose was just delicious.
Despite being somewhat full from the large salad and bread, I wiped my plate clean. I just couldn't resist the combination of rich flavors, which all worked together beautifully.
My companion went for the slightly more typical spaghetti aioli with mushrooms and broccoli. For a simple dish, it was full of flavor, and the freshness of the ingredients was very apparent.
While the few desserts on offer all sounded good, we opted to share a very small portion of chocolate truffles served with vanilla cream. The two small chocolate balls with a dollop of fresh vanilla sauce was a perfect end to the meal.
With so many restaurants in Tel Aviv charging more than NIS 50 for a main course, it’s refreshing to know that there are also good quality places out there where you can have a fullcourse meal for the same price.
Big Mama is an ideal place for families who want to go out and enjoy some good food without breaking the bank. It’s also a good choice for those looking to spend a romantic evening in an intimate and unpretentious environment.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
95 Hahashmonaim, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 504-8235
Open Sunday to Friday from noon until the last customer leaves. Saturday, noon – 5 p.m.