Hot mamma

Mamma DiSalvo’s: one spicy southern Italian adventure

By Paula Johnson

PIP (Palate In Progress) and I are Mamma DiSlavo’s veterans, having dined several times at this venerable Kettering favorite, open since 1979. If you’ve never been, Mamma’s is the sort of bustling casual red sauce emporium where the clientele and the staff know each other well, and a plate of spaghetti with garlic bread and a glass of Chianti will fix what ails you. Specializing in cuisine from the Abruzzi Molise region of Italy, the family makes all sauces daily as well as their own dressings, sausage and meatballs.

For those who love the Italian classics, Mamma DiSalvo’s will float your gondola. The menu covers all the bases like lasagna, manicotti, carbonara and ravioli, to sauces ranging from alfredo, vodka, marinara and olive oil and garlic. Also offered are pizzas and subs as well as a few seafood and veal dishes. The small selection appetizers features a lot of fried items, two of which we settled on right away: Fried Calamari ($9.95 small, $13.95 large) and Fried Ravioli ($8.50 small, $11.95 large)


We found the batter on the calamari to be crisp and not at all greasy, but the highlight of this dish was dunking the pieces in the chunky, zesty marinara with its bright tomato taste. The same for the fried ravioli, which packed a peppery punch with their jalapeño and cheese filling. The sweetness and acidity of the marinara worked well with the spice and fried coating of these little pillows. Next up was a tasty and thick ham and bean soup served with corn bread. Filled with big hunks of ham, it was hearty and homemade tasting. PIP was equally pleased with the popular house salad with Mama DiSalvo’s Italian vinaigrette, which is bottled and sold (along with pasta sauce) at local supermarkets.

Seeing red

Continuing with the spicy theme, PIP spied Ziti alla FraDiavolo made with an arrabiatta sauce on the menu. The description came with the warning that it’s known as “the 911 sauce,” so he looked no further for his entree choice. Arrabiata means “Angry Sauce” in Italian, and Mamma DiSalvo’s is absolutely furious. I mean seriously ticked off. Downright belligerent. We found this out after our server, with raised eyebrows, let us know that to order a spice level of 10 on a scale of one to 10 was perilous. She was clearly worried for PIP, but he sat back, arms folded, and smugly assured her that he was equal to the challenge.

Feeling red

As we waited, a sample of the sauce was brought out by our nervous looking server, who requested PIP give it a try to be sure he could handle it. He plunged a spoon right in, while I dipped mine a lot less boldly. As I watched PIP’s reaction, I thought of Saturday morning cartoons where someone eats something spicy and smoke and fire comes out of their mouth. “Maybe a little less on the heat,” he managed to gasp as he gulped my water.

We met Bobby DiSalvo when he came to the table to be certain PIP’s mouth was not on fire after the initial taste of the 911 sauce, and to see if the second taste the kitchen sent out was at an edible level of spiciness. As we chatted he pointed to a pepper plant near the front door. “That’s where I grow the peppers we use in the sauce,” he said. “They’re from a place in Florida called The Pepper Palace. They are really powerful, so I recommend order everything with no more than a spice level of five.” Duly noted.

I didn’t go the spicy route, instead going with lots of garlic with the Linguini Vongole ($19.95). Mamma DiSalvo’s offers it with marinara sauce, but I love the brothy briny white wine, olive oil and clam juice version. Redolent with garlic and generously studded with tender clams and chopped herbs, this satisfying dish was a great counterpoint to the marinara I had sampled with the appetizers.

Staying put

As I ate, I asked Bobby about the restaurant’s longevity, and future plans.

“People have said to us over the years ‘Why don’t you move to a bigger location or why don’t you open another place?’”  he said. “And I’ve always said Kettering has been good to us—we love it here, and we don’t have enough family to open another location! And that’s what’s important. You’ll always see a DiSalvo here cooking. It’s our job. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just good.”

I agreed with him.

For dessert, I tried the New York Carnegie Deli cheesecake, a dense marriage of cream and crumb in a gargantuan slab. It’s priced at $11.50, but it’s more than enough to share, although I didn’t. It’s doubtful PIP could have tasted it anyway. He could taste the delicious sample of the homemade limoncello Bobby sent over, and pronounced it tart, sweet and delicious.

So, don’t be like PIP. When you go to Mamma DiSalvo’s remember to practice safe spice. Keep it at a level five. You’ll be able to taste and enjoy a lot more that way.

Mamma DiSalvo’s is located at 1375 E. Stroop Rd. in Kettering. For more information, please call 937.299.5831 or visit

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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