407 Torbay Rd.
Phone (709) 738-7014
I went to Mama Soula’s anticipating improvement since my last visit in 2013. Back then I left feeling that Mama Soula’s was letting its customers down. The food wasn’t what it used to be, the menu looked stale and, frankly, Mama Soula’s was a muted shadow of the bright, lively family restaurant I remembered from earlier years.
It has been two months since Mama Soula’s was taken over by new management. Vanya Velinova (Bistro Sofia) and her husband, Tony Velinov (Bistro Sofia, Black Sea Restaurant) are the current operators. Specifically, Vanya Velinova. As Tony Velinov said, “I work for Vanya. It’s her place.”
Indeed, he still operates Bistro Sofia and Black Sea Restaurant with his business partner, Chef Gregory Bersinski.
So, for all of you Bistro Sofia dessert junkies hooked on the couple’s desserts, no need to be concerned. Those wickedly good chocolate truffles, cakes, flans and everything else that you’ve come to adore will still be available at Bistro Sofia. Indeed, now folks in the northeast burbs can access the same signature sweets at Mama Soula’s. In fact, plans are afoot to eventually open a bakery/deli at the rear of Mama Soula’s building.
Apart from different desserts in the counter cooler (the baklava is still there) Mama Soula’s looked unchanged. Even the menu is pretty much what it was. That is to say it’s a potpourri of Greek, Italian (well, Italian pastas) and Canadian cuisine. One of the servers told us, after we had ordered, that Tony Velinov had changed the moussaka, “just a little bit.” Otherwise, everything is as before.
If you are ordering the “zesty” wings at Mama Soula’s, I recommend you order the wet wings and not the so-called zesty dry spiced wings. Ours were anything but zesty. Dredged in flour, salt (maybe a little pepper) and fried, Mama Soula’s zesty dry spiced wings were the opposite of plump and juicy. They were overcooked, a touch dry and almost bland. Adding garlic, onion, paprika, cumin and other spices would have worked wonders for the wings.
Mama Soula’s seafood chowder was excellent. Truly flavourful. A dairy based soup with fresh cod, cold water shrimp, bay scallops, herbs, pepper, lemon and some grated, hard white cheese. It didn’t have the thick, gravy-like consistency of some local chowders (the kind you can practically stand a spoon in). Some folks prefer soups that pour, others, soups that plop. Regardless of your camp, it all comes down to taste and Mama Soula’s chowder had plenty of that.
On paper the Cajun shrimp linguine looked like it should have been a brightly flavoured, zippy pasta dish of sweet peppers, mushrooms, onion, shrimp and slippery linguine all loosely tied together by a sauce described as Cajun cream. The tail-on shrimps were laid on top of the pasta, not incorporated into the tight swirl of noodles. I picked them up, shucked the tails and ate them separately from the linguine.
As for the pasta, it was a mass of heavy noodles, adhered with slivers of peppers and onions, choking in a gluey sauce similar to what you get by adding water to the orange powder that comes with Kraft dinner. There was a degree of spicy flavour, but everything about this dish was simply overwhelmed by the unpleasant, cloying mouthfeel of the pasta.
Brunch choices were available. Spouse ordered fish cakes and eggs with sausages. The fish cakes were laudable for the amount of fish they contained. It certainly wasn’t necessary to go on a hunt for it. Although the cakes did not lack fish, they did lack seasoning. In fact, and I have never said this before about fish cakes, they needed salt.
The brunch plate’s remaining items were up to the standard you’d expect in a family restaurant: competently fried over-easy eggs, small pork breakfast sausages and plain hash browns (that should really be called square french fries) of the type that marry well with salt and malt vinegar. Actual, sliced fresh fruit (orange, kiwi, strawberry, grape and melon) was a welcome, delicious surprise.
We finished with carrot cake which was, as expected, wonderful. How could it not be when made by one of Newfoundland’s best pastry chefs, Vanya Velinova? It was dense (but moist), rich, sweetly flavoured by carrot and frosted with a concoction of cream cheese that altogether created abundant satisfaction. It was a nearly perfect dessert. Unfortunately, crass interlopers appeared on the plate next to Velinova’s creation. Three peaked, artificial looking mounds of white froth that tasted like Dream Whip. Only fresh whipped cream was worthy to garnish Velinova’s cake. Better nothing at all than dreck.
Mama Soula’s has seen a modest improvement from my 2013 experience (a definite nadir). There should be no doubt about the quality of the restaurant’s desserts and baked goods in the hands of chocolate and pastry experts like Velinov and Velinova.
Although a few other elements of our meal were good, much was disappointing. On a positive note, things seem to be headed in the right direction. Let’s hope for still more brightness in future.
Three-course meal for two with wine, tax and tip costs $100 (approximately).
Friendly and efficient.
Warm, colourful, unpretentious.
Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Recommended and walk-ins are welcome.
Mama Soula’s offers wines from 11 wineries. All are uncomplicated New World choices, except Boutari Kretikos of Greece, Bend in the River Riesling from Germany and Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio of Italy. House wines are available by the glass. A large (9 oz.) pour of white costs $9.95, while a large (9 oz.) pour of red costs $10.95.
Entrance requires assistance, some accessible tables, restrooms are accessible.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com. Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells