The pandemic has been a nightmare for Tampa area restaurants. Labor shortages and costs going up… it’s led to some great places closing their doors. The one that crushed me last month was when I visited Italia Mia in St. Pete. It has been my go to spot for great Chicken Parmesan ever since I moved to Florida 10 years ago. Truth be told, the last few visits were not so great, but I kept going thinking they were facing those pandemic problems I mentioned. Last month, when I walked up, my heart sank. The doors were locked. It was dark inside. They were usually closed Mondays – but this wasn’t a Monday. And peeking through the windows, it was clear Italia Mia hadn’t been open for a few weeks if not months.
A guy who runs a marital arts gym next to Italia Mia told me the new owners couldn’t make it work. New owners? This was news to me. I’d noticed staff changes over the past year or so, but didn’t think much of it. Come to find out, those times I was not really enjoying the food… it was after the original owners had left. Some Q105 listeners let me know that they opened a new spot called Italian Touch. I looked the place up online and sure enough, there was the short Italian woman who’d served me many times right there on the hompeage. When I pulled up the menu, it was almost an exact match to Italia Mia. So after the show yesterday, off I went to see if the magic was still there.
The new place is nowhere near Italia Mia geographically. Mama Rosa’s Italian Kitchen is in the Kenneth City area (8211 46th Ave N, St. Petersburg, FL 33709). Although it’s far away, taste bud wise, it’s the 100% Italia Mia experience that I thought was long gone. As soon as I walked in that hypnotizing smell of great Italian food got me psyched. As I passed the counter and into the dining room, there she was… Mama Rosa. Working a room twice the size of Italia Mia all by herself, she frantically went from table to table.
After the first bite of my salad, I knew my favorite spot for Italian is back. The dressing has that vinegar and garlic punch I loved at Italia Mia. When the Chicken Parmesan sub arrived, I attacked it viciously. It was just as I remembered… fresh bread with a crunch on the outside but chewy and soft inside, flavorful sauce and chicken prepared just right.
The daily lunch specials from Italia Mia are at Italian Touch too. With the prices of everything from gas to groceries going up, I don’t know how they can charge only $8.95. Choices include ravioli, lasagna, and one of my favorites – ziti with sausages, peppers and onions in marinara. Bread and salad is included. A personal pizza with a topping is $9.95. Lunch specials end at 3pm. It’s a good idea to call ahead before you go to see if they are actually open for lunch. They’ve had trouble keeping enough staff on hand to stay open for lunch.
I must’ve gone to Italia Mia 30 or 40 times before I ever tried their pizza because the Chicken Parm was my thing. But the pizza is fantastic too. You can get it by the slice during lunch hour.
Hear more about the best Chicken Parmesan in St. Pete (1:08) on the Experience Tampa Bay in 10 Minutes or Less podcast. You can also hear more about the legendary Bern’s Steak House (5:28) and discover Xochitl Cocina Mexicana (8:57).