Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

DINING REVIEW: Service, quality vary at Mollica's

by mb partlow mb.partlow@gazette.com - Published: July 19, 2013

When you walk through the doors of a deli, your nose knows if you're in the right place.

At Mollica's Italian Market & Deli, your nose will be delighted with the scents of roasting sausage, simmering marinara, pungent garlic and sometimes fresh-baked cookies.

This deli and restaurant has been serving up sandwiches and pastas to loyal Springs customers since 1987. They rely on bountiful portions and proven favorites to keep their customers coming back for more. While some of these dishes are excellent, others are out of balance or underflavored. The service can vary from professional and attentive to disinterested or even brusque.

If you visit Mollica's at lunchtime, you'll order and pay at the counter, get your own drinks and find a table. Your food will be delivered in a timely manner. The young man at the register could not have been less personable when I visited. No smile, no attempt to engage, although he did grudgingly answer our questions - with as few words as possible. Everyone was greeted with the same grim expression, although the woman who brought our food was pleasant.

What of the food? We decided to opt for the day's two specials. First was the tuna salad ($8.49), which was served on a delicious, chewy roll. The tuna salad itself was completely pedestrian, a good tuna-to-mayonnaise ratio but nothing to differentiate it from what you've probably eaten a hundred times before. Some celery, apple or even diced dill pickle would have added a nice crunch and a flavor boost.

The second special was called a Muffaletta ($9.95), but it was not. The bread wasn't round or as dense as it should have been, but I could get past that. The ham and salami were cut into strips, making the sandwich messy to eat. The portions of provolone and mozzarella cheeses were scant, and the topping was a spicy Italian giardiniera instead of the traditional olive salad. I missed the briny earthiness of the olives and the crunch of the celery from that salad. This was also incredibly greasy, leaving a large puddle of red grease in the bottom of the serving basket.

Every sandwich at Mollica's comes with a cup of pasta salad. On the plus side, the pasta is perfectly cooked and there's enough light, vinaigrette-style dressing to flavor the salad without making it soggy. On the minus side, it's boring. My serving had some miniscule flecks of carrot and red onion, and my companion's salad had an additional single small floret of broccoli. Just adding a little more vegetables would go a long way toward making this salad a standout instead of a space filler.

Dinner at Mollica's means table service, and I'm happy to say our server was friendly and helpful, answering our questions and making a good suggestion for the vegetarian with us. One of the nice features at Mollica's is that several of the pasta dishes can be ordered in half or full portions, so you aren't faced with more than you can eat.

The veggie baked penne ($13.95) is great dish. The veggie red sauce retains a very fresh tomato flavor that's highlighted with onions, garlic, oregano and basil. The penne, just slightly too done, was combined with spinach, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and onions, then topped with provolone and baked. The provolone gave the dish a sharper finish than mozzarella would have, adding a subtle heartiness.

The Grinder ($8.29) showcases one of the very best items on the menu at Mollica's: the homemade Italian sausage. The sausage is juicy, not too fatty and delicately spiced to highlight the flavor of the pork without overwhelming it. (Note: You can purchase the sausage or their homemade meatballs from the refrigerated cases near the deli.) The restaurant's go-to sandwich roll is sturdy enough to hold up to the sausages and red sauce. But this is where the question of balance comes up. While the sausage was delicious, it's too much of a good thing without enough contrast. The roasted red pepper, which could have stood up to the savory goodness, faded into the sauce. A little less sausage and the addition of some barely sauteed onions and peppers would really make this sandwich shine for its flavor instead of its heft.

Similarly, the spicy sausage and peppers calzone ($13.95) was out of balance. The calzones are huge and baked to a golden brown, easily big enough to share. But the mushrooms, roasted red peppers and onions in this calzone are drowned out by the sausage. I know that for some, more meat means more value. But Mollica's sausage is good enough that it doesn't have to take up all the space on the plate to earn star billing.

Fortunately, the Mollica's Meaty Pizza ($14.95) gives me hope that someone in the kitchen does know how to use a restrained hand. While this 10-inch pizza is topped with sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, salami and capicola, no one meat dominates. The toppings are plentiful, but not overwhelming. Spicy, salty, smoky, subtly sweet and sassy, this is a pizza for anyone who likes bold flavors and isn't afraid of pork products.

You want to know Mollica's hours of operation. The hours listed on their website and on their Facebook page are one thing. Those on the door, which were confirmed with a call to the restaurant, are another. The latter are listed here. Additionally, the prices listed on the website and on their printed menu can vary from actual prices. The paper menu at the restaurant doesn't contain all the dinner dishes, and the website doesn't list any of the calzones or pizzas. These are small points, to be sure, but why confuse patrons looking for a little information?

MOLLICA'S ITALIAN MARKET & DELI

Restaurant Character: A clean, bright deli with counter service at lunch and table service at dinner. They serve big sandwiches, salads, pastas in full or half portions, plus pizzas and calzones. The homemade sausage is very good, but some dishes need updating tweaking.

Rating total: 2.75 out of 5 stars

Food: 3 out of 5 stars

Ambiance: 3 out of 5 stars

Service: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Value for the money: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Address: 985 Garden of the Gods Road Rd. (CQ

Contact: 598-1088, mollicasitalianmarket.com (CQ)

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays (CQ)

Entrees: $8.25-$14.95 (CQ)

Alcohol: Beer and wine (CQ)

Credit cards: Yes (CQ)

Vegetarian options: Caprice Sandwich ($5.95/$9.89), (CQ) veggie baked penne ($13.95) (CQ)

Wi-fi: Yes

What's online as of July 9, 2013:

- 91 percent of 172 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon

- 4 out of 5 stars based on 17 reviews on Yelp

- Active on Facebook; search "Mollica's Italian Market & Deli"

- No violations were noted during a December, 2012, inspection by the El Paso County Health Department

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