When You Need More Than an Olive Garden Experience: Mary’s Italian Trattoria

A meal at Mary’s Italian Trattoria is possibly the closest thing to Italy in Tulsa. I’ve been frequenting Mary’s for several years during those times when I’m searching for a pasta experience that is beyond what Olive Garden can give me. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Olive Garden. There are just times when you need more than Americanized Italian soup, salad, and breadsticks. For those times, Mary’s welcomes you with carb-o-loading goodness. And on this particular visit, I welcomed the carbs with mouth wide-open, since I was preparing to run the Tulsa Run the next morning.

Our experience started in the alleyway behind Cherry Street, where we parked and climbed the wooden steps leading to the nondescript door that ushered us into Mary’s. Upon entering, our nostrils were greeted by the scents of freshly-made bread, pesto and the like. Every time I visit Mary’s, I have to take a few moments after being seated to drink in my surroundings. Mary’s does brilliantly and seamlessly what some chain Italian restaurants attempt to mass-produce: the quaint feeling of an Italian home, complete with clotheslines adorned with aprons, adorable knick-knacks like sewing machines, photos of days gone by, and huge doilies blanketing every tabletop.

After scouring the menu for starters, the Mr. and I decided to try the breadsticks — crispy, thin, hand-made seasoned with anise seed and garlic salt. These are no Olive Garden-esque thick, fluffy, butter-slathered breadsticks, mind you. They are crunchy, flavorful, and particularly delicious when dipped in the house dressing that came with my garden salad, I discovered. I chose the house dressing with my salad — it’s a creamy Italian with garlic and dill.

After the breadsticks and salads, we were ready for our meals. But at Mary’s, the pasta takes time. Each dish is made-to-order, and the menu even includes a warning that dishes may take up to an hour when the restaurant is busy. Lucky for us, we enjoy having leisurely, European-style dinners, so we took that time in between our starters and the meal to socialize with the table next to us, which just happened to be some folks Devon knows.

For my entree, I chose the Beef and Cheese Tortellini with Pesto Sauce. It was a unique, filling dish, loaded with the tender, stuffed tubed pasta, flavorful pesto and crunchy pine nuts. The dish was satisfying and zesty, but I will probably choose a marinara sauce if I try it again in the future. Don’t get me wrong: Mary’s pesto sauce is great; it was just a little too much of the green stuff for my liking.

For Devon’s entree, he selected the Chicken Piccata with Artichokes and Fetuccine. He immediately gushed praise for the dish, commenting on how tender the chicken was, and how the skin was baked almost like baklava — crunchy, thin layers with a hint of sweetness. I’m not sure if Devon realized this while ordering, but his dish was filled with mushrooms. This mushroom-hating husband of mine shocked me by eating every last mushroom on his plate, exclaiming, “The mushrooms in this would turn any mushroom hater into a mushroom lover!”

With our plates spotless, we had no choice but to order what is one of my favorite sweets in all of Northeastern Oklahoma.┬áMary’s holds a special place in my sweet tooth…er…heart for having perfected this dessert, which I first tried in 2005 (yes, I still remember the year. That’s how epic this dessert is). If you’re not a mint person, then please stop reading this post now instead of guffawing at my love for peppermint. The dessert is called the Grasshopper; but never fear, it has no relation to the insect. It’s a chilled mint ice cream with a thick chocolate crust, drizzled with chocolate and creme de menthe and topped with whipped cream and a mint sprig.

Mary’s is not necessarily the cheapest place to dine (about $15-$20 for most entrees), but I still enjoy it for its authenticity of Italian atmosphere and taste. Also, the service is consistently superb. Mary’s is always the first place that comes to my mind when I’m in the mood for some genuine Italian food, and I think you might find the same to be true for you after you try it!
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