The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Oh Momma: ‘A riotous good time’
Former owner of Gina Marie’s opens ‘speakeasy’ pizzeria, melding Italian fare, live music
MIDDLETOWN — Two of the great loves of Thomas DiStefano III’s life are pizza and music, so much so that he decided to combine the two in his latest business endeavor, Oh Momma, a “speakeasy” pizzeria that promises good pies and even better live music.
DiStefano opened the 484 Main St. restaurant March 8.
“The concept is combining live music with really good food in a speakeasy atmosphere,” he said. “The experience is about having a riotous good time.”
The menu offers pizza (by the slice or a full pie), grinders (both hot and cold), pasta, and other Italian fare, including roasted provolone and cannoli for dessert. Many items are named after friends and family of DiStefano’s.
For example, the “Arturo,” a pie with broccoli on it, is named after a friend who enjoyed that combination, while “IV Tommy” is named for DiStefano’s son. The “Mini Haha,” with meatballs, sausage and peppers, or chicken cacciatore served on garlic rolls is named after his grandmother’s best friend, who lived across the street when DiStefano was a boy.
The recipes, though original, are inspired by DiStefano’s mother. The business logo is a cartoon rendering of his mom as a young adult around 18.
“My mother was a really good cook,” he said. “I think every Italian boy says the same thing. If you’re Italian, one person in your family can really cook.”
The food is available for takeout or delivery, but if diners choose to eat at the restaurant, they’ll get a full musical experience. DiStefano has been booking live bands, mining the local music scene
and Wesleyan University, so guests can enjoy music as they eat in an atmosphere that DiStefano describes as “chill.”
The idea to create a restaurant centered around live music actually dates back to 1983, when DiStefano opened Gina Marie’s Pizzeria in Middletown. That venture was so successful that it won over even people directly from Italy. From that success, DiStefano then launched an offshoot: a frozen pizza company called Gina Marie’s Frozen Food.
Eventually, DiStefano moved to Boca Raton, Fla., where he owned Dark Star Recording, a recording and music lesson school. He would often produce songs with the bands, bring them out to play, and was encouraged by the crowd they attracted.
“That was the genesis of the idea,” he said. “I’d always wanted to go back
into the pizza business because I enjoyed it and was good at it.”
When DiStefano moved back to Connecticut last spring, he looked “all over the state” to find a spot for his new venture. He ended up back in Middletown, where he found a space by the old Public Market on Main Street, decorating it with guitars and other musical decor mounted to the wall.
In front of the wall of windows, facing the street, is a stage surrounded by multi-colored lights for a fun touch. The name Oh Momma comes from a friend’s suggestion, cut down from the original name of “Momma D’s Rocking Pizza Joint.”
DiStefano has been recruiting bands to play at the restaurant, advertising at Wesleyan, and through word of mouth to find groups that focus on playing original numbers (DiStefano said he’s open to bands that perform some covers, but won’t book cover or tribute bands). He’s also scoured a site called Indie on the Move, which features local musicians.
“(Finding bands) is the hardest part,” he said.
Right now, Oh Momma is open Tuesday through Saturday, but DiStefano’s vision is to eventually open on Mondays and have themed nights. Mondays will feature a “stormy Monday blues jam,” Wednesday will be for open mic, and Thursdays will feature college and garage bands.
“I’d like to get a bunch of really young bands in here,” DiStefano said. “It’s got to be fun, and it’s got to be fun for people that are younger than me. It’s a speakeasy, so it’s a fun, lively restaurant. This is not a fine dining restaurant. This is a fun restaurant.”
For information, visit Oh Momma on Facebook or call 203-617-5184. For delivery orders, call 203-9429680. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Live music runs Thursday through Saturday.