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May 26, 2020

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Ada's Viva Maria: Featuring great Italian and American dinners

A good, made-from-scratch restaurant, beloved by locals and students

Icon Restaurant Review:
Viva Maria
124 E. Buckeye St., Ada
Reviewer: Liz Gordon-Hancock

Before walking through the door of Viva Maria, all I knew about the place was that it was an Italian restaurant with big portions and huge support from both the local community and ONU campus crowd. My husband and I walked up to the restaurant around 8 p.m. on a weeknight.  

The restaurant is currently housed in the historic Ada Armory. Do not be fooled by the stark, industrial facade; this building houses a good, made-from-scratch Italian-American restaurant, beloved by both locals and students.  

The historic building itself has had many faces over the years, including (but not limited to) apartments, basketball courts, and a bar. The owners, Dominic and Susan Fricano, chose to embrace the building's diverse past in their decor: the space is an open plan, with exposed ductwork; the kitchen and serving areas are simply sectioned off by glass blocks; one basketball hoop remains, and there's still stairs to former apartment(s).  

Loads of rope lights hang over the dining space. There's a station in the corner where musicians entertain guests on Friday and Saturday evenings. The space is functional, because – really – it's all about the food.

Viva Maria offers a vast menu, not just pizza and pasta, but also sandwiches, subs, and the famed cheesesteaks, calzones and stromboli.

A calzone is a baked dish of pizza dough, in the shape of a crescent, filled with mozzarella, ricotta cheese, and your choice of stuffings, such as ham, broccoli, sausage and other toppings associated with pizza.

A stromboli is more like a folded-up pizza, with mozzarella, pizza or marinara sauce, and your choice of stuffings.  The menu is the perfect blend of American and Italian food.

Dominic Fricano is from Sicily and lends more than a little authenticity to the cuisine. The pizza dough is hand tossed on the premises and the pasta sauces are made from scratch. There is also an extensive wine and spirits list.

For the gluten-free, they do offer gluten-free pizza and pasta. (Where else can you find gluten-free ravioli?)

Given the reputation for huge portions, my husband, Bob, and I decided we would just do a main dish and save room for dessert. (But then I noticed they had fried pickles as a starter, and I just HAD to order them. They were so worth it!)

I ordered the Apicella Strozone as my main, which is a mix between a calzone and a stromboli.  It is chicken, marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and mozzarella neatly wrapped and braided in pizza dough crust (see picture at bottom).

It was a thing of beauty, practically exploding with stringy mozzarella. Bob ordered the Fettucine with Clam sauce, which came with two breadsticks and a salad to start (see picture at top).

His pasta had an authentic "al dente" bite to it, with loads of clams, and the clam sauce was subtle and satisfying, with a dash of olive oil. The pasta came in a wide, deep bowl, which could have fed a family of four!

We managed to save some room for dessert. I chose tiramisu, a traditional Italian specialty, and Bob ordered the raspberry mascarpone torte. My tiramisu was a light sponge cake soaked in coffee, layered with creamy, whipped mascarpone, and dusted with cocoa.

The sponge cake is lighter than angel food cake, so it practically melts in your mouth; then you taste the creamy tang of mascarpone, and finish off with hints of coffee and cocoa. The torte was also a smooth, light sponge with a drizzle of raspberry syrup on top.

Next time, I will order the cannoli for dessert, as it is handmade using a secret family recipe.

The serving staff are mainly students. It's clear the staff are proud of  the food they serve. Our server, Tyler Overy, is a senior Education Studies major. Tyler said "I've worked here for one and half years, and I still eat the food!"  You're also likely to see the owners mingling with customers.

Come in your tennis shoes, and expect to go away full. There are no pretensions at Viva Maria's, just good food, in large portions, served by attentive staff. I left the restaurant stuffed but supremely satisfied. Bob left with a whole second meal in hand.

The restaurant is busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, since they offer a buffet, featuring baked ziti, lasagna, tortellini and more, plus pizza, salad and bread sticks, from 5 to 9 p.m.

The buffet coincides with live music from 6 to 9 p.m. both nights. Reservations are not required, except perhaps on graduation weekend. The space can seat over 100 people, so it's perfect for large groups. They also offer catering.   

Viva Maria is open Monday-Wednesday 4 to 10 p.m., Thursdays  10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday-Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Viva Maria is an Ada Icon advertiser. Click here for a printer-friendly menu.

Click here for previous Icon restaurant reviews.