The unique name of the restaurant means “my daughter” in Napoli, Italy. “The motto for the restaurant is ‘where you are always treated like one of the family,’” says executive chef and owner, Rick Yockachonis.
Yockachonis has a wide variety of experience in the restaurant business. After high school, he accepted a three-year apprenticeship at Litchfield Beach, S.C., rather than attending culinary school. From there he worked at Carolina’s in Charleston.
The young chef moved to the Dothan area, working at several restaurants including as chef at southwestern and Italian restaurants. He later moved to Auburn and worked in food and beverage management at Stillwaters.
Yockachonis met his wife, Diane, through a friend on a blind date. Diane was considering culinary school, but changed her mind after marrying Rick in 2000. They owned a Schlotzsky’s Deli for a few years and then opened another restaurant, but became tired of the restaurant business. He gave up cooking to become involved in real estate for five years, purchasing homes and flipping them for resale.
A couple of years ago, Yockachonis was approached by Joe Garofalo, one of the owners of the Irish Bred Pub, to develop a menu, serve as chef and help get the restaurant running. Garofalo, pleased with Yockachonis, offered to assist him in opening his own restaurant.
Originally from New York, Garofalo discussed with Rick and Diane the idea of opening a New York style pizzeria restaurant. The chef knew he wanted a restaurant in downtown Opelika, and he had been chef at an Italian restaurant.
He worked with John Marsh on the design and décor. “The setting is supposed to make you feel like you are somewhere else in an old European restaurant,” says the chef.
The restaurant has an Old World charm with wooden floors, arched doorways, aged shutters, leather booths and tables with a metal finish. At the rear of the dining area, a wine cellar based on a design from Italy displays a selection of wines.
A casual bar is located behind the dining room where customers can savor a glass of wine while waiting for a table.
Since the building was small, the city of Opelika provided two parking spaces in front for an outdoor section to expand to 40 additional seating. Wrought iron tables and chairs furnish the outdoor area, and heaters provide warmth on chilly evenings.
Yockachonis worked three to four months on developing the menu, which features a wide selection of pizzas with homemade dough, assorted freshly made pasta and sauces along with other Italian main dishes. All of the menu items are made from scratch.
From the menu of pastas and sauces, diners can create their own dish. Choices also include lobster or mushroom ravioli, with sauces ranging from marinara and vodka sauce to olive oil and garlic. Half and full orders are available. Meatballs or Italian sausage can be added.
A signature vegetarian “spaghetti and meatballs” features fried eggplant with Asiago and basil over capellini pasta with marinara sauce and cheese.
The pizza dough is prepared daily and rests for 48 hours to ensure a unique taste and crust. Yockachonis found a stone encased oven in Virginia for baking the pizzas. Sauce is made with San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. Choosing from the selection of toppings, customers can create their own pizza.
A daily lunch special pairs two slices of pizza with one topping and a drink for $6.95.
Along with traditional choices, specialty pizzas are available, including Firenze with mozzarella, grilled shrimp, prosciutto, red onion, tomato, leeks and avocado.
Seafood, chicken, veal and beef main dishes are offered, along with appetizers, salads and soups. The comprehensive menu also features panino focaccia sandwiches. Select from meatball, chicken pesto and caprese, among others. Half of a sandwich can be combined with soup or salad.
End the meal on a sweet note with a classic Italian dessert, such as tiramisu, zeppole, ricotta cheesecake, Italian cream cake or s’mores pizza, which can be topped with vanilla gelato.
During spring, new dishes will be added to the menu.
Ma Fia’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is located at 811 S, Railroad Ave., Opelika. Hours are daily from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. For further information contact the restaurant at 334.745.6266 or visit the website at www.mafiasopelika.com.