One hazard with finding a great mom and pop Italian place (or any place) is that they don't necessarily enjoy longevity. There was a really good place in a city near here that offered skillfully prepared and plated rustic Italian food. The chicken saltimboca was amazing--pocket cut in the breast and stuffed with prosciutto et al. Served atop a heap of perfect mashed potatoes and surrounded by colorful, freshly steamed baby vegetables in a delicious light sauce.
They had an appetizer that consisted of a circle of thin foccacia cut into triangles on a hot metal plate. With it they brought a wedge of Cambozola (which was actually originally developed in Germany from French and Italian cheeses) and heads of roasted garlic. You sliced some cheese and placed it on a triangle of hot foccacia, then spread the quickly melting cheese with the roasted garlic. So good.
Last time we went there it was closed. When we asked, we were told that the elderly Italian immigrants who'd owned it had retired.
In the same city, I scanned the local paper in my hotel room while I waited for a friend to finish a meeting. I read where the newspaper food critic had sung the praises of a local mom and pop Italian place. Later, when we were driving around deciding where to eat and what to do for the evening, I spotted the featured place. We went in and should have left when the "ice water," served in tiny juice glasses, had no ice. But we stayed to pay for, but not eat, greasy tasteless lasagne and warm, limp Caesar salad. I wonder what motivates food critics to give the nod to subpar places.
The Italian food chains we have in our area, mostly local or regional chains, are mediocre at best and we don't patronize them. I think any place can make good food, chain or not. The best bet for unique and soul satisfying is of course NOT.
I use this site and others to get ideas for places to eat when I visit an area, but only peripherally. It's too much fun being flexible and acting on impulse to plan where to eat on a trip. I like to search a little on my own and try things for which I have no recommendation. It's a bell curve: in ten episodes of discovery, I usually score maybe one that surprises and delights, lots of good to mediocre places, and one or two real dogs. The fun is in the hunt.
It's hard to make a generalization on mom and pop Italian places versus chains since some chains do a great job and some mom and pops don't even ring the bell. If I lived near one of the chain restaurants mentioned by several posters on this thread (Carrabba's?), I would without a doubt try it. The trick is to find what makes you happy and then keep looking!