It’s about grandmothers. I was born in Brooklyn, raised by my grandmother…she was the sweetest, kindest woman in the world, and the best cook. I wanted to recreate that part of my life that was lost…seeing a grandma cooking in the kitchen, it was very comforting…and that was what it is all about.
Jody Scaravella owner of Enoteca Maria, on the idea behind his famous Staten Island restaurant
Called “Grandmother service,” or “part of the slow food movement,” Enoteca Maria at 27 Hyatt Street in Staten Island, serves up traditional foods from around the world, cooked up by the experts: Nonnas, the Italian term for grandmas. The restaurant’s exterior is not flashy or showy, and since it was under scaffolding, was tricky to see. Once inside, it was warm and welcoming with a long interior that can hold about 25 people — a large table for big parties by the front window and maybe ten couple tables along the left-hand side. Owner Jody Scaravella can be found working the bar greeting customers coming in and thanking them as they leave. It was like having dinner at your folks, but with reservations required.
Ceci, Cipolle and Pomodori Appetizer
The grandma chefs, Nonnas, represent so many countries, Scaravella has trouble listing them all, but he was able to rattle off at least 14 including Brazil, Argentina, China, Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, and on and on, which means that really, Enoteca Maria is a United Nations of restaurants. The Nonnas take turns, based on their availability with some coming once a month, some once a year. On this Friday night, Japanese grandma Tumi worked the main floor kitchen behind glass, creating Wakame Salad, Spring Rolls and Filet of Cod baked in Parchment with side veggies that my daughter chose. Nonna Adelina, from Naples, in the downstairs kitchen made the gnocchi, tomato sauces, Nutella cheesecake and the Lasagna della Nonna made of sheets of homemade pasta, layered with a ragu of beef and pork, mozzarella and ricotta cheese with a classic tomato sauce – the optimum word being “classic.” It really is a classic when created with the love and time-honored skills of the Nonnas of the world.
Lasagna della Nonna
With hairnet in place, Nonna Adelina came to visit our table to say “hello,” which she loves to do. We chatted a bit before she went back to the kitchen. From Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, she said she had been working since 10 a.m. that morning. Asked if she was tired, she shook her head, no. Of course not. With two working parents, Scaravella’s grandmother, Nonna Domenica, was a big force in his life, the one who “passed down to us her culture, with at its very heart, her culinary traditions.” With a mission to keep these family recipes alive, he has started this restaurant and has since added “Nonnas in training,” cooking classes where fans of the restaurant can sign up for a free lesson by a Nonna. The catch is that the students don’t have a choice in the chef or nationality. They take place at the restaurant on weekdays between 12 and 3. (See enotecamaria.com for registration information.)
Enoteca Maria is in the St. George section of Staten Island, a five-minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. With its location next door to the St. George Theatre, make it a double-header with dinner and a show, and if you let Scaravella know you need to make a curtain, he’ll make sure you time it right.
The extensive wine menu took up about four pages and included a choice for every occasion, like Frizzanti, Rossi, Rose, and Bianchi. And with a brand-new menu every night, one can enjoy Enoteca Maria for years to come and never have the same entrée twice.
For more information on menus, Nonna chefs, and its history, visit enotecamaria.com. Make a note that the restaurant is a “cash-only” establishment.
Top photo: The Nonnas of the world, photo credit: Bill Lyons. (Owner Jody Scaravella is 4th from the left)
Other Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff