“Nothing beats nonna’s cooking,” is a phrase often heard among the younger Italian generation. Though the traditions and recipes are often passed down, many would agree it is not the same if nonna did not make it.
It was this yearning for nonna’s cooking that led Brooklyn native, Joe Scaravella, to open a restaurant where only Italian grandmothers were allowed in the kitchen.
At the time, Scaravella was coping with the loss of his nonna, while also processing the death of his sister and mother a few years prior. He decided to move to Staten Island for a new start but had had no plans to open a restaurant. However, one day while he was out shopping, he noticed an available storefront on Hyatt Street in the historic St. George district of the island. This chance encounter sparked an idea that Scaravella could not shake.
“After losing all the matriarchal figures in my life, I wanted to try to recreate that, you know, grandma in the kitchen cooking.”
Thus, Enoteca Maria was born.
Our amazing Nonna Margherita from Sicily is sending everyone virtual hugs and this picture of her delicious nutella…Posted by Enoteca Maria on Sunday, April 19, 2020
More than 30 grandmothers have worked in Enoteca Maria’s kitchen, bringing their traditional Italian cuisine to hundreds of people every year. Scaravella said cooking allows these women to express themselves in different ways than what diners would find with professional chefs. They are putting not only their heart into the cooking but their memories and heritage.
That’s not to say the business never had any difficulties.
When the restaurant first opened in 2006, Scaravella said there was some competition between the women. They were always comparing who had the best lasagna or who made the best sauces. This rivalry has eased over the years, which Scaravella believes is due to the menu’s expansion.
In 2011, Scaravella expanded outside of Italian cuisine and created a virtual cookbook where people from around the world could share their grandmother’s recipes. Four years later, Enoteca Maria began sharing the kitchen with grandmothers from different countries like Brazil, Peru, Poland, Japan, etc. This has become an operating standard for the restaurant, with a fixed Italian menu and a rotating weekly menu highlighting foods from different cultures.
Scaravella was delighted by the shift in attitude and the willingness to learn from both sides.
He told the New York Times, “For me, it’s a more beautiful interaction. There’s much more of an exchange of culture, stories, and recipes.”
Nonna Adelina with her linguine ai frutta di mare, served with her flavorful cannellini beans and caramelized walnuts! A special family dish from Napoli, Thank you Nonnas of the World!Posted by Enoteca Maria on Saturday, January 4, 2020
People have been clamoring for a taste of grandmother’s cooking ever since the restaurant first opened. Seating is booked weeks in advance, and people call from all over to reserve their spot at nonna’s table. The restaurant is open three days a week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only. Reservations are for only 2-hour blocks with the last seating at 8:30 pm.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Enoteca Maria was closed for a time. They are currently operating at a limited capacity until restrictions lift. If you want to keep up to date with the restaurant, you can like them on Facebook by clicking the link here. You can also check out their official website here.