There is something special about food and its ability to transport you to a different place or time. I think some of the best food experiences do that in one way or another. That is certainly the goal of Jody “Joe” Scaravella, owner of Enoteca Maria (referenced in my earlier post). He employs a different “Nonna” each night to cook the authentic food from their Italian hometown. With this approach, he hopes to create a place that makes you feel as if you are sitting at a table in the Italian countryside or in your own grandmother’s kitchen, when really, you’re in Staten Island.
When I shared the news of this place with my family, they all wanted to go. So this past Saturday, in celebration of Fathers day, we took a beautiful ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan out to the island. When we arrived, it was just a 5-10 minute walk past the historic Staten Island Supreme Court House and up the steep hill that is Hyatt St.
The space itself is very small and unassuming. Exposed brick and the butcher-block table in the front give it a rustic feel, but white subway tile, high tech ceiling fans, and occasional rock music contradict. The galley kitchen in the back has a half wall of clear glass that allows you to actually see the Italian grandmother at work, bringing the whole restaurant concept to life. Joe hangs out in the front of the house, greeting parties and acting as the house sommelier and barista.
Our cook for the evening was Adelena from Casola, Napoli. Here is a short bio of Adelena from the restaurant website:
Adelena Masana was born and raised in Naples, in the Campania region of Italy. She learned to cook from both of her grandmothers and her mother. She remembers the rustic Neapolitan cuisine of her childhood fondly.
She came to America in 1990 and took up residence in Brooklyn. Her favorite recipe is Tagliatelle alla Mantavana, but she loves everything about preparing a full-course traditional dinner with pasta, salads, meat and dessert. Of her six children, it is one of her sons who carries on the tradition of cooking back home in Naples.
To start we ordered a bottle of the Casa Boschino; a medium bodied Tuscan red that was easy to drink and held up well with some of the heavier Neopolitan dishes of Nonna Adelina. Later in the meal, we ordered a second bottle.
For appetizers, we had:
Vongole Oregenate: Baked Clams
The “stuffing” was tasty- nicely seasoned and with a liberal dose of Parmagianno, which I loved. They were a bit small though- I believe they were littlenecks and I was expecting quahogs.
Zampe di Porcellino: Braised pigs feet in red sauce with cannellini beans.
I had never had these before (for obvious reasons), but was very happy they had them on the menu as it evoked childhood memories for my father. The pigs feet themselves were salty and delicious and the cannellini beans and traditional red sauce were even better. The pile of Focaccia that our attentive server continually delivered was great for getting every last drop of sauce off the serving plate.
Peperoni Ripieni: Red peppers stuffed with rice, peas, onions, raisins, pine nuts and ground beef
This was my favorite dish of the whole night. The filling exploded with flavor and the peppers melted in your mouth.
The “Secondi” menu items were true to Adelena’s background in cooking. Italian American food is nowhere to be found on this menu, so if you are looking for Veal Parmagianno, take your business elsewhere. On this menu you’ll find several fish entrees, cappuzelle (half of a sheeps head, stuffed and baked), tripe, and other rustic preparations.
Coniglio con Ciliegino: Tender pieces of rabbit cooked with cherry tomatoes and pancetta in white wine
Simple and Delicious. Rabbit can be tough and have a “gamey” taste sometimes, but this execution was flawless. Tomato, Garlic, White Wine, and Pancetta flavors oozed out of the tender, juicy rabbit.
Vitello al Limone: Veal dipped in flour with capper and sautéed in a lemon and white wine sauce.
Polpette Piccanti: Meatballs made of pork and spicy Italian sausage, flavored with raisins and curry powder, wrapped in prosciutto then baked
Heavenly. Upon special request the meatballs were accompanied by a side of penne with a traditional tomato sauce.
Branzino al Cartoccio: Whole Mediterranean sea bass baked in foil with a lemon-herb sauce.
Classic branzino preparation, fresh fish and cooked perfectly
To finish the meal we had cappuccinos and a plate of their homemade Italian cookies- authentic as could be. Had there been Panettone and a bowl of uncracked nuts present, I could have been sitting at my own Nanni’s table. Eating Italian cookies after I had already had too much to eat- that was a familiar feeling.
Overall, we had a sublime experience at Enoteca Maria. Joe and his staff do a great job of making you feel right at home. The food was delicious and authentic- a nice change of pace from your typical “red sauce” joint. Best of all, the entire experience motivated a lot of conversation and reflection about our own Italian family making it a very special place for Father’s day. I would not hesitate to go back and I would highly recommend it to others. Bring Cash and expect to leave satiated!
Before we left, Nonna Adelina was kind enough to come out and take a picture with my dad and brother…take a look!