When we think of a fantastic Italian restaurant, what comes to mind? The heat of a wood-fired pizza oven, the aroma of garlic and basil on top of freshly prepared pasta, the pervasive smell of fresh clams and octopus. But what about matzah ball soup or grape leaves? What about chefs speaking Arabic, Japanese, and Sinhalese? What about grandmas from many different countries running the kitchen on a rotating schedule? In Staten Island‘s neighborhood of St. George, Enoteca Maria fuses authentic Italian fare with a taste of cuisines from all over the world, cooked by “Nonnas” (Italian for “grandmother”) passionate about sharing their culture with adventurous diners.
Open only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Enoteca Maria offers diners with a constantly changing menu created by these Nonnas, who each have their turn to showcase their cultural heritage to diners about once a month. Founded by owner Jody Scaravella over a decade ago, the restaurant originally featured a rotating cast of grandma chefs from different regions of Italy, each cooking dishes they finessed growing up. Grandmothers from different countries began sharing their culinary heritage with diners starting in 2015.
Enoteca Maria’s bar
The cozy, eclectic eatery with only six or so tables has featured Nonnas from countries like Trinidad, Belarus, Algeria, and Kazakhstan, offering diners with a taste of cultures rarely seen in the five boroughs. Scaravella preserved many of these Nonnas’ culinary experiences in his virtual book “Nonnas of the World,” which includes recipes and short biographies written in each Nonna’s native tongue.
Enoteca Maria features two kitchens: an Italian kitchen featuring Italian fare from across the country, and a kitchen run by the Nonna in charge. Typically, each Nonna prepares one or two appetizers and two entrees, each dish very popular in the Nonna’s home country. The Italian menu, which changes slightly from week to week, is available from noon until closing at 8:30, while the featured Nonna offers her menu starting at 3:00.
Homemade focaccia bread with eggplant dip
The night we went, Nonna Diana from Ramallah, Palestine prepared baba ghanouj, a Palestinian eggplant dip with tahini; Warak-Dawlay, grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground lamb with Arabic spices; and Mansaf, a dish commonly served at weddings consisting of yellow rice topped with beef and almonds and served with a light broth. The Mansaf was delicious, prepared with extremely tender beef that contrasted the crunchy texture of the almonds. The rice soaked up the aromatic spices and the yogurt and went very well with the slightly tangy soup.
Mansaf, yellow rice served with tender beef, almonds, and a light broth
Nonna Diana, who has worked at the restaurant for two years, told us that she wants to expose diners to her Palestinian culture, which is not well represented in the New York area. According to Nonna Diana, the diners “love us actually, they love our food you know, from our culture.” Nonna Diana stated that she loves the experience of running her own kitchen once a month since Enoteca Maria is “like a family” to her.
The cozy, eclectic interior of Enoteca Maria
Enoteca Maria brings people from many different backgrounds together through food and cultural acceptance. Regardless of diners’ politics and backstories, diners alike can indulge in homemade meals from Naples to Prague to Tokyo, all presented with a smile by knowledgeable, passionate Nonnas.
Next, check out a new Staten Island Ferry getting launched into the water.