Nonna Ploumitsa at Enoteca Maria
The quality and authenticity of a restaurant increase considerably when a nonna (Italian for grandmother) is working the kitchen. At Enoteca Maria, there isn’t just one nonna cooking her traditional recipes—there are two.
Enoteca Maria is a restaurant with a unique concept: every evening, one of the resident Italian nonnas and a guest nonna from a different part of the world cook their own recipes from the old country, giving diners the opportunity to enjoy nonna’s home cooking away from home.
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Not many restaurants offer the promise of eating an entirely different cuisine every time you visit. The rotating menu is an opportunity to always try a new dish. Nonna wants you to live a little, life is so short!
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Born and raised in Brooklyn, owner Jody Scaravella‘s tight-knit Italian family was the inspiration for the concept of the restaurant. Recognizing that his grandmother Maria was the one responsible for preserving his Italian family’s cultural and culinary traditions, Scaravella opened a restaurant that featured a rotating lineup of four Italian nonnas who would take turns cooking their time-tested dishes for the grandchildren of New York City.
Understanding that the culinary knowledge and tradition of every nonna could be lost to history, Scaravella began to compile a cookbook filled with recipes from nonnas around the world, each written in their native language. This appreciation of diversity and desire to retain generations-old knowledge spread to his restaurant, which now features a guest nonna from a different part of the world every night, making their own family’s specialties for Scaravella’s customers.
Hot Stuffed Peppers
Around the World in 20 Nonnas
The Nonna d’Italia rotates between nonnas with origins throughout Italy such as Palermo, Abruzzo, Campania, Umbria, and Napoli. These nonnas prepare a menu of classic Italian dishes and specialties of their own like hot stuffed peppers or marinated octopus. The guest nonna contributes two or more options each for an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Nonna Ploumitsa serves a Greek-style lasagna called pastitsio, which is layers of pasta, ground beef, and tomato sauce baked and topped with béchamel sauce. Nonna Anna from Armenia serves up a saucy khashlama, a beef stew cooked in beer with peppers, onions, and tomatoes followed by a dessert of puff pastry served with reduced grape and walnut jam bites. Bangladeshi Nonna Muhfuza’s samosas satisfy as an appetizer before an entrée of chicken curry and pholow, a home-style dish consisting of flavorful curried chicken and basmati rice, served with a side salad and hard boiled egg. Nonna Alexandra from Sofia, Bulgaria makes banitsa, baked filo dough with eggs, yogurt, feta cheese, and butter, or bob yakhniya, big white beans simmered with onions, peppers, tomato sauce, and parsley, thyme, and mint.
For those who are curious about to learn more about their new nonna, the restaurant’s website offers short bios of each nonna written in their mother tongue.
What Is It About a Nonna?
A meal that has been prepared by the experienced hands of a nonna evokes a certain comfort that no other food can give. It is made from decades of practice without a recipe and with the additional inspiration of feeding loved ones. Although the nonnas at Enoteca Maria are still strangers to the guests they are feeding, there is a certain magic in what they do, and to find that personal touch in a New York City restaurant is rare. Now eat your pasta, you look pale!
Nonna is not necessarily on top of the latest food fads and health concerns that influence people today. It has become common to modify traditional recipes in order to satisfy health requirements or accommodate dietary restrictions. Nonnas are old school, cooking with taste and satisfaction in mind–not a trim waistline or the daily vitamin A requirement. Food made from scratch by someone who genuinely enjoys what they are creating and has had years to tweak the recipe to perfection contains healthful properties that will not be found in the pre-packaged bean sprout salad at the juice bar. Nonna would be devastated to know what you are eating these days, it’s no wonder you’re so slim, you’re wasting away, eat, eat!
Taking Care of Nonna
Anyone who has worked in a restaurant, especially in the back of the house, knows that this is no easy gig. Cooking in a restaurant is a grind, which is why the featured nonnas at Enoteca Maria only work one night a month, and the Italian nonnas rotate their schedules so they are also not working too hard. We want to keep nonna happy and healthy!
A kitchen with two nonnas at the helm could be enough to make guests feel at home, but along with the food, the dining experience is also hospitable. The restaurant is cozy, and diners can choose from a few seats at the small bar or relax at a table in the dining room. The staff is friendly and attentive, eager to answer any questions about the food or the nonnas. The guest nonna occupies the kitchen upstairs so the diners can watch her do her thing. The atmosphere is festive, welcoming a diverse crowd of New Yorkers–locals from the neighborhood, couples on a date, friends having a casual dinner, and groups celebrating a special occasion.
The Staten Island location may put people off at first, but the restaurant is only a five-minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry service is free and departs every 30 minutes to and from Lower Manhattan. So Nonna doesn’t want to hear any excuses about why you are not visiting her.
Some people are lucky enough to have their own nonna who cooks her specialties from the old country with love, but for those who don’t, there is Enoteca Maria.
Nonna Ploumitsa at Enoteca Maria
27 Hyatt Street, Staten Island, New York 10301
Phone: (718) 447-2777
Reservations are suggested and are for a two-hour seating. Cash only.
Lunch: Wednesday through Friday from 12 pm to 3 pm.
Dinner: Wednesday through Sunday from 3 pm until close.