The highest praise a cook can receive is that their meal “tastes just like grandma’s.” Enoteca Maria takes this concept to the next level—not because it employs professionally trained master chefs, but because a different grandmother heads the kitchen every night.
The project came about after owner Joe Scaravella lost his mother in the early 2000s. When he opened Enoteca Maria two years later, Scaravella staffed his kitchen with Italian grandmothers (“nonnas”) to create a feeling of homey comfort in his restaurant.
In July of 2015, Scaravella invited a Pakistani nonna to cook for a night. From there, the program expanded into “Nonnas of the World,” and he invited nonnas from all backgrounds to create a second, constantly-changing menu to supplement the restaurant’s specialty of Italian fare.
Although some of the nonnas hail from Staten Island, most come from Brooklyn. Others travel from New Jersey and the Bronx to share their family’s culinary history. Their food comes from all over the world though. To date, Nonnas of the World has featured cooks from Japan, Syria, France, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Liberia, Kazakhstan, the Dominican Republic, Czechia, Belarus, Pakistan, and of course, Italy, just to name a few.
Two nonnas work in the kitchen at any given time, one as the head chef, the other as her sous chef. This means a South American nonna and a Middle Eastern nonna could be working side by side in the kitchen, learning from each other’s recipes. Cooking classes are offered as well—for women only, many of whom are grandmothers themselves—and get booked months in advance. It’s another opportunity for cross-cultural recipe sharing, as well as a chance to eat food made with love.
Know Before You Go
From the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, walk straight across Bay Street up the steps of Borough Hall onto Hyatt Street. It's right next to St. George's Theatre. Enoteca Maria is open Thursday–Sunday for lunch and dinner.