When my grandmother got well into her eighties and nineties, you couldn’t always be sure what the next plate of lasagna might bring: too much oil, too much salt? A mystery ingredient from the Brillo box? Even though her better days of cooking were behind her, each meal left her unforgettable stamp of flavor and style on it.

Like many other Italian matriarchs from decades ago, my nonna would have loved what’s going on at Enoteca Maria, a welcome addition to the St. George section of Staten Island. I can imagine her fitting right into their kitchen preparing a bresaola roast, tender and flaky with pine nuts held together with string, or her homemade manicotti in red sauce next to an aluminum foil tray of roasted potatoes.

Proprietor Jody Scaravella has shaped his place into a haven for women from Italy who love to cook. They come from Napoli and Roma, Torretta and Palermo, Marche and Milano. Each one is distinct in their accents, personality and of course, cooking. On different nights, one of these women takes control of the kitchen, prepares the menu, and creates her signature dishes, usually culled from passed-down family recipes and old hometown tradition.

It’s this diversity which makes it a restaurant unique to dining out Italian. You might see tilapia on the menu several times in a week, but each woman prepares it in her regional dialect. It’s a risk that renders occasional flops, but the frequent diner is willing to overlook these rare misses for the abundance of culinary home runs. Eating there makes you wonder just what exactly is going on in that kitchen---what have the ladies been talking and thinking about all day while the ingredients are gathered? Whatever arrives at your table is just what each grandmother makes for their families at home.

A native Brooklynite, Jody originally conceived the spot as a wine bar which would also offer small plates of food. But the grandma phenomena was too great to minimize. Nonetheless the Italian wines are still an important reason to feast there. A particular Raboso Passito (from Veneto) is exceptionally good with dessert.

Nearby at Jody's home, the cooks have their pick of vegetables and herbs from the biodynamic garden.

The grandmothers, known in Italian as nonne, have also been exceptionally accommodating for photos. They have found a place where they are the rock stars of the evening. And all the world's a capuzzella; we are merely eaters.

Related Article: Figs And Wine In Staten Island
The Wall Street Journal - May 14, 2010
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