When Jody Scaravella lost his grandma, his mom, and his sister within a few years, he opened a restaurant in their honor, as a way of dealing with his grief. But the restaurant, Enoteca Maria on Staten Island, NY, had a twist: the chefs were all Italian grandmas, or nonnas. After a few years, Jody started inviting grandmas from all over the world to cook at his restaurant. In this week's show, we attend Enoteca Maria's annual holiday party, one of the few days when all the nonnas come together. Dan is besieged on all sides by grandmas trying to feed him, and we find out whether the restaurant has done for Jody what he hoped it would.
This episode originally aired on December 9, 2019 and was produced by Dan Pashman and Ngofeen Mputubwele, with editing by Tracey Samuelson. The Sporkful production team now includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Nora Ritchie, Jared O'Connell, and Julia Russo.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Call" by Nona Invie
- "Saturn Returns" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "Mouse Song Light" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "Still In Love With You" by Steve Sullivan
- "Brand New Day" by Jack Ventimiglia
Photo courtesy of Enoteca Maria.
Dan Pashman: Can you walk me through the menu a little bit tonight? Tell me what are the foods that we're seeing here?
Paola Vento: Sure, so tonight we have spinach pie from Greece, paella from Algeria, melanzane parmigiano, which is made from Naples. We also have a lot of desserts …
Dan Pashman: Yeah, let's go walk to the desserts.
Paola Vento: Sure!
Dan Pashman: Oh my God. They look so good ...
Dan Pashman: I’m at an annual holiday party, where attendees bring incredible homemade dishes from all over the world to share. Now, this event is very exclusive. It takes place on a remote island, and it’s not open to the public.
Dan Pashman: I’m having a lot of plates shoved in my face suddenly …
Paola Vento: ... You have to eat the spinach pie.
Dan Pashman: Yes, okay ...
Dan Pashman: What is this magical place, where people fill your plate with all these amazing dishes? Well, the answer involves a guy dealing with the grief of losing his mother and the grandmas who saved him.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Before we get in to the show, I have a quick but very important note that I think you're going to be happy to hear, all right? My friends at Sfoglini are about to launch their big Black Friday Cyber Monday sale! That means big discounts on all my pastas: cascatelli, quattrotini, and vesuvio. They’re great stocking stuffers or teacher gifts or just things to have on hand when you need a gift to go to a party that you got invited to and you forgot to get a bottle of wine.
Dan Pashman: And the sale includes discounts on our holiday gift box, which has all my pastas, plus a special postcard promising the recipient a signed copy of my forthcoming cookbook, Anything’s Pastable: 81 Inventive Pasta Recipes for Saucy People. On the other side of the postcard is a sneak preview recipe. This is the only way to pre-order a signed copy of my cookbook this holiday season. The pastas and postcard ship immediately, the book ships when it comes out in March. Of course, you can pre-order a standard copy wherever books are sold. Now, the big Sfoglini sale starts this Wednesday November 22nd and runs through Monday November 27th. So shop now at Sfoglini.com. That's S-F-O-G-L-I-N-I .com.
Dan Pashman: New York City is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and ... well, then there's the one that’s not so well known — the seemingly faraway land of Staten Island. Staten Island is more residential than the other boroughs. It’s closer to New Jersey than it is to the rest of the city, so it’s kinda suburban but kinda the city. It’s almost like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is actually attached to Wisconsin, not the rest of Michigan. It’s one of those spots that legally is part of one place but geographically and culturally is more part of another, so it ends up being this witches brew of cultures. To outsiders, it seems the same as everywhere else in the area. But all the locals know that place is just a little different.
[STATEN FERRY ISLAND SOUNDS]
CLIP (CAPTAIN): May I have your attention please. The ferry will be docking shortly. For your safety, all passengers are to remain off stairs, ramps, and landings ...
Dan Pashman: To get to Staten Island you can drive over a bridge. That’s the only way I’d ever gone, and I always got across the bridge and just kept going to the bridge on the other side. So the only part of Staten Island I’d ever seen is the highway that cuts across it. [LAUGHS] So for my first real visit to this remote corner of the city, I went the fun way — I took the Staten Island Ferry.
[STATEN FERRY ISLAND SOUNDS]
CLIP (CAPTAIN): All passengers must exit the boat.
Dan Pashman: Staten Island is home to about 450,000 people, by far the lowest population of New York’s boroughs. And that gives it something of a small town, insulated feel. I saw that as soon as I arrived, when the owner of the restaurant I was visiting pulled up in his car.
Jody Scaravella: I'm here for 12 years, so everybody pretty much knows who I am and where I am and ...
Dan Pashman: So you pulled your car up — you just double parked. That's not actually a space. And then you put an orange parking cone on the roof of your car ...
Jody Scaravella: Well, I am working.
Dan Pashman: This is Jody.
Dan Pashman: I arrived at Enoteca Maria in the afternoon, a couple hours before the party you heard at the start of the show. Because to understand what makes this party special, you have to understand what makes this restaurant special. And for that, you have to understand Jody.
Jody Scaravella: I grew up in an Italian family. So every Sunday and holidays, we would go to my grandmother, Domenica, or used to call Mema, and she would cook up this huge feast.
Dan Pashman: And your grandmother was Sicilian?
Jody Scaravella: Yeah. My grandmother on my mother's side was from Messina and Ciaca. And my father's family's from the Piacenza, which is around Milano.
Dan Pashman: Jody has a bushy grey beard and round spectacles, kinda like if Santa lost 200 pounds and opened an independent bookstore.
Dan Pashman: And you grew up and you grew up in Brooklyn.
Jody Scaravella: Yes. In Brooklyn, there was 15 kids on my block. We're all about the same age and where they were all Italian. So my view of the world was was very narrow, quite narrow.
Dan Pashman: Jody’s grandparents often made do with very little. So some of the Italian dishes he grew up with aren't the ones you find in most Italian restaurants today.
Jody Scaravella: Dishes like the gabuzella, which is the lamb's head that we have on the menu, that represents a time when that's all that they could afford. So for a few pennies, you've got this lamb's head and then you had to feed your family with it, and you had to figure out how to make it something beautiful, which my grandmother did many times. And now the ladies at the Enoteca do.
Dan Pashman: How'd your grandmother do it?
Jody Scaravella: First thing you do when you get that is you drop it in a pot of water and you boil it for an hour just to clean it. And then she didn't split the head, so we used to end up with this head sitting on a plate in the middle of the table with these big black eyes staring out. And, you know, it seemed so much bigger when I was a little kid. And then, you know, I remember my grandfather reaching over with his fork to screw out one of the eyeballs because the eyes go to the head of the household. I don't know why, but that's the way it ends up. And I was terrorized by this whole process.
Dan Pashman: But yet, you have it on the menu here.
Jody Scaravella: It's kind of in honor of my grandmother because she used to make it. So I have I have things on the menu that kind of bring me back.
Dan Pashman: But it is interesting because so much of Italian cooking now as Italian Americans have assimilated into America, there's a lot of very nice Italian restaurants. People go and spend a lot of money at. I think people, some may have sort of forgotten that so many of those dishes were born out of poverty.
Jody Scaravella: I mean, every culture has their starch. Northern Italian, they'll use rice. You'll see a lot of rice. Southern Italian, you'll see the past. You know, who's using Yuka and who's using potatoes and you know, something to fill the bellies. So those poverty driven dishes are very important to me. And I think they really represent the true nature of food. Italians, you know, nobody was wasting anything. And if there was any bread leftover from yesterday, they would take that bread and they would soak it in water. If they had milk, they would soak it in milk and mix that with the meat and they would expand that meat with this day old bread. And you get a meatball, which is so much better than just meat or meat and bread crumbs. And that's how we do it here. We we make bread and then we let it get stale.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Jody Scaravella: No, we do.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah.
Jody Scaravella: And then we will use it to create that meatball, which you're going to love.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God. I can't wait. What do you think about the fact that Italian food in America has become increasingly high end?
Jody Scaravella: I think that there's a lot of wonderful chefs that do a great job interpreting what those dishes are supposed to be. You know, personally, I like to go right to the source. So I want to meet that grandmother where that recipe came from, because she's that repository. She's the person that takes that culture forward. And she got that from her mother and from her grandmother. So that's what I'm interested in.
Dan Pashman: When Jody says he’s more interested in meeting the grandmother the recipe came from, he doesn’t just mean it metaphorically. This is actually the idea behind Enoteca Maria. All the cooks are grandmas, or nonnas — Italian for grandma. From the time Jody opened the restaurant, this was how he wanted it.
Jody Scaravella: I lost my grandmother about 20 years ago and I lost my mom. Now it has to be 14 years ago, and my sister about 13 years ago. So I lost all those matriarchal figures in my life. I inherited a little bit of money from my mom. Her name was Maria. That's my grandmother and my sister and my mom right there. So I named it
Dan Pashman: Their pictures are up on the wall.
Jody Scaravella: Yeah. So I named it after my mom. It's Enoteca Maria. And I think subconsciously I was just trying to comfort myself. It was a band-aid for for my suffering. You know, we're trying to recreate that comfort zone. So and everything that kind of happened afterwards, it just came out of that. None of it was planned.
Dan Pashman: And am I right? From day one, you had the idea that we're going to have grandmas in here cooking?
Jody Scaravella: From day one ... Well, I put an ad in the Italian newspaper American Oggi, and it said [JODY SPEAKING ITALIAN] .... which basically means, we're looking for housewives to cook these regional dishes. And the place was being built out. So I invited all of these women to my home. I live about a 12-minute walk from here. And all of these ladies started showing up at the house with these dishes of food for me to try.
Jody Scaravella: And they came with their husbands and they came with the kids and they came with their grandkids and they came with their neighbors. And I had a house full of people with plates of food, it was like a Fellini movie.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Jody Scaravella: And some of these ladies were grandmothers. And, you know, all of a sudden you start to get all warm and fuzzy and that's how it was born.
Dan Pashman: Jody opened Enoteca Maria in 2007. He had a core group of Italian nonnas from the community as the chefs. And for the menu, they just adapted the dishes they’d been cooking for years in their own homes for a larger crowd. And the response was huge — news outlets, Facebook fans, just a lot of buzz. And for good reason, I mean, as Jody put it, “These ladies have hundreds of years of cooking expertise coming out of their fingertips."
Dan Pashman: So things were going well. Then in 2015, 8 years after opening, Jody decided to make a change. He saw that while the chefs and the food were all Italian, the people coming to eat there were from all over the world. So he thought, "Why not let the food and the nonnas be too?".
Jody Scaravella: So I just felt it was it was right that we represent everybody's culture.
Dan Pashman: Here’s how it works now. Each night, there are two kitchens running simultaneously. In one, an Italian nonna, Nonna Adelina, prepares Italian dishes. In the other, there’s a rotation where nonnas from all over the world take turns preparing their cuisine on different nights.
Dan Pashman: So just list for me some of the non Italian nonnas who are regulars here and where they're from.
Jody Scaravella: Well, yesterday Nonna Rosa from Lima, Peru cooked. And on Saturday, Nonna Carmen from Buenos Aires cooked. But this also ... there's Sri Lanka and there's India, and there’s Syria, there’s Palestine. And you'll meet most of those ladies tonight.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I attend Enoteca Maria’s annual holiday party, which means I’ll be in a room with 20 grandmas, all competing to feed me. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Last week on the show I talk with cocktail expert Tiffanie Barriere, aka "The Drinking Coach". She spent years as the Beverage Director at One Flew South, an upscale restaurant in the Atlanta airport that has a bar known as one of the best airport bars in the world.
CLIP (TIFFANIE BARRIERE): There is a fun drink that I made that was all yellow. I created it because everybody was really gloomy that one week. Travel was just awful and the weather was bad. And I'm like we need color. We need variety. We need ... We need something that hits the dining room and it makes people pop. I used some golden beets in this drink. Everything in the cocktail was yellow — lemon juice, beets, yellow chartreuse, and I called it "The Yellow Brick Road".
Dan Pashman: In this episode, Tiffanie puts on her drinking coach hat and shares some cocktail tips for all of us that I think you're going to really enjoy. That one’s up now, check it out.
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to the show.
Dan Pashman: The dining room at Enoteca Maria is long and narrow, lots of exposed brick, and an open kitchen in the back. It was the night of the restaurant’s annual holiday party, which is not open to the public. It’s a potluck event just for the nonnas. And everyone brings something. One by one they came in, each with plates or aluminum trays filled with food, covered in foil.
Dan Pashman: I met an Italian nonna named Maria, so when she cooks in the second kitchen, it means there are two different takes on Italian food in the same night.
Maria Gialanella: Hello.
Dan Pashman: Hi, how are you? I'm Dan.
Maria Gialanella: How are you? It's nonna Maria.
Dan Pashman: Nonna Maria, nice to meet you.
Maria Gialanella: Yeah, I cook over here.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Welcome, Merry Christmas.
Maria Gialanella: You too.
Dan Pashman: Thank you. How long have you been cooking here?
Maria Gialanella: Three years.
Dan Pashman: Three years? What are some of your favorite dishes to cook?
Maria Gialanella: Lasagna, bacala patate, Zucchini parmigiana,
Dan Pashman: Oh zucchini parmigiana.
Maria Gialanella: So a lot of things. You know. No.
Dan Pashman: Why is your lasagna the best?
Maria Gialanella: Because everybody like lasagna.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] That's right. Yeah.
Maria Gialanella: Like gnocchi ... you know, ravioli
Dan Pashman: What is your favorite thing about working here
Maria Gialanella: For me?
Dan Pashman: For you. Why does it make you happy?
Maria Gialanella: Happy? Because I like work. I like people. Because when I was small in Italy I have a bar.
Dan Pashman: You had a bar in Italy?
Maria Gialanella: A bar in Italy. So I like people. That's my life.
Dan Pashman: More nonnas came in, and there were lots of warm embraces. They don’t see each other often, since most of them work on different nights. There are about 30 nonnas right now. Some only cook once a year, others cook every month. They plan their menus in advance and send Jody a list of groceries ahead of time.
Dan Pashman: The Italian nonna who always works in the kitchen, nonna Adelina, she lends expertise to the newer chefs, who might be cooking for a large group for the first time. Next, I met Dolly, or Nonna Dolly. She’s from Sri Lanka. She’s been cooking at Enoteca Maria for about 2 1/2 years.
Dolly Joseph: I cook so many things. One is I make hoppers.
Dan Pashman: What are what are hoppers?
Dolly Joseph: Hoppers is a crepe.
Dan Pashman: Crepe.
Dolly Joseph: You can put the egg in the center.
Dan Pashman: OK.
Dolly Joseph: or you can —some put some milk, thick coconut milk with sugar.
Dan Pashman: Oh.
Dolly Joseph: that's known as a milk hopper. This cake I brought is what my mother, my grandmother ... What we make.
Dan Pashman: What kind of cake is it?
Dolly Joseph: Christmas cake. It's all fruits, very sweet, lots of calories, I suppose.
Dan Pashman: And how old were you when you came here?
Dolly Joseph: My thirties?
Dan Pashman: Okay. And so what was the role of cooking and food for you here in the U.S.?
Dolly Joseph: I came as a babysitter, so I used to cook there. Then that lady was also Sri Lankan, so she knew I could cook. So she used to tell me, Doli, if you can cook, this person wants this. This person wants this. They want rolls. They want cutlets.
Dan Pashman: Oh, she had you cooking for the other families?
Dolly Joseph: Her friends.
Dan Pashman: Okay. [LAUGHS]
Dolly Joseph: So everybody who came there to eat used to thank me before they went.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Dolly Joseph: Saying the food was good because I used to cook.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Dan Pashman: Next I met nonna Ploumitsa from Chios, Greece, who was there with her daughter Maria.
Dan Pashman: Ploumitsa?
Ploumitsa Zimnis: I'm Ploumitsa.
Dan Pashman: I'm Dan.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Nice to meet you.
Dan Pashman: Nice to meet you.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: My English is not so ...
Dan Pashman: That's OK. Maria, do you mind — I'm sorry, I know you just walked but you mind if we chat with your mom a little bit? Maybe you can help? Maybe you can translate?
Maria Zimnis: Okay.
Dan Pashman: First off, just how long have you been working here?
Ploumitsa Zimnis: I started September 26th, 2016.
Dan Pashman: So you don't need a translator now? [LAUGHS]
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Oh, no. I don't really think that. Yeah, no.
Dan Pashman: How are you feeling before you came in here for the first time? I know your husband had just passed away. What were you feeling in your life?
Ploumitsa Zimnis: I'm so sad. I don’t want to see nobody and I cry. My children work in their job. Me by myself at home.
Dan Pashman: You're by yourself.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Yeah, me, myself, so I'm I'm crying. Maria saw me so nervous.
Maria Zimnis: She was depressed at home and didn't have anything to do. And so, you know, I saw the advertised man on the computer and I just said that this would be a nice — this would be a nice distraction for my mother to get over her grief, for my father. So this is how we began. And I didn't even tell her really. I just told let's just pass by this restaurant. I didn’t tell her the real reason for it. And ...
Dan Pashman: Why?
Maria Zimnis: Because I thought that she would get overwhelmed. I said, "Why don't we just come to see this on your birthday," which was September 4th.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Maria say to me, "Ma, come to Staten Island to see this restaurant to see the ladies. They'regrandmothers." I said okay. And I came here and I met them.
Maria Zimnis: Nonna Maria was in the kitchen with Nonna Adelina. They were chopping tomatoes. They were cooking. So my mother just basically went straight for them in the open kitchen. And they started — I think they were even hugging and stuff, but they don't even know each other. [LAUGHS] And then through their non-verbal communication, through their mannerisms, they started communicating and showing each other how to — how they make their dishes. And so this is how they became connected right away.
Dan Pashman: Ploumitsa says that most of the time she was married, her husband refused to let work. There was a period where she defied him and found a job in a school cafeteria, but mostly she was at home. Now, once a month, she’s the chef at Enoteca Maria.
Dan Pashman: What? What are some of the specialties of your island and your village?
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Everything. I make the octopus. And I make eggplants, eggplant moussaka, eggplant stew with meat .... stew, veal stewed with potato and carrots. And another one, [SPEAKS GREEK]. Stuffed cabbage.
Dan Pashman: Stuffed cabbage.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Yeah. And I make every New Year. So now I’m very happy here. Yeah, very nice things for make food for nice ladies, for ... That’s it. I’m very happy.
Maria Zimnis: She has a big following. All these friends that she's just — you know and also reconnected with people from her past because somehow CNN — I think CNN was here, or something, and so CNN in Greece got a hold of the story. And then all of a sudden she became a, you know, a little mini-celebrity over there, overnight. And she was in all the newspapers over there.
Dan Pashman: Wow.
Maria Zimnis: Even on the side, we — at home, we make videos all the time of her recipes. I have her on a Youtube channel.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Maria Zimnis: I mean, this is like a ... a second job for me.
Dan Pashman: You’re the social media director.
Maria Zimnis: Yes, I think so.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Maria Zimnis: I'm becoming — yeah. Once she started at the restaurant, and the reception from the customers, I haven't seen something like this before. They were actually calling her from the kitchen to come and meet her. They were hugging her and they were, like, clapping for her and kissing her. And it was just kind of like something I've never seen at — happen at a restaurant before. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: After meeting all the nonnas, it was finally time to eat ...
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I’m excited for that one!
Paola Vento: Yeah, that looks amazing.
Dan Pashman: Oh, I've been handed a plate.
Paola Vento: Oh.
Dan Pashman: Oh, thank you.
Paola Vento: Melanzane, here you go. [LAUGHS] ... [SPEAKS ITALIAN]
Dan Pashman: I'm having a lot of plates shoved in my face suddenly.
Paola Vento: Melanzane, then you have to eat the spinach pie.
Dan Pashman: The spinach pie, yes. Okay.
Dan Pashman: Melanzane is a baked eggplant dish. There was paella and tuna cakes and Russian pierogies. There was Doli's Christmas cake and an Armenian dessert called pah-kah-BLEET, similar to a donut. I mean, I could go on and on. Then of course, there was the spinach pie, the spanakopita, that was made by Nonna Ploumitsa, who you heard a minute ago.
Dan Pashman: This is the great thing about working with nonnas is that they all want you to eat.
Paola Vento: Oh, they gave you something ...
Dan Pashman: Oh my God, I'm sorry ...
Paola Vento: From Italy, something from Greece.
Dan Pashman: These are spanakopitas. This is homemade right here?
Paola Vento: Yes. Homemade delicious. Sells out every time she makes them for us. Delicious, huh?
Dan Pashman: It's so good. It's so much better than the frozen ones at the grocery store. [LAUGHS]
Paola Vento: It's ... That's true.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I mean, the pastry. Just listen to this crisp. [BITING INTO A SPINACH PIE] Mmm.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Everybody likes the spinach. Yes, but this is good.
Dan Pashman: It's very good. Thank you.
Ploumitsa Zimnis: Take more spinach.
Dan Pashman: I will. I will. I got to make sure I try everything. I got to tell Nonna Maria. I've got to grab a fork to try the zucchini parm.
Paola Vento: Yes, yes.
Dan Pashman: I think Maria is going to get upset if I don't eat it very soon.
Paola Vento: Forks are over there.
Dan Pashman: OK. I'm going into the Zucchini parm.
Maria Gialanella: Zucchini parmesan.
Dan Pashman: What's that?
Maria Gialanella: Zucchini parmesan.
Dan Pashman: Yes, yes.
Maria Gialanella: Okay?
Paola Vento: Where's Nonna Maria.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God, this is so good. Nonna Maria, Maria, the zucchini parmesan is bellissimo.
Maria Gialanella: You like it?
Dan Pashman: Very good. Yes.
Maria Gialanella: See Jody likes it, that's why I make.
Dan Pashman: Yes. Oh, so good.
Maria Gialanella: They say, Maria, make zucchini parmesan.
Dan Pashman: You know, a lot of times in America ...
Maria Gialanella: Yes
Dan Pashman: When they make parmigiana ...
Maria Gialanella: Si ...
Dan Pashman: They put lots of mozzarella cheese.
Maria Gialanella: Yes.
Dan Pashman: But no parmigiana.
Maria Gialanella: Ah, no parmigiana. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: They don't know to put the parmigiana on the parmigiana.
Maria Gialanella: Yes, you like.
Maria Gialanella: Salud.
Dan Pashman: Salud.
Dan Pashman: I was doing my best to try everything, but it was intense. You know how your grandma pushes food on you? Imagine a party with 20 grandmas where you’re the only grandchild! They all wanted me to try the thing they made, and they all wanted to make sure I liked it. And when I told them how much I liked it, they wanted me to have more. As the party progressed, trays of food started getting passed all over the place.
Dan Pashman: Oh, what's that one? What's that one coming by?
Paola Vento: It's larissa:
Dan Pashman: Larissas? Oh, Rus ..
Larissa: It is a Russian piroshky. I speak Russian.
Dan Pashman: Okay, this is a piroshky, like like a pierogi.
Larissa: Yes, prioshky.
Dan Pashman: Right. Get right
Larissa: Inside meat.
Dan Pashman: Mean.
Nonna Larissa: Ground meat.
Dan Pashman: Grand meat and onion.
Dan Pashman: Okay. All right, I'm going in. Oh, oh my God. The spicing on this one, on the beef ... I don't even know what that's spice is but it's so good. And it's got the sweet onions. It’s salty and doughy. Every food at this event feels like a hug.
Dan Pashman: Everything is so good, but I can't finish everything that these nonnas have been giving to me because I would literally die. But I also feel like if I leave some on my plate and they see that, that's gonna be a problem. So I need to kind of discreetly do something with these plates, discreetly dispose of them.
Dan Pashman: In the end, I think I managed to try just about everything. As the party slowed down, I checked in with Jody. He opened this restaurant 12 years ago, after his mother and grandmother passed away. Now here he was, surrounded by mothers and grandmothers.
Dan Pashman: What do you think your mom and your grandmother would've thought of this crowd?
Jody Scaravella: Well, you know, I only wish they were here now to celebrate this Christmas with us. That's ... That's my wish.
Dan Pashman: Yeah,
Jody Scaravella: Holidays are the hardest.
Dan Pashman: Do you feel that opening this place has done for you what you hoped it would do?
Jody Scaravella: That’s a question that I ask myself often. I think after you lose your mom you kind of feel orphaned. It's very difficult — it was very difficult for me. I think this has helped me through that grieving process, but I think there’s something about losing your mom that you never really get over that.
Dan Pashman: That’s Jody Scaravella from Enoteca Maria on Staten Island. My thanks to him as well as Paola Vento, the restaurant’s manager, and to Nonna Maria, Nonna Dolly, Nonna Larissa, Nonna Ploumitsa, Ploumitsa’s daughter Maria, and all the other nonnas for including me in their holiday celebration, and for feeding me so well.
Dan Pashman: Since I first visited Enoteca Maria in 2018, they’ve added a few more nonnas to the mix, including from Uzbekistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Bangladesh, among others. And the nonnas also teach free one-on-one cooking classes at the restaurant. If you’re interested you can visit enotecamaria.com to sign up.
Dan Pashman: Reminder to hit up the big sale at Sfoglini's website starting this Wednesday. Get your pasta, get your cookbook gift set, get it all.
Dan Pashman: If you liked this episode, or any recent Sporkful episodes, I hope you’ll tell your friends to check it out. And please make sure you subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you use to listen, that way you won’t miss the next one. In Apple Podcasts and Spotify, go to our show page and hit follow. You can do it right now, while you’re listening. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Next week, I talk with British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop about the many years she’s spent eating her way around China. She'll talk about how she went from eating like a European in Sichuan, to immersing herself so completely that she felt she’d lost her identity. Hear more about that next week. While you’re waiting for that one, check out last week’s episode with The Drinking Coach Tiffanie Barriere.