I never thought the words “I want to go to Staten Island” would leave my mouth. True, I wanted to take the Staten Island Ferry as a free nautical tour of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the lower part of Manhattan but actually getting off the ferry and stepping foot on Staten Island itself was not a priority. That is, until I read about Enoteca Maria. This Italian restaurant is led by a band of old, Italian grandmas that serve up authentic concoctions from a menu that changes daily. Though we are arguably past the “Summer” portion of the Bucket List, last night I hit Number 14 and took the journey to embrace my Italian Pellegrino roots.
Ferry boats in general are a ton of fun. I enjoy them even more when they are free like the ferry to Staten Island and Governors Island, versus the NY Water Taxis that charge a ridiculous $20 to transport you from midtown to the Financial District. The scenic SI Ferry route leaves from the tip of Manhattan, and last night offered glimmering views of the foggy city after a day of drizzling rain. With newly remodeled terminals at both destinations the trip is actually quite comfortable. We made our way up to the top deck (scarily titled “Hurricane Deck”—I’m not one for New Jersey hurricane history but I’m hoping this name comes with hyperbole) and noticed several other patrons sipping on tall-boys they purchased on board. The trip is only 25 minutes, but there is ample time to indulge in a brew.
Once on the Zee Island, it was a short 10 minute walk to “historic” downtown Staten Island. The historic aspects of this neighborhood were pretty bland, but quaint Enoteca Maria was just a block past a lovely old courthouse that served as our guiding landmark. We were lured into the restaurant to some fine Italian opera music blaring a decibel that you know it eventually infuses itself into the cuisine. The host kindly set us at what he deemed “The Best Seats in the House,” which were the two seats at the bar facing the open kitchen. After our host served us a specially recommended bottle of Rose, we watched as our Nonna (Italian for “Grandma”) carefully cooked up Italian greatness.
Each night a different Nonna takes the helm at Enoteca Maria’s kitchen and we found ourselves in front of Adelena from Napoli. We ordered spicy mushrooms in tomato sauce, prosciutto wrapped figs with Gorgonzola, stuffed tomatoes with Italian ground beef and a pumpkin pasta special. Most of the ingredients are sourced from the restaurant’s own bio-dynamic garden, thereby ensuring the ultimate freshness. Adelena even came out to see how we were enjoying her creations and left us with the traditional Grandma kiss on the cheek! Our host evolved into an impressive DJ behind the bar as he blared a variety of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, sprinkled with Italian classics to keep the authenticity in check. He topped off our meal with some complimentary Prosecco amid an air guitar solo. You can get authentic Italian food in Manhattan without doubt, but this type of homey ambiance and splendor is unparalleled. The sentiment is summarized aptly on the restaurant’s card, “Sit down sonny, Grandma’s here.” I’ll be back.