This New Rochelle Joint Is Giving Traditional Italian Some Modern Flair

The owners of Pop’s Espresso Bar may have another hit on their hands with Maria.



Concia, a Roman speciality of zucchini and eggplant sott’olio (preserved in olive oil) with mint

Photos by Sibylla Chipaziwa

Looking at the menu of Maria, one of the latest Italian spots to open in Southern Westchester, I paused. The usual suspects didn’t make up most of the New Rochelle restaurant’s menu. My eyes were drawn to the cauliflower-kale fritters, acorn squash risotto served in a honey-glazed squash bowl, and salmon with jasmine rice. I’d never even heard of concia.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Chef/co-owner Giovanni Cucullo who also owns Pop’s Espresso Bar (a tribute to his father) on the same block of Huguenot Street, is paying tribute to his mother, Maria, with this newest endeavor. “Maria was the chef of the family,” Cucullo says. “She’s been gone 20 years, but she’s amazing. She’s the reason we do what we do.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Almost everything on the menu takes inspiration from Cucullo’s mother’s cooking, and then goes in a new direction. “It’s time to adapt to what people are into now,” he says, explaining the eclectic menu. “We’re trying to take traditional Italian food and give it a little twist.”

The baked clams are made with flavorful pork fat. The black linguine with seafood is finished with spicy garlic breadcrumbs. Menus are printed each day so Cucullo can take advantage of what’s in season.

Maria has a cozy feel. Brick walls and exposed ceilings mixing with bright blue banquettes and a grand chandelier in the middle of the dining room. The space can take on different personalities, depending on the time of day and the crowd. There are family photos and seasonal decorations, but the touch that stands out most is to the left of the bar: five hands nailed to the wall, each showing an Italian hand gesture.


Left: The guava-based Guaiava cocktail; right: The Huguenot, a riff on the Manhattan, made with Aperol and Averna


Even the cocktail menu is a draw. The Guaiava (from the Italian word for guava) is a delicious balance of sweet and sour, while The Huguenot, named for the restaurant’s New Rochelle location, is a twist on the Manhattan using Aperol and Averna, a Sicilian amaro.
 

“I’m calling Maria ‘New Italian,’” says Cucullo. “We want people to come in and have a good time; no tablecloths, you can wear what you want.”

Oh, and that concia? It’s a Roman dish — pickled zucchini and eggplant in olive oil with a delightful hint of mint — that’s possibly my new Italian favorite.

 

Maria
11 Huguenot St
New Rochelle
914.636.0006

 

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