Upon meeting Maria and Michael Maroni, the owners of Maroni Hot Pots on the Upper East Side and Maroni Cuisine in Northport, Long Island, I understood why their first outpost had proven so popular. The food, of course, is sensational, but in addition, the two owners are incredibly welcoming, friendly, and warm. We immediately felt like a part of the Maroni clan.
While Maroni Cuisine is a full-fledged restaurant, Maroni Hot Pots here on 77th was designed with a primary focus on delivery and take-away. There is a small dining area decorated with pictures of the Beatles and classic rock-inspired art painted by Gregori Oleanik, a friend and customer from Northport. Mike was inspired to create the Hot Pot concept from childhood memories of his grandmother, who would give him and his father a home cooked meal in a pot to take home with them when they stopped by to visit her on Sundays.
Maria sat down with me while Mike whipped up a couple of pots for us to try. She spoke of Mire Poix, the couple’s first restaurant, which opened on Long Island in 1995. It was a fancy, high-end dining concept. In 2001, the couple opened Maroni Cuisine, preferring to try something a bit less formal. It is there that Mike put his own spin on Italian classics using his Neapolitan grandmother’s amazing 100-year-old meatball recipe. “Everyone thinks their nonna makes the best meatballs, but mine actually did,” Mike chimed in.
When the time came to expand, Maria told me that the Upper East Side made the most sense. Many of their Long Island customers have connections to this neighborhood, and, serendipitously, so did they. Maria shared with us a strange coincidence surrounding their building on 77th Street. They leased the space without knowing that it used to be home to the barber shop where Maria’s father would get his hair cut. When construction was underway on the restaurant, they even found mirrors hidden in the walls from the old business.
As our fascinating, warm conversation continued, Michael brought out their signature steaming red Hot Pots, smelling a bit like Italian heaven, and joined us. Everything comes hot and ready to eat when delivered to one's door or if someone is picking up an order. Meals can also be reheated in the oven or on the stovetop using the reheating instructions that come with every order. A main element that sets Maroni Hot Pots above other delivery and take-out places is that customers are encouraged to hold onto the pots. If they return the vessel to Maroni, they receive credit towards their next Hot Pot, but it is not required. The pots, Maria explained, are designed to keep the food piping hot for a long time. “Though it’s even better cold the next day,” Mike claimed. They decided to use red pots – “Big Apple Red,” as Mike calls it. Other clever phrases for their brand are: “Even though it’s red, it’s green,” referring to their eco-friendly policies, “Our Pot is legal,” and “Hottest pot in town.”
The Manhattan Sideways team was encouraged to test the food. Olivia took home a small pot of Grandma Maroni’s spaghetti and meatballs. When she was able to tuck into it three hours later, not only was it still warm, but she shared it with three other people. The meatballs, she said, were a huge hit. Tom, our photographer, took home a veritable feast: a small pot of Cacio E Pepe, a pan of Gagootz Parmesan, and a jar of special Maroni sauce, a product that can only be found in Maroni eateries. Tom declared everything to be outstanding, but even more importantly, the food filled him with a warm sense of nostalgia for his childhood soccer games when his Italian grandmother would bring a fresh pot of pasta to the field.
In Buon Gusto, I met Giovanni, who began working in this neighborhood Italian restaurant three years after it opened in 1989. He has witnessed the restaurant’s growth through the years towards a more upscale eatery with a loyal group of regular customers. “People enjoy the meal, love us, and keep coming back, ” Giovanni stated matter-of-factly, adding that many people probably come for the affordable prices, as well. He then mentioned that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, wine is half off. Chef Nando Ghorchian, who started as a simple cook, did not always serve up traditional Italian dishes. Giovanni informed me that he “used to make eggs” and specialized in breakfast foods. “It just happened, ” he said of Nando opening Buon Gusto and making the shift to more upscale cuisine. Giovanni brought out a dish for the Manhattan Sideways team to try: a chicken marsala, served with broccoli and a basket of rosemary focaccia bread. As the team tucked in, Giovanni continued to chat with us. “The menu is a winner, ” Giovanni exclaimed. Diners can create their own pasta dish, if they so choose. “The main reason people come is for the pasta. ” He then told us that employees from other restaurants even come by Buon Gusto before their shifts just to have some spaghetti. He spoke about the generations of people who he has seen come through: customers who dined in Buon Gusto in 1989 and occasionally come with their grandchildren. “Twenty-five years in business means something. We’re doing something right. ”
When I peeked my head inside the space under construction next door, I did not get much past "hello" before Joe invited me into Salvo's and insisted that I have something to eat. It was here, while devouring my amazing slice of pizza with warm creamy ricotta and spinach, that I was introduced to the three Inzerillo brothers. I asked them to join me at the table and encouraged them to share their story. There is always one to tell whenever members of a family are in business together. The brothers' parents are from Sicily, but came to New York decades ago and owned several restaurants and pizza places before returning to Italy in 2004. Growing up, Joe, Sal and Rosario always helped in their father's businesses, never believing that they, too, would be running an Italian restaurant one day. Although none of them are "real" cooks, they grew up memorizing both their mother and grandmother's recipes - and it is from these special dishes that the menu for Salvo's was created. Once out of school, the boys began their separate careers, but one by one they found themselves on York Avenue running a pizza shop that has been on this corner for some forty years. Sal told me that he was the last to join his brothers in 2012 when they took over the lease. "I waited until they had it up and running, " he admitted. Today, they each have their own responsibilities and strengths - Joe said that he is the "people person, " therefore he "runs the operations, " and is the "hospitality" guy. His brother Sal is in charge of marketing and Rosario is the in-house manager. Together they "pride themselves on being a warm and friendly family business. "While sitting at Salvo's around three o'clock on a weekday, I witnessed the entire restaurant fill up with enthusiastic little ones eager for their afternoon pizza fix. Within minutes, every table was spoken for as parents and nannies sat down with children who had recently gotten out of school. It was at this point that Joe spoke up and declared, "We love what we do, but wouldn't if it wasn't in this neighborhood. " The brothers truly believe that the Upper East Side is the best place to live and work. As proof, two of them reside above the restaurant. While out walking with my husband one beautiful weekend afternoon, I suggested stopping by Salvo's. It had been a very long time since I sat down with him to have a traditional slice of pizza straight from the oven. It conjured up an overdose of childhood memories from when we were growing up together on Long Island. We reminisced about how frequently we visited the local pizza parlor and recalled that a slice had been just 25 cents. The only difference that we found in 2015 on the corner of 78th Street and York Avenue was the price. The slices that we ate were made with old-fashioned tomato sauce, gooey cheese and a crust that was as perfect as we remembered. Needless to say, we were a very happy couple to have relived this treat together.
New York City is chock full of phenomenal museums - cultural centers that appeal to a variety of interests. For my family, however, it is West 77th Street where we find ourselves returning over and over again. Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the oldest American History museum and research library in New York City. Its holdings include paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts as well as three million books and pamphlets. Of particular note among their art holdings is the John James Audubon collection of Birds of America watercolors and their Hudson River School paintings. The Dimenna Children’s History Museum is a treasure not to be missed. It is a wonderful way to engage children in the history of both New York and the rest of the country. During the holiday season, the amazing train exhibit is a must-see for children of all ages. As a biographer/historian of American history for young adults, my mom has been attending their Tuesday evening programs for as long as I can remember. She has had the pleasure of meeting and listening to speakers such as Joseph Ellis, Richard Brookhiser, Stacy Schiff, and Harold Holzer, among others. The Patricia Klingenstein Research Library, in which she has done extensive research on Abigail Adams, is particularly important to her. She has remarked on many occasions that, for those who frequented the old facility, it is remarkable how superior it is to what it was some twenty years ago. With Caffe Storico attached for a spectacular dining experience, The New York Historical Society continues to be a favorite place that we recommend to everyone from individuals to families, New Yorkers to tourists, and historians to art lovers.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean, " Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community, " Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave. "Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave. The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy, " "integrity, " "perseverance, " "self-control, " and "indomitable spirit. " These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them, " Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster. "Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place, " she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day. " She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo, " Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration. Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years, " Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you! " When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me, " she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong. "