Bagel Mercato on Bay St.

Bagel Mercato

I’m not good at keeping secrets when it comes to good food places on Staten Island. Maybe, because there are so few and far in between. So I’m telling you, you have to visit the Bagel Mercato. This is the kind of sleek, trendy cafe you expect to find in West Village or Soho. The owners have decided to fix our community’s problem by serving delicious breakfast and lunch items Staten Island has been missing, on the North Shore, at 70 Bay St, and we sure are glad they did. It’s about time!

Bagel Mercato

Bagel Mercato has an excellent menu of bagels, sandwiches and salads, and they’re all very reasonably priced. The salads are fresh with crispy vegetables and delicious sauces. Large selection of freshly baked, hand rolled bagels and a great variety of flavored cream cheeses make for a complete and satisfying breakfast and lunch menu.

Bagel Mercato

The best part is, this place has that laid-back, community-friendly vibe. The people are nice and the place is always full of regulars. Sometimes the line can get backed up, but you’ll never wait more than a few minutes, plus that’s how you know the place is legit and it will be well worth the wait. The guys behind the counter, along with the owners who are there to greet you as you walk in, are professional and courteous. After listening to your order carefully and making their own suggestions of the menu-must-haves (go for it, you’ll be glad you did), the workers make their way back to start the process of creating something special. While you wait for your food to be meticulously prepared, take delight in a homey atmosphere and feast your eyes on a fun decor offering a bit of glitz with two large chandeliers. Even though the kitchen in this establishment may be smaller than in a fancy restaurant it doesn’t make the dishes any less filled with love. Here you can have a quick bite and enjoy a high quality meal at the same time.

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The space is on the smaller side, but nevertheless, quiet impressive. Design architect Nina Ferrer, whose career includes design of luxury homes for celebrities and high-end retail spaces, a run as a TV Host and Designer on Clean House NY, and participation on HGTV’s highly popular Design Star (Season 5), designed this relaxed and casual yet absolutely classy space. The room is decorated with subway tiles, handcrafted countertops, chandeliers, multiple serving stations and a seating area for those who wish to dine inside. For more on Nina’s concept of the store and design style visit The Bagel Caffe I designed “Bagel Mercato“.

During my visit, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Nina, who was perfectly happy and excited to tell me a little bit about this place. She also happens to be the wife of Stefano, one of the owners, lucky guy!

Bagel Mercato

How did you come up with the concept for this space?

Nina: “When I met my husband Stefano, he was looking to create a bagel shop with a more attractive presence and it just so happens that this is what I do, so I sketched this cafe on a napkin on our first date. And anytime we would go out to eat, we would talk about the cafe, and do research on the floors, tiles, chairs and all the other elements of the design. I finished the design, filed it with an architect and oversaw the management. The two counters was Stefano’s idea and the concept was to serve both, business professionals on a morning commute and those who stop by to amuse their leisure, Manhattan urban situation. We also love giving back to the community and that’s where the idea of displaying local artists’ work on rotation came into play. Over time we have developed a relationship with many local artists (St. George is known in the community as an art center of Staten Island), they often come in for a bite and become a part of the regular crowd. There’s a sense of a neighborhood destination in this cafe.”

Bagel Mercato

What do you think the future of the neighborhood holds with the new projects like The New York Wheel, Harbor Commons, Lighthouse Point and Navy Pier moving into the area?

Nina: “There’s a lot of development in the area and we are noticing positive changes in the neighborhood. Much more young professionals are moving into the area and it is a lot nicer to walk around. More restaurants and art galleries are opening up in the neighborhood and we are hopeful that more Staten Islanders will come here as a destination. The waterfront has a lot of potential – it’s happening in Red Hook, it’s happening in Williamsburg, it’s happening in Greenpoint, in Jersey City, in Hoboken….it’s going to happen here! ”

Creative young minds are flooding the area and I completely agree with this vision. New York City is making large investments and planning many new projects in our area. The future developments are about to change the waterfront as we know it.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be coming back to this lovely spot for excellent breakfast selection and lunch time winners. If you come here once, I guarantee you’ll permanently plant this spot in your weekly routine. At the very least you can always enjoy the fact that someone took the time and put a lot of effort into making your meal here simply awesome!”

Bagel Mercato

Inside Zio Toto Ristorante

Let’s kick it up a notch with an exquisite Italian cuisine called Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island. This is a second location for the restaurateur and owner, Filippo Giuffre, with whom we had the pleasure of speaking about his new eatery. The first Zio Toto is a well established restaurant located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and has been family-operated for the last 5 years. The name Zio Toto, which in English means Uncle Sal, has a heartfelt connection to the family and is in honor of Filippo’s late father Salvatore, who passed away at the time the family was just getting the restaurant started. Everyone in the neighborhood used to lovingly refer to Salvatore as Zio Toto: Toto is a nickname/term of endearment for Salvatore and Zio means uncle.

Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island

A few minutes into our conversation it became evident that Filippo is a perfectionist when it comes to quality food and customer service. As a result the restaurant staff is warm and dedicated to providing guests with excellent service, creating a pleasant atmosphere inside the restaurant.

It was months of hard work and careful planning before the doors of Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island finally opened for business. Though it was challenging at times, (the coffered ceiling was changed 15 times before it was finally perfect, just look up!) the result was most rewarding at the end. One does not come without the other, it seems. This restaurant, unlike its sister restaurant in Brooklyn, was designed to accommodate large formal parties for special events, which it has successfully been able to do in its grand ball room. The space exudes intimacy and is the kind of place you want to go to on a romantic date with your loved one.

Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island

As you open the door you’ll be greeted with a warm and elegant foyer and an attentive host. Walk inside and you will notice great attention to detail in decor and style that is carried throughout the restaurant and that underlines the formality of the space. The interior consists of two spaces; a lofty lounge bar area with an expansive bar for eating and drinking, and a well-appointed formal dining room with a brick pizza oven.

Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island

Driven by memories of his mother’s recipes and other favorite Sicilian dishes, Filippo along with his brothers, created the menu. Each plate that comes out of the kitchen is beautifully presented. Try any dish and you will have a sense of how much attention is paid to the quality of the ingredients. The Filleto alla Griglia, Pasta con le Sarde, Portobello dello Chef and Pizza Margherita are all outstanding and flavorful. Filippo goes on to stay “I’m blessed with an excellent chef and I made it a point to use the best ingredients money can possibly buy, because I believe in quality. What I bring into my kitchen is always the best quality product. I am my biggest critic and I constantly strive for perfection.”

Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island

Of course there’s a variety of fun specialty cocktails (try any) and an extensive wine list (they have a wine cellar too).  And you should definitely save room for dessert, their Nutella-stuffed pizza which comes fresh from the pizza oven topped with strawberries and ice cream is out of this world and a perfect excuse to cheat on your diet.

Zio Toto Ristorante on Staten Island

It’s the kind of place where celebration is all around and indulging in finer things in life is a typical day at Zio Toto Ristorante.

Although I’ve only just visited this elegant restaurant recently, glancing back at these images makes me want to go back there asap!

All images by Dmitriy Mirochnik, follow him at ShutterWhisper.

Enoteca Maria – an authentic taste of Italy on Staten Island

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island is a cultural Italian destination.

Do you remember your grandmother’s cooking? How the aroma of your favorite dishes would fill up the air every time she touched the stove with her aged, yet experienced hands? How comforting and happy it made you feel just to spend that time together with her in the kitchen? Grandma always knew how to bring the family together.

I’m sure even the most acclaimed chefs would agree – there’s nothing better than their grandmothers’ cooking.

The concept at Enoteca Maria is simple, yet incredibly innovative: local Italian grandmothers or nonnas, cooking their signature regional dishes in this restaurant’s kitchen. The menu changes daily depending on which nonna takes her  turn as the chef-of-the-day. Nonnas shop locally-grown produce every morning and buy whatever is freshest. Inspired by the fragrant ingredients of the day, the menu takes its form. Every dish that comes out of the kitchen is heavenly, infused with the main ingredient – love.  And suddenly, you are no longer at a restaurant, you are at nonna’s, for dinner.

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island

The wine list at Enoteca Maria should not be overlooked. Personally handpicked by the owner, Joe Scaravella, every bottle is a rare and delightful surprise. The extensive wine list, which is offered by the glass, as well as, by the bottle, definitely lives up to the restaurant’s name “Enoteca”, which means wine library in Italian. At times, Mr. Scaravella will pop open a new bottle and make his way over to your table, and you’ll find yourself having a friendly chat with the owner over a glass of wine.

Now to the kitchen!

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island

“Cooking is like performing surgery, it has to be clean. If something goes wrong, somebody can get hurt,” says Joe Scaravella.

The restaurant features an open concept kitchen where the foodies can observe the nonnas hard at work. It’s wonderful to witness the ladies prepare dishes in this absolutely immaculate space. None of the delicacies they serve each night follow a recipe, instead the nonnas rely on years of experience and their wisdom of old Italian traditions. All the dishes are prepared from scratch and cooked fresh daily, which accounts for the fact that it may take some time for the food to arrive at your table. But you wouldn’t want to rush through this dinner, because every night at Enoteca Maria is a celebration – a celebration of great food!

Enoteca Maria on Staten Island

The urban decor of this restaurant is influenced by the exposed brick detail, contemporary lighting and the artwork of local artists displayed on the walls. This is a very intimate space with only 35 seats, so call ahead for reservations. Make sure to bring cash, as it is a cash-only restaurant. A nice bonus to the experience is a sincere and friendly staff.

It’s easy to live “la dolce vita” at Enoteca Maria!

A big thank you to Dmitriy M. for taking these amazing pictures.

Perfect Restaurants for Your Valentine’s Date

Valentine’s Day is a holiday known for love and romance. To make this evening a memorable one, plan a romantic date and treat your lover to a special evening they won’t soon forget. I’m talking about sharing a luscious dining experience with your companion. Chemistry between food and romance exists indeed. Certain foods can soothe your soul, fill you up with warmth, others can entice and excite you, offering endless pleasure. For these reasons, choosing the right restaurant that serves that flavorsome fare is so important.

Here’s a list of places that are great for romantic dates:

South Fin Grill

This restaurant is for seafood lovers and is perfect for a special occasion. As soon as you enter through the doors you’ll feel a certain level of sophistication that this establishment offers. The romantic setting is infused with fine decor and breathtaking views of the water. You’ll find a creative menu with lots of seafood options, from a satisfying raw bar selection to beautifully presented cooked fish entrees. There are steaks and chops for meat lovers as well. This is the kind of place you visit to celebrate, so order a glass of wine and indulge. In season, explore the outdoor seating area.

Bayou

This charming place is a neighborhood favorite that keeps locals buzzing. The combination of exposed brick walls, red velvet drapes, crystal chandeliers and candlelight add warmth to the overall ambiance of the restaurant. Enjoy the New Orleans inspired cuisine that has already built a reputation for providing an unforgettable dining experience. This off the beaten path Staten Island gem is a perfect intimate dinner spot. Want to be daring and impress your date? Order the alligator bites, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you haven’t been yet, this needs to be your next destination.

Angelina’s Ristorante

Angelina’s Ristorante offers a menu full of delicious Italian classics and innovative creations – all prepared with incredible attention to presentation to make a lasting impression. The elegant Italian style villa was built specifically for the restaurant boasting two levels of dining, a beautiful bar area, romantic verandas with stunning waterfront views, spacious terraces and a perfectly manicured lawn. The atmosphere is upscale and the service is friendly. Angelina’s Ristorante is definitely fine Italian dining, another great spot to be saved for a special occasion.

Marina Cafe

Marina Cafe is as elegant as Great Kills Harbor gets. The dining room hosts one of the most fantastic views of the marina with gracefully sailing yachts. And as the night falls, the sunset from the panoramic windows offers the most romantic setting possible. Upon entering one can appreciate the excellent accommodations with a nautical motif. Marina Cafe offers a seafood-driven menu and draws upon traditional ingredients. Whether you desire succulent oysters and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, or a cold glass of beer paired with a steamed lobster, Marina Cafe can satisfy your craving.

Takayama

Hands down, one of the best upscale Japanese restaurants in Staten Island. Takayama exists as a super stylish establishment in the Charleston area. The decor of the restaurant is modern and rich with comfortable private booths, dark wooden tables with inviting chairs and a great sushi bar area. Recline, dine and enjoy some sake from the extensive sake list. I have a feeling you’ll be happy with everything you eat here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo by Yelena Rozov

PepperJack Grill in Staten Island – A Neighborhood Staple

PepperJack Grill in Staten Island

PepperJack Grill in Staten Island

PepperJack…..With only 24 hours left to file the paperwork for the name of her newly renovated space, Melissa O’Connell (a very attentive owner of the restaurant) had to come up with something quick! She turned to her roots and her passions in life: The North Shore location, which Melissa grew up on and where the restaurant stands, the late Staten Island artist, “Jack” Demyan, who was a personal friend and who’s collection of art is one of her most prized possessions, the fresh ground pepper – her favorite spice (a total guess here). From these, the Staten Island inspired name came together as PepperJack Grill.

The final result is a special place. A cozy and relaxed gastropub with a warm ambiance and a friendly staff. The cuisine is American Traditional with a bit of a fancy twist. For example – you can’t get more American Traditional than macaroni and cheese, but add fresh lobster meat and the dish becomes decadent and comforting, all at the same time. PepperJack Grill boasts an appetizer heavy menu with simple yet elegant dishes and signature sangrias. “The appetizers are what we are known for” says Melissa.

Perhaps Melissa’s background in interior decorating provoked her to experiment with the decor of the restaurant. The walls of PepperJack Grill are adorned with the artwork of local artists, which the owner rotates to give way to new pieces, giving the restaurant an authentic feel. The brown paper tablecloths serve as canvases and the jar of crayons on each table encourages and inspires the creativity of the youngest patrons of the restaurant. The creations are later displayed on the Art Wall. Contemporary furnishings are also incorporated into a design that features a gas fireplace, inviting dining area and leather booths. The rich mahogany bar that has been restored and kept as a centerpiece of the restaurant is, possibly, the only original feature kept by Melissa from the days long past… The bar area offers up a nice alternative to the main dining room.

There is also live music. Local musicians perform everything form rock n’ roll and blues, to jazz, and even a little bit of country.

So why not head over there the next time you are in the mood for some American Traditional cuisine and do a taste test?

We liked it and we think you need to go.