Everyone’s family at Rosa’s

Chef and owner Rosa Merenda whips up authentic Italian in a cozy atmosphere.

“As soon as you walk in, you feel as if you’ve come home.”

That’s the promise on the website of Rosa’s La Scarbitta Ristorante, an Italian eatery in Mamaroneck owned by chef Rosa Merenda and her husband, Angelo.

It’s easy to see where the comparisons could be drawn between the restaurant and home — if not reminiscent of yours, then perhaps the home of a close Italian friend. Once you arrive, Rosa, playing the role of the doting mother, quickly takes your coat, guides you to your seat and repeatedly tells you how beautiful you are. She places a hand on your shoulder and asks what you’d like to drink before inquiring about how your day has been.

Antipasto verde. Photograph by Aleesia Forni.

The restaurant itself seems to offer similar comforts of home, with photos hanging from the walls, a scattering of seasonal decor and low music playing in the background.

We head to the cozy eatery at 215 Halstead Ave. on a chilly weekend evening. It’s quiet tonight, something Rosa attributes to the recent erratic weather. 

“And it’s flu season,” she adds.

After enjoying a glass of Chianti (“We only serve the best wine,” Rosa assures me), we start with an antipasto verde, which brings together homemade eggplant caponata with grilled zucchini, peppers and eggplant. The vegetables are tender and flavorful, and the caponata is perfect for slathering on the thick slices of bread we were served previously — so perfect that we need a second helping of bread.

Or, more accurately, Rosa brings us a second serving and tells us, “You need more bread. Because we’re Italian, we eat everything with the bread,” she adds.

Rosa, in addition to being the restaurant’s chef, more often than not is its sole server. She soon rattles off a list of the day’s specials, describing each one in detail, her passion for the food she serves shining through. More than offer suggestions, Rosa is apt to tell you your order, but don’t worry, she proves to excel at pairing person to plate.

“I’ll tell you what you’d like,” I overhear her telling a nearby table, a comment met with a hearty laugh from the diners.

I select an order of pappardelle, which is served with miniature meatballs — made from mixture of veal and beef — and covered in a sweet red meat sauce. A second entrée pairs veal-stuffed tortellini with a rich Bolognese sauce.

Apple pie is topped with ice cream and a strawberry drizzle. Photograph by Aleesia Forni.

Rosa, who grew up in Bari in southeastern Italy and moved to New York as a teenager, says she learned many of the recipes served at her restaurant when she was a child, helping her family members whip up meals for lunch or dinner. 

“I’ve always cooked, because it’s fun. You know how kids play bride?” she asks. “I was always the cook.”

For dessert, we turn our choices over to Rosa, allowing her to make our end-of-evening decisions for us. We start with a plate of apple pie, served with strawberries, powdered sugar and dollops of vanilla ice cream.

“It’s different from American pie,” she assures us. “I don’t like American pie. I make it my way.”

Her take on the dish is flaky and thick, with warm and cold components blending perfectly. 

We also enjoy separate, generous slices of cheesecake and tiramisu. The cheesecake is creamy and rich, topped with powdered sugar. The tiramisu is light and bursting with flavor, joined on the plate by a scattering of strawberries.

As we walk to the door, Rosa asking if we’d like any other food to box up and take along with us, I notice a sign that reads, “Come in as a stranger, leave as a member of the family.” It seems that tonight, I have not just gained a new place to grab an authentic Italian meal, but maybe my own Italian mother.

For more, visit scarbitta.com.

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