Addolorata “Dora” Marzovilla from Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar in orecchiette service.
Photo: Melissa Hom
As the world continues on its current course of madness, is eating a plate of pasta followed by another plate of pasta and calling it dinner the coping mechanism of the future? You would think so, judging by the crowd at Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar. The modus operandi of these pastivores is to dizzy themselves with starch, loading themselves with carbohydrates as if they had a major marathon to run in the morning. “I have groups of three coming in and ordering five pastas,” says owner Nicola Marzovilla, who opened the 28-stool spot in a sunken mall in Kips Bay in February. “Since there’s no protein on the menu, instead of making pasta, they make pasta, and then they make more pasta.” And who can blame them when the woman at the heart of the operation is certified pasta granny and Nicola’s mother, Dora Marzovilla, aka Nonna Dora?
For 27 years at Nicola’s Puglian I Trulli restaurant on 27th Street, Dora rolled and shaped dough with the lightning speed and nimble fingerwork of a three-card man, earning him the nickname by Human Pasta Machine. But it’s only since her 2019 appearance in a Pasta Grannies YouTube video that she’s become an internet star. This video spawned more videos, and soon enough Dora enjoyed a bit of international stardom. “After she exploded online, people literally came from all over the world to see her,” says Nicola. “We had a child who lived in Tel Aviv. His aunt said, ‘What do you want for your bar mitzvah?’ And he said, “I want to go to New York and visit Nonna Dora. And wouldn’t you know he came to I Trulli and sat at the counter with my mom and watched her make pasta for two nights.
Some fresh pasta from Nonna Dora.
Photo: Melissa Hom
During the pandemic, Dora turned to pasta kits. “She was at home in her apartment for a year,” says Nicola. “I put flour in front of her door and she gave me pasta. It was like drug dealing. When Nicola decided to close I Trulli to focus on his Tuscan winery, Dora didn’t have it. “Look, I just spent a year at home alone,” she told her son. “I hated it. I’m not ready to stay home. So Nicola found space nearby for a new restaurant where she would be the main attraction. He expanded the pasta menu to 20 selections (more than double of the number available at all times at I Trulli) and built a glass-walled show kitchen where the Human Pasta Machine could do its job, which now includes rolling out enough produce to sell from a corner of retail up front and ship nationwide via belly of gold.
So far, so good. On a recent Tuesday, pastivores started pouring in at 5 a.m. The narrow room combines a counter and raised seating, and by 5:30 every stool was full. By 7 a.m., the rate at which plates of pasta were flying out of the kitchen seemed to have quadrupled.
Having gobbled up a good chunk of the menu, we can happily direct you to our favorites – perfectly textured cavatelli with broccoli rabe; thick, melt-in-the-mouth orecchiette with rabbit ragout; and well-grooved Sardinian gnocchi (malloreddus) flavored with saffron and mixed with pieces of sausage. These are Nonna Dora’s greatest hits. Almost as satisfying are maccheroncini made with grano arso (burnt grain) flour and tossed with peas and duck confit, and candy-striped casoncelli stuffed with beets and topped as a dessert with lemon zest and poppy seeds. Nonna Dora’s is also the only place (aside from I Trulli) where we’ve ever seen this e tria, a regional oddity from the Marzovillas’ native Puglia that combines fresh, deep-fried squares of thin sheets of pasta in an elemental sauce of chickpeas and of tomatoes. Add it to your pasta bucket list.
The only problem with a restaurant that focuses on pasta and does it well is that it emphasizes everything else. The antipasti, for example – especially the mini calzones called panzerotti, the rubbery mash fave e cicoria, and the meatballs with Sunday sauce – are well worth your attention. There’s also salumi, and when you spot salumi on a menu, formaggi can’t be far behind. You’re not here to eat cheese, but if you order the six-month aged pecorino anyway, you’ll be glad you did. The accompanying KO apple mostarda alone is worth the price of admission.
Then there are the drinks. Pasta grandmas aren’t known for mixing and bottling negronis, but you can head to Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar just to gorge yourself on six top-notch variations of this bittersweet elixir. And the all-Italian wine list is deep, belying the laid-back setting of the pasta bar. All things considered, you could think of the new restaurant as the pandemic-simplified, e-commerce-fueled version of I Trulli, targeting a younger clientele willing to trade tablecloths and seconds for bottled cocktails and bar stools. .
“What do people want when they go out to dinner today?” Nicola poses with the assurance of a seasoned restaurateur who has understood. “A good cocktail, a good glass of wine and good pasta.”
606 Second Avenue, nr. 33rd street.