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Manga! Grandma Roses serves up old world-flavor

If nostalgia for Italian Williamsburg were a meal, there is no doubt Grandma Roses owner John Ricco would find a way to put it on his menu.

From the marinara sauce to the sausages and the bread crumbs, Ricco has borrowed the best of the small family-run food vendors on Graham and Metropolitan avenues and incorporated them into his new restaurant, Grandma Roses, named after his beloved great grandmother.

It’s the authenticity of an old-world food culture that is disappearing in Williamsburg that sets Ricco’s restaurant apart from newer additions off the L train.

“I want to give a shout out to Emily’s Pork Store, I get my sausage from there, and to Napoli Bakery,” said Ricco. “I worked there when I was younger making bread. Sal is a real gift to this neighborhood. Model T Meats has the best chicken in North Brooklyn. Also Pat from Zolo’s Fish Market is a wonderful. I feel very blessed in this neighborhood. They have some of the best meat and produce in Brooklyn.”

Ricco, a lifelong Greenpoint resident and former Bear Stearns stockbroker who got out of the financial world months before its collapse, is now investing his time and resources into his Italian restaurant, which opened in June 2009. He has adapted many of his family’s recipes which are featured prominently in the menu, such as chicken Parmesan, fried risotto balls, and an array of pizzas, but according to Ricco, everything begins with the perfect marinara sauce. His sauce comes from canned Roma tomatoes shipped from California that are crushed and simmered for two-and-a-half hours.

“I knew I was doing something right when the old timers come in and were raving about the marinara sauce, and saying it reminded them of their family,” said Ricco.

Some of the menu’s standouts include the fried eggplant balls, which Ricco “can’t keep on the shelves!”, meatballs made from scratch, Sicilian pizza with sausage, buffalo wings brined and fried with four kinds of dipping sauces, and thick cut cries made from potatoes that soak in cold water and are made to order.

“I make the meatballs here with beef, pork and veal,” said Ricco. “I cook all day.”

The restaurant is beginning known for its late hours, open until 4 a.m. on most days, and its impromptu catering. Ricco supplies popular bar food such as wings, eggplant balls and pizza, for nearby R Bar (451 Meeker Ave.) and several other venues, particularly on game nights. That, and the large portions, which can make every order feel like a family occasion.

“I believe in large portions. I like to feed people,” said Ricco.

Ricco is planning several specials through the holiday and football seasons, such as squid pies, Korean beef dipping sandwiches made from a 10-pound brisket. There’s a catered meal for Christmas in the works and the Easter holiday will feature Easter pies with an array of cured meats from local butchers. Ricco’s garlic knot challenge for high schoolers is ongoing.

“High schoolers come in, I ask a trivia question (in American History or Social Studies). If they get it, they get a garlic knot,” said Ricco.

The kitchen in the back of Grandma Roses is surprisingly small for the volume of food that the restaurant serves each day, in addition to catered meals which can get heaved upon the restaurant staff only a few hours in advance.

“I use guerilla tactics in the kitchen,” said Ricco. “If it’s got to get done, it’s going to get done. We’ll do it. If a person wants something, all they have to do is ask for it.”

Grandmas Roses is located at 457 Graham Ave. For more information, call 718-389-1908.

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