Homestyle Italian Fare Right Down To ‘Momma’s Meatballs’
Order a plate of Rosetta’s Famous Meatballs and you just might get in good with the owner of Strega Waterfront. That’s because they’re made from an original recipe — a blend of beef, veal, parmigiano and house-made pomodoro sauce — created by Nick Varano’s mother, who once showed one of the executive chefs how to perfect them.
The meatball appetizer is the only dish you’ll find on all of the menus at Varano’s six restaurants, which includes an Italian steakhouse, coffee bar and traditional Italian café. It’s his way of paying homage to his Italian-American upbringing.
“My mother made them for (my family) all the time when I grew up,” Verano recalls. “Right before she passed away, she went into the kitchen and showed my chef how to make them. They’ve been a big hit ever since. Two things are staples at every one of my restaurants: the meatballs and a photo of me and mom on one memorable Mother’s Day.”
Verano is a cheerful, big personality type of restaurateur who welcomes guests into Strega Waterfront as though they’re entering his home. The venue is contemporary in exterior and interior design, which is in sharp contrast to the old-school dishes you’ll find on the menu. In addition to Rosetta’s Famous Meatballs, popular options include a Milanese-style, double-cut pork chop; chicken breast sautéed with limoncello, butter and caper sauce; and fettuccini Strega — a signature dish of shrimp, scallops, baby spinach and a secret creamy sauce.
Verano says he decided to offer more traditional than modern fare because it felt authentic to him. “It worked so well for me at the Original Strega on the North End (of Boston),” he says. “We wanted to be traditional, with home-style cooking away from home. We just wanted something that was real.”
It doesn’t hurt that Strega Waterfront is located at Fan Pier in Boston's upscale Seaport District. That prime real estate property includes oceanfront views, well-heeled residents, luxury retail stores and hotels, and the occasional celebrity clientele. Since its establishment in 2010, Strega Waterfront has hosted the likes of legendary singers Lionel Richie (who Verano says is a regular patron) and Frankie Valli, high-profile politicians and professional athletes. The restaurant has also been the site for about 100 wedding proposals.
“It’s always energetic. It’s who’s who in the city. They’re smiling and laughing. Every night it’s like showtime in there. (The clientele has) built up since we first opened. Everyone’s feeling excited to be there and they don’t want to leave.”
According to Verano, Strega Waterfront is bustling from happy hour to the last call. He credits his staff for cultivating an atmosphere that’s created a loyal following of revelers and diners.
“My staffers get all the credit because they go out of their way to make everyone feel special,” he says. “That’s why they keep coming back. It’s pretty simple. You treat everyone the way you want to be treated. My customers never have to worry about being embarrassed for asking questions. It’s like you’re going to a family member’s home.”