Six days a week, Addolorata “Dora” Marzovilla walks the short distance from her Manhattan apartment in Midtown East to her newly opened eponymous restaurant, Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar. Once there, she makes fresh pasta for five hours a day using recipes and techniques she first learned 78 years ago.
At 86 years old, Marzovilla is a first-time restaurateur.
“I feel so happy!” Marzovilla tells Travel + Leisure while making her signature orecchiette with a flick of a knife. “It’s my name on the door.”
Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar offers fine-dining variations of the classic dishes Marzovilla grew up cooking in Puglia, Italy. Nineteen varieties of fresh pasta are made daily, including orecchiette in rabbit ragu, cavatelli with broccoli rabe, and cappelletti stuffed with veal and served in broth.
For those who wish to imbibe, a modern cocktail menu featuring Negronis and Italian-style tiki drinks pairs well with the antipasti on offer. A robust wine list includes offerings from Montefili (among others), a winery just south of Florence where Nicola, Marzovilla’s son, is an operating partner. The intimate space accommodates 28 total seats (six high-top tables plus a bar), with an additional glassed-off room for larger parties and events like pasta-making classes.
Marzovilla’s path from Puglia to octogenarian restaurateur began in the early 1970s, when she tied pasta-rolling boards to the top of her suitcases with rope and moved to New York. One of those boards hangs on the restaurant’s wall next to pictures of a young Marzovilla in Italy.
Once settled in the U.S., she worked as a seamstress in the Garment District until she was in her early 50s, when she left sewing to work in her son’s new restaurants. Almost 30 years later, in 2014, she was featured on the revered “Pasta Grannies” YouTube channel. And people have been seeking out her orecchiette ever since.
When Nicola closed his restaurant in February (I Trulli in Flatiron) to spend more time in Italy, he had to “figure out what to do with a mother who wasn’t willing to stay home.”
“So, we switched roles,” Nicola says. “She worked for me for 32 years, and now I work for her. I helped with the concept, but this is her restaurant.”
Dora, meanwhile, is thrilled to be back at the pasta-rolling table, especially in a spot of her own.
“I like to work, and I love to make pasta,” she says. “During the pandemic, it didn’t feel good staying home. I’m happy to be back.”