As someone who grew up surrounded by people -- she's the second of seven kids --- the chef/owner greets each diner who walks into her Mamaroneck eatery like a long-lost friend.
A lifelong cook, she's owned Rosa's La Scarbitta Ristorante for eight years and prides herself on the familial atmosphere. Pleasing her guests -- and getting to know them -- is part of her restaurant's appeal.
A sign painted on the wall in the front relays the mission: “Come in as a stranger, leave as a member of the family.”
Along with the warm ambience, there's also the food. "We're Italian, not Italian-American," stresses Merenda. Her motto? Simple is best, to let the ingredients -- much of which are organic -- shine.
Growing up in Bari, in Southeastern Italy, the Rye resident learned how to cook from her grandmother and mother, both of whom made everything fresh.
That philosophy is the cornerstone of La Scarbitta where cooking authentic -- but also cooking healthy -- is a big part of Merenda's mission.
As someone who's had two heart operations, that means she doesn't cook with butter -- only olive oil. According to her husband Angelo, who runs the front of the house (that is, when Rosa isn't centerstage chatting with her diners), their restaurant is the only one in Westchester certified by the Italian government for being heart-healthy. There's also a gluten-free menu on request.
"It's all about satisfying the customer," said Merenda.
In keeping with the family-theme, the couple's sister-in-law is also part of the equation; diners will find her behind the bar or serving guests.
Rosa’s La Scarbitta Ristorante is at 215 Halstead Ave., 914- 777-1667, www.scarbitta.com/.
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