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Saint Rocco Feast offers fare straight from Nonnas' kitchen

An army of grandmas, or nonnas, prepares food

An army of grandmas, or nonnas, prepares food in the kitchen of Saint Rocco Roman Catholic Church in Glen Cove for its annual five-day feast and fundraiser.  Credit: Newsday / David Criblez

The Church of Saint Rocco in Glen Cove has dubbed its annual five-day fundraiser “The Best Feast in the East” for a reason.

Take one bite from any of the 20-plus homemade dishes served in the Pasta Pavilion and you’ll know why. Each dish is a stunner because it’s made with love from the recipes of the Nonnas.

This army of 30 grandmas, ranging in age from mid-60s to late 80s, serves as the backbone of this North Shore summer staple. Each night’s dinner, from Aug. 1 to 5, will be made from family recipes.

“We enjoy doing this, and we all get along well,” says Antoinette “Honey” Zekraus, 82, of Glen Cove, who was baptized, married and raised three kids in the parish. “This time of year is full of memories. The feast brings families together to help our church, and we want to keep it going.”


On a recent day, the Nonnas prepare their famous braciola, which comes in beef and pork. This dish consists of tenderized meat rolled with parsley, Parmesan cheese and garlic pepper and is part of Nonna’s Sunday Dinner platter with a meatball, sausage and pasta ($14).

Chef Arturo Gomes oversees the ordering of supplies and keeps track of the volume.

“It’s about using quality products and fresh seasonings,” Gomes says as he pounds the meat for the braciola. “Anything we use is top of the line; this way you can never go wrong.”

Gomes hands over a freshly tenderized tray of meat to a trio of ladies who immediately go to work on it. Francesca Stavola, 67, of Glen Cove, puts in the filling while Rose Masone, 83, and Josephine Graziosi, 82, both of Glen Cove, are in charge of rolling each piece. Meanwhile, Sophie Barbieri, 87, also of Glen Cove, wraps up the braciola in tin foil coated in butter.

“Roll ’em tight, Rosie. . . . Tight!” orders Barbieri.

Masone lifts her eyes over her glasses, hands over a perfectly rolled braciola and says, “Does this pass inspection?”

Most braciola comes tied up in string, but the Nonnas have a different system.

“We deep-fry it for a minute, and they pull together,” says Rita Costantino, 67, of Glen Cove. “It saves the time of tying and untying string.”


Next up is eggplant Parmesan ($10 with pasta), which has the Nonnas lined up  along both sides of a long, rectangular table. Some dip pieces in flour, others coat them in egg, followed by the breadcrumb treatment before being shipped to the kitchen, where they are fried for two minutes.

“We do three layers of eggplant with sauce on the bottom and top it with mozzarella and grated Parmesan, then it gets baked in the oven,” says Costantino. “People go crazy for this stuff.”

The lines for a seat in the Pasta Pavilion can get long, but many feel it’s well worth the wait.

“Everything is home-cooked by the ladies in here, and that’s why everybody comes back,” says Kathy DiSimone of Glen Cove, who serves as a hostess. “People go out rubbing their bellies all happy and full. It’s a little taste of home from the old days.”


Crowds can get heavy at the feast, so a game plan is key. Here are some tips to guide your way through getting food:

-- Timing is everything, so the earlier the better. To get a seat inside the Pasta Pavilion, arrive by 6 p.m. to get on line.

-- Start with a sausage-and-pepper hero ($8), hot or sweet. It’s essential to try this signature sandwich, and it will temporarily satisfy your hunger if you must to wait on line.

-- If the lines are too long, hit the Wine Garden, where some tapas and pasta dishes from the Pasta Pavilion are served.

-- Go to the takeout booth, where as many as 10 dishes from the Pasta Pavilion are wrapped and ready to purchase on the go.


WHEN | WHERE 6-11 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, through Friday, Aug. 3; 3-11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4; and 3-10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, Third Street and St. Rocco Place, Glen Cove

INFO 516-676-2482,


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