THE CARRABBA BROTHERS BRING ARTISAN PIZZA AND THEIR GRANDMA’S MEATBALLS TO A NEW LOCATION ON THE SOUTH SHORE
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
Cloves of fresh garlic are sweating in a layer of olive oil, and the San Marzano tomatoes are beginning to bubble in an enormous stock pot. For Brandon Carrabba, it all brings back fond memories of the way his Grandma Millie’s kitchen smelled on a Sunday afternoon.
“I know everyone says their grandmother’s meatballs are the best, but in my family’s case, that really is true,” Carrabba said recently during an interview from his restaurant in the Charleston section of Staten Island, where pots of his family’s signature tomato sauce were simmering on the stove.
“Food was always a big deal in our house,” Carrabba continued. “We had such great recipes for meatballs and pizza. So a couple of years ago, my brother and I just decided to take those recipes and open a restaurant.”
Carrabba, who was born and raised in the Island’s Annadale neighborhood, along with his brother, Vincent, scouted out a location in Morristown, New Jersey, and opened a BYOB restaurant there in June of 2013. The brothers, who own Metro One Loss Prevention, a security management company, named the restaurant Millie’s Old World Meatballs & Pizza in honor of their grandmother.
“We were fortunate to grow up in a family that respects Italian traditions, and by opening Millie’s, it was our goal to share a passion for classics like meatballs and pizza,” Carrabba said. “Fried meatballs were a holiday tradition in our house, and family members waited all day for the beef balls to come out of the frying pan.”
Millie’s of Morristown, which quickly became known for its fried meatball station and cheese bar, cemented a reputation with its meatball platters, heroes on fresh Italian bread, and takeaway “pot of balls,” which are sold by the dozen in either marinara or vodka sauce.
“We had great success from day one at our Morristown location,” Carrabba said, recounting the accolades the restaurant has received from Garden State publications. “We were placed on NJ.com’s best pizza list. And local residents love our traditional recipes. Everyone who comes in says our meatballs remind them of the Sunday sauce their grandmother used to make.”
Which is why the Carrabba brothers decided to expand their concept; in June, they opened a second Millie’s Old World location in their Staten Island hometown. “The Staten Island restaurant was a sort of homecoming for us,” he said. “We wanted to bring the same delicious dishes to customers who were driving all the way over the bridge to eat our food.”
Located in Charleston’s Brick town Shopping Center, in a custom designed 4,000 square foot space, Millie’s of Staten Island serves the same quarter pound fried meatballs crafted from top grade sirloin and a mix of imported cheeses. Coal and wood fired artisan pizzas are also a specialty.
“Thanks to ‘dueling ovens,’ we can offer both coal fired and Neapolitan pizza,” Carrabba said. “The coal variety was inspired by childhood visits to Totonno’s, the legendary Coney Island pizzeria. Our coal oven burns at over 650 degrees and can produce pies in five minutes. The Neapolitan wood oven, hand built by Italy’s celebrated Ferrara family and imported from Naples, cooks pizza in only 90 seconds thanks to its intense 800 degree heat.”
Customer favorites include Carrabba’s signature Millie’s Pie, made with sauteed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkling of parmesan. But there are nearly 50 different innovative pies on the menu, too. Take, for example, the Ricotta and Truffle Pie, which combines truffle cream, ricotta, sausage (spicy or sweet), basil, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, homemade mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
The Pesto Pistachio Pie is layered with fresh pistachio pesto, Italian sausage, homemade mozzarella, basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and extra virgin olive oil. There’s also a Mashed Potato Pie with Applewood smoked bacon, sour cream, and pecorino romano cheese, and a Fresh Spinach Pie, made with goat cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, spinach, and a reduced balsamic vinaigrette.
There are more basic varieties, too: Fresh Basil Pie, Pepperoni, and Garlic and Italian Sausage with Broccoli Rabe. Customers can also create their own pies, using any of the ingredients from Millie’s master list, which includes caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and mushrooms. Items on the non pizza side of the menu include baked ziti with red sauce (as well as vodka sauce), sausage and pepper heroes, and special platters.
Millie’s of Staten Island includes a custom built 21 seat bar and garage doors that open to 2,500 square feet of outdoor dining space. The bar serves craft cocktails created by one of Manhattan’s top mixologists and features four wines and 20 beers on tap. A wine list includes more than 40 options from around the world. But Carrabba said the most talked about item on his menu is still the meatballs.
“My mother, Marlene, is in the kitchen every day, making sure the meatballs are just right.”
And while the recipe is still top secret (“They’re made with beef and a lot of love,” is all Carrabba will say), the family is happy to share the final product with Island residents. “You can eat here in the restaurant or take a pot of the meatballs home to serve your whole family,” he said.
Millie’s prides itself on making everything fresh: About a hundred pounds of fresh mozzarella and all the desserts including Tres Leches, Carrot Cake, and Bread Pudding are made in house each day.
“We start every morning making fresh batches of those meatballs,” Carrabba concluded. “Just like grandma used to do. It’s tough to think of a better tradition.”
Millie’s of Staten Island
185 Bricktown Way / 929.284.4004