Bushwick’s ‘Chopped Cheese’ Raviolo Is a Real Swing, And a Miss

Red sauce places in New York tend to be as predictable as they are ubiquitous. Sometimes it can feel like too many places choose to lean on the safety of old school Sicilian comfort food, rather than experiment with the peninsula’s diverse regional dishes. 

You can imagine my delight, then, when I see an Italian restaurant trying to do something exciting and innovative with a cuisine I know and love. Marie’s, which took over Caribbean hotspot Sally Roots’ former home on Wyckoff Avenue earlier this year, appeared to pass my own personal litmus test for places to try: The twists on pasta seemed to offer something I can’t make better, and cheaper, at home. 

Its chef, Miguel Trinidad, claims to have been “born in a New York City taxi cab” and now lives in Bushwick with his family, according to his restaurant’s website. “Marie” is his Italian-American wife’s middle name — bonus points for an establishment with an authentic background story. The restaurant’s owners gained some early publicity running a “secret” dinner concept with Trinidad involving dealing cannabis-infused dinners before opening Marie’s and say, online, that they have plans to now “connect with the neighborhood in various other ways, including pasta-making classes and wine tastings.”

Trinidad, who also previously ran the now-shuttered East Village Filipino joints Maharlika and Jeepney, could have easily stuck Marie’s in the more commercial area of Bushwick — you know, the part where you can shop for Y2K fashion while getting a stick-and-poke. Rather, Marie’s is nestled between Mundo Latino Travel agency and Shorty’s .99-cent store. Inside, the warm glow of candles and mellow lights bounce off simple white walls and black tabletops. Rounded alcoves frame the alcohol behind the bar; toward the back, a cluster of wicker baskets nods to the old country. There’s a large outdoor patio in back with plenty of room for weekend brunch shenanigans. 

Marie’s isn’t just an homage to the red checkered tablecloths of old New York, but an attempt to fuse that red sauce tradition with the city’s “rebellious spirit.” Such is obvious in dishes like Trinidad’s chopped cheese raviolo — which comes in the form of a giant dumpling meant to evoke the bodega classic — a lamb patty white ragu, and the duck ropa vieja cappelletti, which is a pasta similar to tortellini. Normally, I balk at such novelties, but the intention behind Marie’s put got me excited to try them. I was almost determined to love it.

It pains me to say that I did not love, or in some cases even like, what I ate. The traditional dishes did not feel particularly memorable, and the bodega-Italian fusion fare was kind of gross, for lack of a better word. Other patrons offered high praise in online reviews for dishes like the 100-layer eggplant parmesan, though I opted not to try to even assess that because no eggplant parm in existence can beat my own mother’s. (She uses a meat slicer to cut the melanzana as thin as deli meat.)

The chopped cheese raviolo ($21) I did try, much to my regret. The comically large, singular dumpling arrived wading in a kiddie pool of slimy looking, bright yellow sauce, if one could call it that. The taste was a cross between hamburger helper and movie theater nacho cheese — albeit with allegedly gourmet ingredients. An unidentifiable yellow gel on top of the meat oozed from the center when I cut it in half. I appreciate what this dish was trying to be, but I could not recommend it.

What I could recommend is the skillet focaccia ($12), the one high note of my meal. When I ran my fork over the golden crust, it made the right scraping noise, confirming optimal crispiness. The inside was fluffy, soft and pocked with beautiful air bubbles. Once smeared with the Calabrian chili butter, it really sang, and the bite was exactly as it should be with a light, slightly chewy texture. 

While the spicy rigatoni vodka ($19) was superior to the Hi-C-colored dumpling, Trinidad’s take on the traditional pasta dish I chose did not impress. The rigatoni was cooked al dente and the sauce’s slight smokiness would have been a nice touch, if it wasn’t otherwise bland and lacking the tomato-y bite I expect from spicy vodka. I had, admittedly, ordered the grilled asparagus ($17) just to see if there was a good reason for a roasted vegetable side to be this expensive, inflation be damned. There was no good reason to be found, unfortunately. The dozen or so spears of asparagus with grated pecorino tasted fine, but ultimately not noteworthy. 

Marie’s attempt to improvise on classic pasta dishes reminded me why it is that so many Italian joints avoid the risks that Trinidad has taken with his latest menu. When playing around with a cuisine as beloved and rehashed as that of southern Italy, you have to get it right the first time. The thousands of four-cheese ravioli with tomato sauce throughout the boroughs may all taste pretty much the same, but in an overcrowded and competitive dining scene, being boring is probably better than offending someone’s ancestors with a Velveeta-soaked “raviolo.”

Marie’s is located at 195 Wyckoff Avenue. Keep up with their hours on Instagram.

Photos taken by Mary Ellen Cagnassola.

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Mary Ellen Cagnassola
Mary Ellen Cagnassola
Mary Ellen Cagnassola is an award-winning reporter with a flair for creative nonfiction and a love of all things strange and unusual. Born and raised in the Garden State, she is currently trying to have it all in New York City.

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