Family first. Scalia’s was so named in honor of Sherry’s grandparents, Carmel and Salvatore Scalia, who Sherry says inspired in her a love of cooking food and an embrace of the tradition of food and family. Sherry, one of six granddaughters, grew up close to her grandparents, who lived so near to her grandmother’s siblings that the family all shared a garden.
“It was an awesome childhood,” says Sherry. “We were always there, we were always together, and there was always food. They had over an acre garden in the backyard. They canned and pickled everything. That’s how we grew up. You didn’t waste anything. My grandmother would pick Concord grapes and my dad would make grape jelly. It was always about family, food, and being together.”
Sundays in the family were spent preparing and sharing meals. “I can remember the pasta hanging up to dry, and burning my little fingers trying to peel tomatoes,” says Sherry. “Good Italian food is simple, with a lot of love, and we all did it together.”
Frank, too, has memories of family dinners with the Scalias. “We’ve been together 36 years,” says Frank. “There was nothing like those meals around your grandparents’ table,” he says to Sherry, before savoring a memory of her aunt’s homemade bread.
Sherry says it was that tradition of family and fresh food that inspired Scalia’s, starting with sharing the types of meals she and Frank make with their children, friends, and family. “It all started with wood-fired pizza,” says Sherry. “We have a wood-fire oven in our backyard in Connecticut, and it’s a great way to get together. And we kind of went from there.”
Soon, Sherry began to work traditional Italian dishes in, too. Nearly all of the recipes used in the kitchen are Sherry’s.
“I wanted to make sure I could make everything on the menu, so, everything on the menu, I’ve made,” says Sherry, noting that among the couple’s kids’ friends, her meatballs have gained some fame. “The meatballs, the sauce, the pasta. To me, we’re in a world now of so much fanciness, and it’s like no, that’s not how that’s supposed to be. Get the foo foo out of there. You want to taste the food. It has to taste as good as it looks, but it has to be simple. Just go down to the basic food itself. That’s how I cook, so I brought that in here.”
Because of the simplicity she strives for in the restaurant’s food, and perhaps driven by the memory of her family’s garden, Sherry says she’s particular about both the menu and the ingredients used to achieve it. “We actually ship our tomatoes in from New Haven,” she says, “because I couldn’t find anybody to deliver the tomatoes I wanted up here. So we pick them up and bring them up by the pallet.”
Those who are familiar with the food scene in Wilmington may know that the Cotronas also owned Mangia e Beve on Main Street, which is now closed. The couple originally planned to own both restaurants simultaneously, but after the manager of Mangia e Beve left, they worried one of the restaurants may suffer if they split their focus, so they decided to pour all of their efforts into Scalia’s.
Both Frank and Sherry mention that their goal with Scalia’s was to create somewhere where they, and their patrons, felt at ease. “We want everybody to feel comfortable coming in,” says Sherry. “Mangia e Beve was its own schtick and it was great, but it wasn’t as approachable as Scalia’s.”
“Mangia e Beve was more upscale Italian,” says Frank. “Whereas with Scalia’s, we wanted to be more laid back, a part of the town. We wanted to welcome everybody.”
The couple both say they’re having more fun (“much more fun,” says Frank) at Scalia’s than they did at Mangia e Beve, and they’re much more hands-on, too. “This, we can do,” says Sherry, gesturing toward the space. “I didn’t always feel like I could step into the kitchen at Mangia. Here, you’ll see Frank making pizzas sometimes, and I’ll be in the back rolling meatballs, and meatballs, and meatballs.”
Given its family roots, one may consider the new restaurant an extension of the couple’s family and home. The space, which was totally remodeled by the Cotronas, is warm and comfortable. A nod to their own backyard tradition, a big open brick oven is the first sight one sees upon entering the space. The rest is a mix of brick, metal, wood, and walls painted in a warm pinkish hue, which Sherry says she’d used in the couple’s home in Connecticut. Everything in the restaurant was handpicked by Sherry, from the menu to the decor to the music that plays on the speakers, which is the kind of music most will know the words to — comforting in its familiarity and easy, fun, and upbeat in tempo.
Though it’s clearly at the root of who Sherry and Frank are as people and as a couple, that familiarity, ease, and approachability may too be part of the family history that inspired the restaurant’s name. Sherry says her grandmother had an “open door policy” at her house: everyone was always welcome, and there was always food. “I think it was all about building relationships around food,” Sherry says.
Sherry has the same perspective on friends and family, old and new. “I have an open door policy too, and most of my friends know it,” says Sherry. “I love to cook. I don’t know how to cook small when it’s just Frank and me. I cook big. You never know when 10 people are going to stop by. A ‘small gathering’ at our house might be 50 people.” Now, thanks to Scalia’s, the same family recipes that have been enjoyed for years by the Cotronas’ friends and visitors are ready to be enjoyed by the public.
Scalia’s is located at 19 South Main Street and is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.