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Talking Cookbooks, Family, and Restaurant Life with the Scotto Sisters

Appetito checks in with Rosanna and Elaina Scotto, who have co-authored a cookbook inspired by their family's landmark NYC restaurant, Fresco By Scotto.

Rosanna and Elaina Scotto enjoying Italian food together.

Rosanna and Elaina Scotto, restaurateurs & cookbook authors.

The Scotto sisters are royalty in New York City. Rosanna is the face of Big Apple mornings as the longstanding host of Good Day New York on Fox 5. Elaina, a former PR fashion executive, now operates the family restaurant in Midtown East, Fresco by Scotto, co-owned by the sisters and celebrating 30 years in business this year. They also curate a popular Instagram page together and have recently co-authored a book, Meatballs, Mangia & Memories, that celebrates the approach to life and food that defines one of New York’s most endearing and beloved families. We joined the Scotto sisters for a conversation about the book, the family, and the restaurant.

Congratulations on the book!

Elaina: Thank you! We were excited to do it as homage to our parents. Our dad died almost two years ago. Mom is very, very much involved with the restaurants, and we put all her favorite recipes in the book.  

How involved was your mom in the book?

Rosanna: Roughly 20% of the recipes are hers, many of the memories came from her, as well, but it’s all about her in some way. Mom is very opinionated, so she's always participating in whatever ideas we have. And we always bounce them by her because she has very good instincts. I mean, to be in business 30 years in New York City, that is a feat in itself.

Elaina: It's interesting because our publisher was really involved in everything we were doing, and she suggested that the cover should just be me and Rosanna, not our mother or anyone else because the book is credited to the Scotto sisters. I looked at her and said, “Have you met my mother?” She will be in the center of everything we do, and she will always be the star of that restaurant. We owe it all to mom. I might add that my son, Danny, was in charge of the publishing side of the book with regard to the writing of all of the stories, and Rosanna’s daughter, Jenna, who is the director of marketing and special events at the restaurant, and really my right hand, was the editor-in-chief with the recipes and photos. That’s why they are on the cover as well.

Where did the idea come from to include all the stories and anecdotes about famous patrons?

Rosanna: We've had so many iconic people come through Fresco, and we share these stories among ourselves. So we just thought that it would be fun to share them with everybody else. On one hand, it paints a picture of the people who frequent Fresco, but we also make it clear that you don't have to be a celebrity to come to Fresco. We treat everyone like family. There's always a member of our family member there. And we make everybody feel at home. The truth is, though, we're really Brooklyn kids at heart, and so when we have Sly Stallone or Princess Fergie or Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or Joe Biden, it's a big deal for us. We pinch ourselves and recognize that we've come a long way.

Tell us about your role in the elegant redesign of the interior and the street-side space, which is considered among the best in New York City.

Elaina: A lot of things happened during COVID. And, at some point, our restaurant was doomed, and there weren't really any plans to reopen mainly for financial reasons. And we all kind of went about our ways thinking whether we were going to do it or not. My brother Anthony's children were living in Nashville. He was spending a lot of time there and was making plans to open his own restaurant in Nashville. When we decided to reopen Fresco by Scotto, we chose to do so in this very different way from what we were before. It was kind of like with Anthony leaving, the women are taking over, and we're making it into a fully-fun, women-owned restaurant. It took a while to do, and we really had to think out of the box, but it all paid off in the end.

Rosanna: We had to find a reason to get people back into Midtown. Let's face it, even up to right now, people are not in the office. We were in a business area. It's slowly trickling back, but very slowly trickling back, and we had to make it a destination restaurant. And part of the destination was just reinventing the place, giving it a younger vibe. That's what Jenna is there to bring as a young person. We brought in Larry Scott, who is an event planner, and we said we wanted the restaurant to feel like a party. And he created this Capri-esque garden outside. And Elaina brought in a DJ. It just feels good. You can come and have a delicious meal, and at the same time you are in a happy place without going somewhere outside of New York City.

I’m sorry, there’s a DJ?

Elaina: Right now he's there Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It's a little bit more mellow during the week with mainly business people in the restaurant. But starting Thursday, people start to begin their weekend, so we bring in the people who are celebrating. Still, we keep the outside as more of the party-like atmosphere, and the inside is for a more intimate dinner. We're doing "Summer in the City" right now because not everyone has the opportunity to go to the Jersey Shore or upstate New York or the Hamptons. And since pretty much no one works in the office on a Friday, we have created this party-like atmosphere for Friday afternoon lunch. We have the DJ; we have fun specials that are mostly sharing plates. We have different wine and liquor sponsors help us out. It's really fun and one of those meals at the restaurant where you don't have to feel like you have somewhere to go because it's Friday afternoon. People just come by, and they hang out all afternoon.

How often are you at Fresco, Rosanna?

Rosanna: It just depends on my Good Day New York job and what the commitments are there each week, but I definitely spend a lot of time at the restaurant—at least several times during the week. Sometimes it's lunch. Sometimes it's dinner. Sometimes it may be both. It's like a home away from home. Elaina and I are always taking pictures with everybody. We're making sure everybody's comfortable, that they're having a good time, and that they're enjoying their meal. And like I said, it's an extension of our house, so we want everybody to leave happy.

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