Now that truly is a great meatball !! Greg Marro, Chief Fun Officer of Greg Walks NYC, a walking tour company, is one of the most charming, knowledgeable, 3rd generation Italian, stylish, men I know. We met through my good friend Judy, at a birthday party (for who I can’t remember) and through the years I would hear about Greg (Judy and Greg have been besties forever), but I never really “knew” about Greg until I asked him for his meatball recipe. What a character! Rich in family history, entwined in New York history, and a love for family, food, and fashion. Enjoy my interview with Greg. Take one of his tours when you visit New York. Make his great, great grandmother’s meatballs (recipe below) and listen to some Dean Martin.
Nonno and Nonna , Greg Walks NYC
1.What is your favorite walking tour? Italians of Greenwich is my favorite tour. It combines my Italian American family history with food, songs and vintage photos. Including myself, my family has lived in this part of Manhattan for 133 years, arriving before Ellis Island existed. I have spent more than half of my life in the apartment my great grandpa, Vincenzo Pietropinto lived in. I really enjoy going to the local Italian purveyors and shops speaking Italian, sharing the history of this Italian American enclave. My tours also involve vintage photos. American music and my singing. It’s an all in one off-off-Broadway show!
2. Do you have a favorite type of customer?My favorite customers are those who ask a lot of questions and smile largely when they sample the foods along the tour. The bites include a savory meatball, a special pizza slice called the Grandma slice and decadent Italian pastry, especially the Fruit-a-misu, a local specialty. Besides, who doesn’t love a meatball?
3. Local or Tourist? I have toured with both locals and out-of-towners. The local Italian American tourists from the NYC metro area relate to the food and often share in their own stories involving parents, aunts and uncles and of course, their Italian grandparents. It is a wonderful way to connect with people through food, laughter and family stories.
4. Women or Men?I recently have had a lot of moms and their kids on the Cake Walk Tour. This tour explores the neighborhood with all sugary sweet delights. However, the tours are usually equally attended by men and women.
5. Geriatric or Pediatric?The majority of Italians of Greenwich Village tourists skew towards the senior citizens vs. pediatric. However, one of my youngest tourists was a young midwest 7-year-old boy that downed meatballs with a huge smile. I’ve never seen such a small tourist devour so many meatballs.
6. Grandma or Momma? Most of my tourists are Mommas, some Grammas, I love them equally. I recently held a private family Mother’s Day tour for a family of 15 with ages ranging from senior citizen to 2 years old.
7. History of this meatball recipe? This meatball recipe comes direct from my first generation Italian-American grandmother, Maria Donato Pietropinto (her name was Anglicized to Mary Pinto!) who was born on Sullivan Street in Soho. She never followed a recipe, but did as her mother did. She made meatballs based on the number of people she fed. Her secret ingredient was 2 tablespoons of dried mint.
8. Favorite Food? My favorite tour food is the Grandma pizza slice. It is not a typical NYC slice. The parmesan and mozzarella are first baked onto the crust. After the pizza comes out of the oven, a sweet tomato sauce is ladled on top with fresh Italian parsley. On my Pierogi Tour of the East Village, my favorite food is pierogies (my mom is first generation Polish American). I was raised on both and they are my favorite comfort foods.
Greg Walks NYC – pierogies
9. Favorite Music/Musician/Band?I am an original Jersey Boy and my favorite musicians are Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. Patti lives in my neighborhood, and I’ve met her several times. I always gush to my friends after I’ve met her. The Rolling Stones are my favorite band.
10. How many steps on your average tour?Each tour is approximately 2500 steps, about 1.5 miles, give or take. (Great to know!)
11. Favorite New York neighborhood and why? My favorite neighborhood is Greenwich Village, particularly MacDougal street, named for revolutionary War patriot, Alexander MacDougal. The street boasts over 20 international eateries, Beatnik cafes, sports music bars, comedy clubs and a small intimate off – off – Broadway theater with less than 50 seats. It always hums with lively activity nightly, and there’s something for everyone from kids to grandparents. Italians of Greenwich is the oldest and most popular tour.
12. Celebrity Sighting? or any Celebrity on one of your tours?The most exciting celebrity sighting was Mario Batali about one month ago. My most recent celebrity was Judy Sottile, famed NYC bon vivant and gal about town! (Hah Hah Greg, nice one.)
13. What is your uniform or fashion love – when you are working?Please also share if you even think about it – your favorite shoes for walking. Fashion has a powerful effect on the tour. It conveys a PROFESSIONAL sense of sophistication, and an au courant NYC style. I want my tourists to know from the start that I am fun and engaging, but most of all professional.I am passionate about my work! I always tour with my Gucci Murse – it holds business cards, water, vintage photos and my bluetooth speaker for when I sing. (I’ve had a vocal coach for 20+years.) Footwear is the most important part of my ensemble since I sometimes walk up to 7 miles per day. In the Fall/Winter, I always wear Timberland boots to brave the elements. I generally don my Loro Piano or Yves St Laurent jackets with khaki GAP shorts in the fall. For Winter, I am a jeans man, mostly GAP. I love mixing and matching, high and low, with my daily favorite. I actually wear a autumnal toned silk scarf, which makes me feel like Mick Jagger. I am a BIG Rolling Stones fan.
14. Anything iconic, blessed, or good luck that you wear? I always don my Italian American flag toque and a leather black beatnik beret with Wayfarers along the tour.
Thank you Greg for spending some time with me and sharing your Nonna’s recipe. I can’t wait to take another tour just to see what you’re wearing, hear you sing, and taste New York!
3/4 lb ground beef 1/4 lb ground pork / ground sausage meat 1 egg 1/4 cup to ½ cup milk 1 STALE loaf Italian Bread with crusts removed (never breadcrumbs!) 2 Tablespoons dry white wine 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoon fresh parsley 1 teaspoon chopped garlic 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper or chili powder
(depends on personal taste)
chili powder adds a nice kick 1-1/2 cups grated locatelli/Parmesan Reggiano 1 Tablespoon dried mint
Cut the crust off the bread and let it get stale overnight. The next day, soak the bread in milk and wine until soft – about 5-10 minutes. If the bread seems dry, add more milk (start with 1/8 cup) accordingly. Squeeze liquid from bread by hand. Reserve liquid. (I had no liquid to squeeze and used a little more milk, possibly because I had a big loaf of bread….so eyeball the bread and use less or more depending on your meatball preferences.)
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl by hand. If the mixture feels too dry, add reserved liquid (start with 1/8 cup) until pliable/workable. Discard remaining reserved liquid.
Use bare hands for best results. (This was fun and easy.) Make sure you’re wearing one of your Nonna’s aprons. Roll meatballs the size of a golf ball. (Wet your hands to prevent the meat from sticking to them while rolling the meatballs. I used a small round scoop that I use for cookies.)
Sauté meatballs in large frying pan, over medium heat, in olive oil as needed (2 Tablespoons or more depending on frying pan size) until brown crust forms. Do not allow oil to smoke.
OR roast in oven 375 degrees for about 30 – 40 min till browned. You will know they’re done after sampling one or two (or five).
Drop cooked meatballs into a pot of pasta sauce on a low simmer for at least 1 – 2 hours, depending on your taste preference. (Greg uses a Crock Pot so there is no possibility of burning as they slow cook in the ‘sauce.’)
Let me know how your Meatballs turned out in the comments below,
and if you have a Nonna recipe you might like to share !!