For Ryan DePersio and his Italian family, Sunday was the golden day of the week.
“We would eat like people would on a holiday, but every Sunday,” says the chef/owner of Montclair’s Fascino, one of New Jersey Monthly’s best restaurants of 2022. The “huge spread of food” his family enjoyed was lovingly cooked by his grandparents. “We ate at their house every Sunday up until I was about 25 years old,” he says.
DePersio’s grandfather died in 2022, 10 years after his grandmother, and DePersio reflected often on their influence.
“My job is something I love and enjoy,” he says. “It’s all because of them.”
This month, Fascino is paying homage to his Sunday-dinner roots. Rosie’s Rustico, named for DePersio’s maternal grandmother, is a month-long pop-up at Fascino with an Italian menu that taps into his grandparents’ cooking.
The pop-up is an homage to the past, but for DePersio’s patrons, it’s also something new—and features fun twists. Meatballs, for example, were always on the Sunday table, but DePersio makes his version with Wagyu beef.
“If this [pop-up] is something Montclair is looking for,” teases DePersio, “then this may be something I can make happen in more than just January.”
Have you ever done a pop-up like this?
Ryan DePersio: This is the first time! It’s been on my mind for a little bit. I used to have a restaurant called Bar Cara that served more casual Italian food. I missed that style of cooking. Fascino is for sure a celebration restaurant, so we also wanted to make the pop-up a little more approachable for people. It’s easy for families to come in with the kids and enjoy a simple meal. We just want people to come in and let us take care of you.
Does the menu include some of your grandmother’s dishes?
It’s a mix of dishes my grandmother made every Sunday, but also dishes that she thoroughly enjoyed when we went out to restaurants together. My grandparents loved very traditional Italian restaurants. They made meatballs every Sunday, so they are on the menu.
My grandparents always served a seafood salad on Sundays. We are doing a mixed seafood salad, called insalata di mare. A lot of the dishes are simple and as fresh as possible.
One dish staying on the menu is Fascino’s most popular dish, and it’s an homage to my grandfather. He made potato gnocchi 80 percent of the Sundays we got together. When we first opened Fascino in 2003, I made a ricotta gnocchi, because sometimes the potato gnocchi was a bit too heavy for me. Once we put it on the menu, it became the biggest hit and is on all the menus at all my restaurants.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
My grandmother loved making lasagna. One dish I am really excited about making is lasagna rotolo. You make sheets of pasta and instead of layering them, you lay the filling and roll it like a pinwheel. Then you cut it into circles and bake it like a lasagna. It will be served with whipped ricotta and basil pesto.
What did you learn from your grandparents in the kitchen?
Between them and my mother, they are the only reason why I am in the position I’m in. They had such a love for cooking that I got into it. My mother was a recipe developer for women’s magazines, and I learned to cook when I was like 10 years old. I was always heavily involved with them.