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GETTING SALTY

Gourmet grocer Danielle Pattavina loves a good chicken pot pie and a spicy cream cheese bagel

Aims to open Momma’s in North Cambridge in January and, maybe someday, an old-fashioned soda fountain

Danielle Pattavina will open Momma's Grocery + Wine in early 2023.Handout

Danielle Pattavina, 39, will open Momma’s Grocery + Wine at 2304 Massachusetts Ave. in North Cambridge early next year, selling seasonal produce, an array of wines, and local ingredients designed for simple yet elegant meals. While the soon-to-open shop is carefully curated, Pattavina also relishes simple pleasures, like chicken pot pie and a good soda fountain.

Tell me about Momma’s.

Essentially, it’s a neighborhood spot. We’re not reinventing anything over there. I’ve worked in restaurants for over 20 years. I love food, and I love wine. So it’ll be those things, in a retail setting, with a significant wine section, focusing on natural wine. I’m still trying to figure out how to say this in a streamlined way! It’s like a convenience store for modern times, with things you want to eat for dinner that night or lunch that day.

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Take me on your food journey.

I won’t start before I was born, but OK. I grew up on the South Shore, actually. I’m the oldest of six kids, and I think, hence, we weren’t venturing out for a lot of food. We cooked at home all the time, and I grew up cooking, shopping with my dad. We would shop every day for the meal, and we would cook together a lot. It was nice. We used to go to Dorchester, Mattapan, Boston, Cambridge, and go to little shops. [We’d go to a] Greek grocer, Athena International in Brockton, and get meat, and then we’d go to a small Italian spot and get tomatoes and dried herbs, and then we’d go over to a cheese place.

My grandmother was really into diners and going out to little soda fountains, literally. I remember going to Decelle’s. I’m not from the 1930s, but I wish I could open a soda fountain. Maybe I will.

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When I turned 19, I moved to New York City, and then I worked in restaurants. I went to Hunter College. I didn’t really think you could have a career in a restaurant, because every example I’d seen was like, “Oh, you didn’t make it doing the thing you wanted, so you became a restaurant worker.” Whereas I was working in a restaurant [as a server] and really loved it. I’d finally found my thing.

I worked at Savoy for a while, which isn’t there anymore, but it was kind of like the first farm-to-table restaurant in New York. I worked at a diner in Brooklyn. I really held on to those jobs for years.

What drew you back to Boston?

I moved to Martha’s Vineyard to manage a restaurant out there called the Beach Plum and did that for some time. I wanted to open a restaurant in Boston, but it didn’t happen, but I had great jobs at Island Creek and Rebel Rebel. I worked at a whiskey bar in East Boston called The Quiet Few.

And then my friend called me, I think it was February 2020, and she was a little tipsy. She said, “I just had a chat with somebody at a bar, and I want to open a restaurant with you in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.” I went out the next weekend, we signed a lease, and then the pandemic hit. We decided to go through with it. The restaurant was called Seaweed’s, and we actually had a great run for two years. It was locally sourced, really painstakingly locally sourced from the island, and natural wine.

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And that’s what kind of spun into Momma’s. ‘OK: I’m 39. Working on my feet is hard. But I still want to be in touch with food and wine. How can I do that in a way that’s easy on my body and accessible?’ Because Martha’s Vineyard is an island, the price point that we were at was crazy. I wanted to have a shop where I could source yummy foods and wines, and people could come in and buy them and have them that day, not save up.

Why’s it called Momma’s?

I love the name. I don’t know. It’s a throwback. To what, I don’t know. I’m a non-binary person. I’m not trying to apply gender to things. But it feels fitting to me. It just was the name that popped up and kind of stuck.

What are some of the highlights?

I love German and Austrian wine. And that’s the hardest thing to find at a shop. So there’ll be a lot of German and Austrian wine, and there’s more than Riesling.

At the end of the pandemic, I bought a house in Vermont, and that opened up access to food, to regionally made products on a really small scale. So those items will be in the shop. Not just maple syrup; maybe tamales. It’s crazy how many small producers are up there. We have fantastic access to food, kind of this conduit between Massachusetts through Vermont, that my eyes weren’t open to and that I don’t feel is represented where we live. And then, you know, taper candles and things you need or want for a meal that night: seasonal specialty produce from Golden Russet Farm, Red Wagon Farm herbs, Earth Sky Time Farm veggie burgers.

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It seems like North Cambridge is taking off, food-wise.

I hope so. Yeah, I’ve lived there for a while. Six years. It’s kind of sleepy and quiet, but I know all my neighbors. When I moved to Cambridge, I felt like I’d finally found my home.

For example, when I applied for the liquor license, the commissioner was like: “Thank you for the letters! You can tell them to stop. We have so many more than we’ve ever seen!”

What are your favorite local restaurants?

I love Cicada. They’re super. We did a pop-up with them at Seaweed’s, actually, and we had a very fun party. And they made amazing food, so now I love to eat there. And I cannot stop eating Bagelsaurus bagels. My partner and I go at least once a week, and we always get the exact same thing: eggspañola, then hot smoked salmon, and we sub out with spicy cream cheese on an onion bagel. You’ve got to get the spicy cream cheese.

I also will drive far to go to a farm stand. Clover Luck Farm in Pepperell is a great spot, kind of like going to the hot new restaurant. For a splurge, I was ordering Washoku Renaissance sushi. Judy’s Bay is so good, too. And I cook at home all the time, because I’m that person who goes to the farmers’ market and buys everything: the escarole, and the radicchio, and the kale.

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Which restaurants from the past do you really miss?

That soda counter at Decelle’s (I think) — but maybe I just miss my grandmother and wish we could share a meal again. I desperately miss Tuesday queer night at Zuzu and dining in at Cafe Sushi, especially around the holidays.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure food?

During the pandemic, something that kind of stuck is making chicken pot pie at home. It should take a lot of steps. You can kind of make it all year long. More often than not, I would eat just the filling before I was able to get the crust on it. … In fact, I made just that last night. Just the filling. I never got to the crust.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.