Ann Haigh, Pittsburgh Magazine – March, 1999
Happy 60th anniversary to Angelo’s Restaurant in “Little” Washington. What started as a small tavern opened by Angelo Passalacqua and his brother Carmel in March 1939, has evolved over the years into a thriving full-service restaurant – proud of its roots but attuned to current trends in food, service and management.
Though expanded and oft-refurbished, it remains in the same, now 100-year-old building where it began. And current owner Michael Passalacqua, Angelo’s grandson, represents the third generation of the family to run the business. The restaurant has a rich history, paralleling the ups and downs of its hometown as well as changes in the Passalacqua family. Read some of it on the back of the menu, and browse through the family photos on the wall.
To the right of the entrance atrium, a livley bar stocks everything from beer to small-batch bourbons and grappa. To the left, portraits of Michael’s grandparents preside over the sociable dining room. A lot of talking and mingling surrounds eating at Angelo’s. Servers readily smile. But don’t mistake effusive friendliness for inept service. The staff is well-trained and geared to total customer accomodation. Sophisticated management and contemporary tastes five this restaurant a winning edge.
The wine liste, while not huge, reflects thoughtful construction and is particularly strong in Italian reds. Also, choices of wines by the glass surpass expectations.
Angelo’s specializes in regional Italian cuisine. What it does, it does well. For most of its life, the restaurant ran successfully as a family spaghetti house. But changing tastes in the marketplace in the late ’70s sent business into decline. In 1981, Michael and his sister, Tonne, came home to turn things around. Tonne immediately lightened and freshened the menu. Then chef Allegro, came aboard and cast a new, more modern course for Angelo’s.
Traditionalist can still order spaghetti, lasagna, meatballs, red sauce, fettucine Alfredo and other vintage dishes. Actually, the meatballs, cooked in sauce, are lean yet moist, and the creamy Italian salad dressing, a 40-year-old recipe, is excellent – just don’t tell your cardiologist.
A must for a starter – ethereally light flatbread dough flavored by olive oil, oregano, fresh basil and garlic – supports a number of tasty toppings. Try sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and Fontinella. Mellow out with creamy, olive-oil-roasted elephant garlic spread on bruschetta. Calamari alla Angelo sautes calamari rings with roasted red peppers, black beans, artichoke hearts, red onion, garlic and fresh basil. When the seasoning is on target, this dish is terrific. The Italian sampler offers a pleasant, if predictable, antipasto of olives, fresh tomato, prosciutto, artichoke hearts and Mozzarella doused with olive oil.
Pasta possibilities seem endless. Some are inventive, others overladen with ingredients, including pervasive cheeses. At the most basic end, don’t miss al dente angel hair with a well-mastered marinara sauce. Unique, though seasonal, pasta lacqua tosses homemade fettucine with sauted fresh green beans, tomatoes, garlic, white wine and Romano cheeze. Other favorites include: pasta Patricia (chicken sauted with hot peppers, black beans, black olives, garlic and fresh basil, tossed with cavatappi pasta and Fontinella) and pasta Silvio(bay scallops sauted with mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, garlic, basil and oregano, tossed with Gorgonzola and linguine). Veal dishes boast premium meat and homemade-from-scratch stocks and sauces. The pinnacle plate is veal roast in a portobello mushroom sauce, where honest flavors shine. Pork turns opulent in a rack stuffed with spinach, Feta and roasted red peppers, topped by garlic Romano sauce. The menu is constantly evolving, with more fresh fish and chicken dishes gaining ground. Recommended seafood for the lean-minded are: baked sea bass on a bed of spinach, topped with orange and lemon slices, and grilled salmon, blackened or herb-seasoned. While not a marked heart-healthy selection, chicken sauted with portobello mushrooms, roasted red-peppers, spinach and garlic, topped by Fontinella Cheese, goes down with delicious ease. Pasta entrees include a salad, bread and butter. All other entrees also include a side dish. Some desserts are made in-house, others bought. Choose either the homemade farina walnut torte – not too sweet and with an appealing texture – or the signature mascarpone cheesecake that contrasts bittersweet chocolate with that distinctively suave cheese. The purchased tiramisu is also surprisingly good, but avoid the preposterous, soggy profiteroles.