Mad about gelato – Frozen treat differs from American-style ice cream in texture and its intense flavor

cheryl-gelatoLiz Rogers, Observer Reporter- May, 2013

Cheryl Martin is mad for gelato, or “Italian ice cream.”

So much so, in fact, that the pastry chef traveled to Italy earlier this year with the gelato guru himself, Malcolm Stogo, founder of Ice Cream University and renowned expert on all things frozen.

There, she visited the world’s largest gelato trade show in Rimini, and brought back new ways to wow fellow gelato junkies at Angelo’s Restaurant, where owner Michael Passalacqua considers her to be a gelato genius.

“Cheryl is almost a mad scientist,” he said over a couple of scoops of their two top sellers, Death by Chocolate – chocolate gelato with brownies, miniature chocolate chips and chocolate fudge – and Dangerous Stuff – vanilla gelato with walnuts, almonds, white-milk-dark chocolate and locally produced Toffee House toffee.

She enjoys dabbling with different flavors and add-ins, and at the time of our interview, was working on a new five-inch gelato cake that since has become quite popular with customers. She also was experimenting with heart-shaped gelato pops created from molds she picked up in Italy.

Cheryl had the privilege of making gelato from scratch at a workshop at one of Italy’s finest gelaterias – or gelato cafés – La Sorbetteria in Bologna.

But by far the best thing she brought back was the knowledge that the gelato being dished up at Angelo’s is every bit as authentic as the gelato she sampled in Italy’s ubiquitous gelaterias.

“It was confirmation for me that the gelato I’m making here is truly gelato,” she said.

Gelato often is mistakenly referred to as ice cream, but its flavor profiles are distinctly different as a result of three factors: fat, air and serving temperature.

American-style ice cream, as it is sometimes called, is made with heavy cream and whole milk, and contains a minimum of 10 percent butterfat, while gelato typically contains 3 to 10 percent butterfat because it is made with whole milk.

Air, or overrun, is whipped into ice cream, and is aided by the high proportion of cream in its base. High-quality ice creams have about 25 percent air, while cheaper commercial versions contain between 50 and 90 percent air. Gelato, on the other hand, is churned at a much slower speed, resulting in little air and, consequently, a denser, softer texture.

For optimal flavor and texture, gelato is served at 10 degrees. Any lower, and it loses that desirable soft-mouth feel and intense flavor. Ice cream, in contrast, is stored at between 5 degrees below zero and zero.

Nutrition-wise, gelato contains less fat than ice cream, resulting in fewer calories. However, diet-conscious beware: Additional ingredients, such as chocolate chips, toffee, caramel or fudge, will drive up those fat and calorie numbers.

A few bites into the interview, it’s revealed that while commerically made gelato is readily available locally, Angelo’s is the only restaurant in the Washington area making its own, marketed as Mia Zia’s, or “my aunt’s,” Italian ice cream. Cheryl creates every batch at Angelo’s using fresh ingredients (with the exception of the flavor paste) and a gelato freezer that sits behind the dipping cabinet at the restaurant.

“In our region, it is just still an untapped market,” Passalacqua said. “People just don’t know about it.”

Despite being advised against it, Passalacqua decided to incorporate a gelato café into his building plans when he moved the restaurant to its current location near Consol Energy Park in North Franklin Township in 2008.

He’s glad he didn’t listen to his detractors.

“My basic idea was that it’s Italian, it’s different, and nobody else has it,” Passalacqua said. “I knew it would be very popular with children. It really has helped embrace the young family business as well as grow another generation of young Angelo’s guests.

“I think we’re now about to hit stride.”

Owner of Angelo’s named Pa. Restaurateur of the Year for 2009

Michael Bradwell , The Observer Reporter – November, 2009

The Pennsylvania Restaurant Association has named Michael Passalacqua of Angelo’s Restaurant in Washington as the 2009 Restaurateur of the Year.

According to a press release from the PRA, the prestigious award was presented in recognition of Passalacqua’s excellence in the culinary arts and for his generous contributions and service to the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and the restaurant industry.

Angelo’s was founded in 1939 on West Chestnut Street by Passalacqua’s grandparents, Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua. The family tradition was passed on to his parents, who ran the restaurant for 42 years. In 1992 Angelo’s moved into its third generation when Michael Passalacqua became sole proprietor.

The restaurant celebrated its 70th anniversary in March at its new location at 2109 North Franklin Drive in the Washington Square development adjacent to Washington Crown Center.

The new 5,600-square-foot site, which features a main dining room as well as a separate bar with additional dining space, separate kitchens for meal preparation and catering, also added three smaller dining rooms for private parties.

Passalacqua, who received the award Nov. 1 during PRA’s 72nd annual Awards and Installation Dinner in Harrisburg, said last week that he was humbled by the award, especially in a struggling economy.

“I said in my acceptance speech that right now anybody who’s got the key to the front door of a restaurant deserves to be restaurateur of the year,” he said. “We live in a part of the country where the hurt is a bit less than other parts. How would you like to be running a restaurant in Detroit or in parts of Florida where entire subdivisions have closed down?”

Passalacqua joined the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association in 1992 and has since served as a Western Chapter President and state chairman. He continues to be involved with the PRA on several levels.

In presenting the award, PRA member Ray Hottenstein noted that Passalacqua has done many things for his community over the years. He has raised more than $40,000 for muscular sclerosis in the MS150 bike ride. He has also been instrumental in raising $35,000 for the Washington Hospital Foundation, where he is an active board member. He also feeds the needy every Thanksgiving.

Copyright Observer Publishing Co.

David Templeton’s Seldom Seen: A feast where you’d want it

nov2004David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post Gazette – November, 2004

News reports that Michael Passalacqua watched in 1993 showed shelters, churches and community centers serving Thanksgiving dinners to the indigent.

And while these dinners reflected noble efforts to feed multitudes of homeless folks, it left him feeling twinges of despair to see volunteers ladling turkey glop onto paper plates for the homeless to eat with plastic utensils.

Happy Thanksgiving.

It made him wonder: Why shouldn’t these people have one day a year when waiters and waitresses serve them high cuisine with all amenities and ambiance of fine dining?

Those news reports were an inspiration to Passalacqua.

As owner of Angelo’s Restaurant, 955 W. Chestnut St., Washington, he called Washington City Mission and other social service agencies and worked out plans to serve a Thanksgiving feast inside his restaurant to the homeless, needy and downtrodden.

It was a novel idea a decade ago, as it is today, to treat the needy as one would upper-crust patrons. But the idea caught on.

Passalacqua, City Mission and other service agencies will serve their 10th annual banquet to as many as 400 people in Angelo’s Restaurant from 1 to 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

City Mission provides and cooks the food. The Spring House restaurant in North Strabane and Krency’s Bakery in Washington donate baked goods. Other people and businesses donate turkeys, and Passalacqua’s customers have chipped in $400.

Once the food is prepared at the City Mission, it’s taken to Angelo’s where his cooks give it that restaurant flair. It’s served buffet-style, inside the restaurant while a wait staff of volunteers serves drinks and desserts.

This year, Kathleen Belack, of Peters, and her family are preparing 24 table centerpieces.

The only thing lacking is a check at meal’s end.

The result is arguably the finest dinner served to the homeless, downtrodden and working poor in the region, if not the nation. It’s one of a kind, organizers say.

David Dunn, Washington City Mission director of development, said none of the 290 members of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, which will serve a half million Thanksgiving meals, rivals the local plan, which unites local social service agencies to serve a veritable feast to the needy at a premiere restaurant.

“To see the smiles on people’s faces who sit down and relax in an environment that’s nonthreatening is a wonderful thing for the community,” he said.

So many people volunteer to help that City Mission officials recruit them for other mission projects. The dinner does require 50 volunteers to transport people to the restaurant on shuttle buses and serve as waiters, cooks and coordinators.

But after 10 years, volunteers have reduced it to culinary science. It takes about 10 hours of preparation before the feast is served. Then for a heart-warming, belly-bulging four hours, people dine on sumptuous food and experience some holiday high life.

“They eat a lot of food,” Passalacqua said. “They pile it up and put it away.” Some diners get a bit carried away and ask for a beer, he said. “That’s been tried once or twice.” No alcoholic drinks are served. But that’s the only restriction.

Passalacqua said volunteers enjoy the experience and usually return each year.

“There’s always someone here whose life situation is so adverse I can’t help but think about them,” he said, noting the time they had to put one disabled guest’s dinner into a blender so he could eat it.

“It’s the old adage, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Most of us on a daily basis don’t come into contact with people with emotional or physical problems or people who sleep in the streets.” When Thanksgiving dinner is served at a fancy restaurant, confusion can occur.

One year, Passalacqua noticed people lined up for the buffet wearing tweeds, khakis and designer shirts, but he was too busy to investigate. After the people had eaten dinner and had dessert, Passalacqua greeted them. That’s when they asked for the check.

As it turned out, they had stopped at Angelo’s, thinking it was open for business, got in line, ate their meals and had a grand time. Told it was a dinner for the needy, the embarrassed diners donated $75 to the cause before heading home with full bellies, good spirits and a grand tale to tell friends and relatives.

It’s Passalacqua’s favorite Thanksgiving story.

“Anyone who shows up, we’ll feed,” he said, noting most people sign up through social service agencies.

Another favorite story occurred when a teenage volunteer took time to dine with an elderly lady who lived alone and was eating alone in Angelo’s. The two ate together and had a long talk about their lives. It proved to be a surreal moment for both, displaying how the dinner can have a profound impact on volunteers and diners alike. The number of people served at Angelo’s fluctuates, but about 3,000 have eaten there since the feast began in 1994. The annual count ranges from 300 to 600, with plans this year to serve about 400.

That will require 200 pounds of turkey, 75 pounds of mashed potatoes and 400 pieces of pie.

After guests fill their plates in the buffet line and take a seat at a table, waitresses and waiters serve them non-alcoholic drinks of their choosing. Waiters come by afterward with trays of desserts from which each can choose. Some choose two.

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving.

“The dessert just flies,” Passalacqua said. But how can a classy Italian restaurant offer a turkey dinner without Italian fare? With that in mind, he’ll serve Angelo’s style penne pasta with sauce this year.

His grandparents, Angelo and Giacomina, opened a tavern at the location in 1939, and it was a favorite hangout for glass and steel plant workers. In time, the Passalacquas began serving spaghetti and Italian bread, and named their restaurant The West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn.

After Angelo died in 1953, and Giacomina retired in 1958, Passalacqua’s father and aunt took charge, changing the name to Angelo’s in their father’s honor and expanding the menu.

When Passalacqua began working with his parents, he served even more inventive Italian cuisine. Today, Angelo’s offers lunch and dinner, and, he says, the restaurant business is strong after surviving a bad economy.

But the feast has nothing to do with business and everything to do with making people — volunteers and diners alike — feel physically, psychologically and emotionally fulfilled.

“It’s wonderful food and a great day,” Passalacqua said. “It does the trick of making you thankful for your blessings, and convinces you not to whine and moan over silly stuff.

“It’s a humbling day.”

Passalacqua’s plate is full as head of Pa. restaurant lobby

Michael Bradwell , The Observer Reporter – November, 2002

It’s a midweek afternoon at Angelo’s Restaurant, and several members of the staff pass through the empty bar carrying equipment they’re moving from one part of the kitchen to another, preparing for the dinner crowd that will begin arriving in a few hours.

Not long ago, the wait staff would have been clearing tables from lunch in the adjacent dining room, but owner Michael Passalacqua ended his lunch service earlier this fall, citing a lack of business.

Sitting at the bar with a cup of coffee, Passalacqua, 48, who earlier this month became president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, said the decision to become a dinner-only restaurant was due to a number of reasons.

“Angelo’s cut lunch service because of the economy, competition from the growing number of chain restaurants in the area, and the erosion of its traditional lunchtime customer base,” he said.

Passalacqua quickly rattles off the companies that have either moved from downtown or have curtailed operations here over the last several years. He noted that a large portion of that steady stream of repeat lunchtime customers came from businesses at Millcraft Center, several blocks up Chestnut Street, including Millcraft, Bailey Engineers, Polycom Huntsman and Fairmont Supply. Other faithful customers came from Allegheny Ludlum’s Jessop plant and the now-defunct Findlay Refractories.

While the challenges he faces in running a small, independent, “white tablecloth” restaurant stem primarily from his immediate service area, they also mirror those in other establishments and make him highly qualified to take on the leading role at PRA for the next year.

As head of the state’s largest food and beverage lobby, Passalacqua represents nearly 25,000 restaurants and directly serves 1,500 members of the 63-year-old organization. According to the PRA, the hospitality industry is the second-largest employer in Pennsylvania behind the health care industry. The food and beverage segment of the hospitality industry employs more than 326,000 people and projects 2002 sales of $12.9 billion.

“But it’s an ailing industry,” Passalacqua said, noting that many restaurants haven’t recovered from the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the slumping economy of the past year. While more Americans are spending more of their discretionary income on meals prepared outside the home, they also have a lot more choices, which in addition to local restaurants like Angelo’s, include fast-food franchises and theme-based chains.

Passalacqua said he doesn’t blame all of his problems on the growth of chain restaurants, adding that many of them are members of PRA. But with large national advertising budgets, they make formidable competitors for any locally based, independent restaurant operator.

“I think they’re an asset to the community here, but you have to fight for your own share of the turf,” he said.

On a regional and statewide level, he said, restaurants of all types share a number of challenges.

According to Passalacqua, restaurants account for 28 percent of the state’s sale of alcoholic beverages, which is regulated by the state Liquor Control Board. Restaurant operators who are licensed to sell liquor receive a 7 percent discount on their bulk purchases, but after the state adds its 6 percent sales tax, the discount is reduced to a nominal 1 percent, he said. In Allegheny and Philadelphia counties, which levy an additional 1 percent sales tax, the restaurant discount for liquor evaporates completely. What really rankles most restaurant owners, Passalacqua said, is the PLCB’s idea of service to its best customers. “As a business, you wouldn’t strike a deal with a purveyor who didn’t deliver, didn’t discount and offered no type of payment terms,” he said, adding that once a restaurateur places an order for liquor, it’s up to him to pick it up at the state store, which requires immediate payment. The PRA is behind a House bill that seeks to increase the discount rate for licensed restaurants from 7 to 18 percent. But with the state’s current budget deficit, Passalacqua said, “they probably won’t give us a big discount.” He added that the extra savings could become critical for his members in downtown Pittsburgh. Those operators could see their profit margins shrink further if the city moves ahead with a proposal to impose a 10 percent tax on drinks served in restaurants and bars. The city also is mulling an additional one-half percent “employer only” payroll tax on downtown businesses, many of which are restaurants, he said. A similar tax is already in effect in Philadelphia. With construction of the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center preventing the city from hosting conventions, the fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a weak economy, “it’s been a miserable two years for the restaurant industry,” Passalacqua said.

There is another way of achieving the liquor discount that wouldn’t come out of the PLCB’s coffers and could benefit both commercial and retail customers. It, too, would require legislative action.

Passalacqua noted that the state continues to impose an 18 percent tax on alcohol as a result of an emergency funding measure enacted in 1939 to help pay for the clean up of the Johnstown Flood.

Despite the discount issues, Passalacqua noted that the relationship between the PRA and PLCB has never been better. He noted that his group has begun holding monthly meetings with PLCB Chairman Jonathan Newman, “who’s trying to run the PLCB like a business.” He added that the restaurant association is backing a move to open some state stores on Sundays.

The Legislature could vote as early as Monday to open a limited number of stores on Sundays. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 in Philadelphia, representing 1,500 state store employees, is in favor of the move. However, Local 23 of the union, based in Canonsburg, and representing clerks in Southwestern Pennsylvania, opposes the idea.

Passalacqua said the association also is keeping an eye on an issue related to sanitation standards for the food service industry. He said a bill has surfaced “with a lot of support” that would exempt nonprofit entities like fire halls that serve food on an occasional basis from becoming certified in food sanitation.

Restaurant operators and many of their employees take a two-day training course in sanitation procedures administered by the state Department of Agriculture. After taking a test, the employees earn certification. He said the PRA believes that anyone serving food to the public should be required to earn the certification.

Using Your Noodle – Local restaurateur shares tips for perfect pasta

michael2Liz Rogers, The Observer-Reporter – October, 2002

Michael Passalacqua makes no bones about his culinary training.

“I’m not a chef,” he declares while assembling the ingredients for his marinara. “I’ve never baked bread from scratch. But I do know how to make a sauce or two.”

His opening line draws smiles and chuckles from the 40 or so folks attending Septembers Healthy Weigh cooking class at the Cameron Wellness Center. They are here to learn the secret to making great pasta, the kind dished up daily at Angelo’s Restaurant in Washington.

Passalacqua may not be the product of a prestigious cooking school, but as the owner of Angelo’s he knows a thing or two about Italian food.

And he can cook it, too.

Passalacqua elaborated later in a telephone interview, attributing his culinary know-how to the years he spent growing up in the West Chestnut Street restaurant, started in 1939 by his grandparents, Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua.

“You watch, observe, and if your around it enough, you feed off it,” he said. He picked up a bit from the cooks who worked there, and eventually became a pinch-hitter in “emergency situations.”

“I always like to say, if you come in here and see me with a white coat on, it’s a really bad day,” he said with a good-natured laugh. “That means about three people didn’t show up for work.”

On a couple of butane-powered hot plates in the conference room’s makeshift kitchen, Passalacqua whipped up with amazing ease several of the trademark dishes that have made his West Chestnut Street landmark so popular: Pasta Lacqua, Pasta Patricia, Pasta Colonna, and Pasta Primavera.

Best of all, he shared his recipes.

“This marinara is very, very simple to make,” Passalacqua said as he demonstrated the first of five dishes of the evening. “Anyone can make it at home in less than an hour.”

The affable restaurateur shared cooking tips and his picks on everything from cookware to brand of tomatoes. All the while, he bantered with resident nutrition counselor Nicolle Bazant, who chimed in every now and then with nutrition reminders. This was, after all, a class on creating healthy food.

Bazant suggested substituting margarine for the butter called for in some of the recipes.

Passalacqua conceded.

“Is pasta going to make you heavy? She poses a little later. “Is it going to make you plump?”

Moderation is important. Bazant said a normal serving of pasta is one cup, which amounts to only about 60 calories.

“Typically, we’re getting a half-pound serving when we eat out. The portions are just too big,” she said outside the class.

Pasta is low in fat, cholesterol, and high in complex carbohydrates, protein, B vitamins, and iron. Rich in Vitamin A, lycopene, and lutein, most tomato-based sauces are low in calories. But beware of commercially prepared sauces, which are high in sodium. Bazant suggested creating sauce from tomatoes containing little or no salt. Instead of adding salt, use a spice such as celery seed or the herb lemon grass, both of which offer the flavor without sodium.

Passalacqua and Bazant were divided when it came to the subject of rinsing pasta.

From a culinary standpoint, Passalacqua advocates the practice, as it stops the pasta from cooking and prevents clumping.

Nutrition-wise, skipping the rinse retains complex carbohydrates, Bazant said. Some cooks who opt to rinse save the pasta water to reuse for stock: The starch proves useful as a thickening agent. Some use the water to steam vegetables.

As for the marinara recipe’s 6 ounces of oil, Passalacqua said health conscious cooks certainly could use less without affecting the result. Simply add more tomatoes or water and cook longer.

As he sautéed garlic in the oil for the marinara, Passalacqua shared a few tips.

“Cook the garlic till golden and it becomes very pungent,” he said. If the garlic is overcooked, the sauce will lose that layer of flavor.

“Marinara should be meaty, meaning thick from tomatoes,” he continued. “Good brands of canned tomatoes are Contadina, Hunt’s, and Furmano. Don’t buy reconstituted tomatoes. You want whole tomatoes with texture, not ground or pureed. At the restaurant, we run plum tomatoes through a processor. At home, I smash them with my hands.”

As the marinara simmered, Passalacqua turned to the sauté dishes, starting with Pasta Lacqua, developed by his sister, Tonne, while she was the executive chef at Angelo’s.

“I consider myself a lazy cook,” he said. “I like to make more than one thing in a skillet. Sauté is a simple way to cook a very nice dinner for your family. Once you understand the basics of sautéing, you can substitute the ingredients and make your own dishes.”

The procedure for all four of the sauté dishes he prepared is the same; only the ingredients change.

Sautéing green beans in butter, he lifted the nonstick skillet from the heat, deftly flipping the vegetables for even heating. At home, Passalacqua said he prefers to use nonstick cookware. “At the restaurant, we have dishwashers,” he joked.

“Don’t be afraid to lift the pan up off the heat to reduce the heat,” he said.

While the beans were hot but not soft, he added white wine to “shock” or slow cooking. The heat removes the alcohol while leaving behind the flavor of wine.

Next came the chicken stock – Passalacqua likes homemade or College Inn – and tomatoes, which were cooked down to sauce. To speed thickening, add cheese.

“It’s strictly up to you what you want to use in the sauté dishes,” he said. “Use whatever you have around.”

Cooked pasta was the final ingredient to be incorporated into the dish.

“When you cook pasta, try to cook al denté before you add to the mixture,” he said. “If it’s yellow, it’s still raw. When it whitens, it’s cooked.”

Passalacqua explained his readiness test for adding pasta to a sauté dish. “As soon as you can bend it without breaking, it’s ready. If you cook until it’s done and add it to the mixture, the pasta will be overdone.”

Pasta can be cooked ahead and refrigerated, he said. Cook to al dente and shock in cold water. Place in a plastic container with a little oil and chill immediately. It should be kept for several days.

Another pasta hint: When serving pasta with a marinara, place the pasta in a sauce pan with a little sauce to remove any traces of water.

“I haven’t been in a kitchen in a long time,” he admitted when the class ended. “I learned this side (of the business) because I had to. If I can do this, anybody can.”

Cajun Meets Italian-Pittsburgh Post Gazette Woodene Merriman

cajunmeetsWoodene Merriman, Weekend Mag – April, 1999

In a perfect world, the chef would have tossed my salad just before serving, I wouldn’t have ordered the roasted garlic, and the man at the next table would shut up.

But it isn’t a perfect world. And that guy’s droing on and on about his trip to Italy, many years ago. Everybody at his table looks bored, and so are we. What if His Honor wants to whisper sweet nothings into my ear? I’d never hear them.

For a few minutes, when the loud talker pauses to go to the rest room, Angelo’s has the happy hum of people chatting and laughing, and H.H. and I get to discuss the roasted elephant garlic. It needs something to make it more palatable – a little more olive oil, perhaps. The big roasted cloves are soft and spreadable, but not as sweet as we expected, and the toasted bread served with it is dry. Next time, we’ll go back to the Italian flatbread appetizer. It’s terrific.

And the poor salad: It has good ingredients – iceberg and other greens, olives, tomato, a little salami, a little cheese – but it was plated and held in the refrigerator. The salad lost some of its crispness in the chilling. Disappointing.

Angelo’s is a popular landmark in Washington. Originally it was the West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn, started in 1939 by Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua. At first it was a tavern, then Giacomina started serving her spaghetti and meatballs, Italian bread and fried shrimp. Eventually son Silvio and daughter Carmelina, their spouses and other members of the family ran the restaurant, which has been called Angelo’s since 1958. Now grandson Michael Passalacqua is the third generation in charge, and they’re celebrating 60 years in business in the same spot.

Angelo’s menu today is a mix of traditional (veal saltimbocca, fettucine Alfredo, chicken marsala) and contemporary (Heart Smart dishes for the health concious, original creations, and several Cajun dishes).

L.A. pasta, for example, tastes more Cajun than Italian. It is a very spicy, dark linguine dish with boneless blackened chicken pieces, sweet peppers and mushrooms, Cajun spices and a clam sauce. L.A., by the way, stands for Louisiana.

My favorite entree is Pasta Lacqua, which was created by Michael’s sister Tonne when she was at the restaurant. Fresh green beans and tomatoes area sauteed with garlic, white wine and Romano cheese and tossed over imported green and white fettucine. It’s a simple dish with great flavor. Must be the wine, H.H. says. Tonight we’re having the veal roast, served in a sea of very peppery, very good portabello mushroom sauce, and citrus sea bass, which comes on a bed of lightly deep-fried spinach. The thick cut of sea bass, moist and glistening white, actually tastes better than it looks. It’s topped with slices of lemon and lime, blackened around the edges from the hot oven. We can detect no citrus flavor, but it’s a nice piece of fish, cooked just right so it is not dry. Michael Passalacqua calls the menu “inventive regional cuisine”. One of the inventions is Italian flatbread served as an appetizer, the restaurant’s most popular appetizer. It’s an Italian dough, rolled very thin and baked with olive oil, oregano, fresh basil and garlic, then topped with thin slices of red tomato and grated Romano cheese. There are variations – you canhave it with prosciutto, roasted peppers and mozzarella cheese, and couple of other ways – but we like it plain, with just tomato and cheese. Nothing interferes with the flavor of the crisp, fresh baked flatbread. George Ward created the flatbread when he worked at Angelo’s. Now he has a restaurant of his own, Cafe Georgio’s in Bethel Park, and flatbread is one of the specialties. Everyone who has worked in the kitchen has influenced the menu, Michael says. Tonne introduced more veal and seafood to the lineup; Mark “Red” Rayner, who was chef for a time in the early ’80s, introduced the Cajun flavors. Rayner went on to start Cafe Allegro, and now is about to become a medical doctor, like so many others in his family. He graduates from medical school this spring. A penne dish is topped with portobello mushrooms sauteed with spinach and fresh tomatoes. Spinach sauteed with garlic and spices and tossed over linguine is called Pasta Colonna. Jim Colonna has been the chef at Angelo’s for eight years.

Many of the specialties are also avaliable at lunch, at acaled down prices. Pasta Lacqua is $11.95 at dinner, $7.95 at lunch. And every day there are three or four specials not on the menu.

H.H. likes the wine list. It has some 14 reds and 15 whites by the glass, flights of Chardonnay, merlot and Italian whites, and bottles ranging from $16 to $56. A typical bottle in the 1996 Frog’s Leap Chardonnay for $29. “Served too cold, as usual,” H.H. says, licking his lips.

Michael Passalacqua says he knows of no other restaurant in Washington County with as many wine selections. Can anyone challenge that statement?

Yours truly likes the desserts, epecially the faria walnut torte with whipped cream topping and the cheesecake. Both are made at the restaurant, and are not always on the dessert tray, we’ve found. The farina walnut torte has a bit of a crunch, and not too much whipped cream – a nice balance of flavors and texture. The excellent cheesecake has a chocolate glaze on top.

No, it’s not a perfect world, and Angelo’s isn’t a perfect restaurant. But they do a good job. And come to think of it, we haven’t found a perfect restaurant yet.

Amazing Angelo’s-Pittsburgh Magazine Ann Haigh


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.