Bravo Franco’s patrons applaud ‘Americanized Italian’ fare |

Bravo Franco’s patrons applaud ‘Americanized Italian’ fare

Pete Lauterbach literally has gone from kitchen rags to riches.

He started his career washing dishes for the chef who would become his mentor — Franco D’Amico — and now, Lauterbach is co-owner and executive chef for Bravo Franco Ristorante, one of the upscale Pittsburgh-area restaurants that D’Amico, now retired, once owned.

“Franco was that guy that inspired me. He just did such a great job with his type of cooking,” says Lauterbach, 36, of Upper St. Clair, who owns the restaurant with business partner Michelle Sabatini and brother Mark Lauterbach. There are seven others on the cooking staff. “I tried to learn everything from (D’Amico) — he’s taught me so much.”

Bravo Franco, a Downtown restaurant that seats about 95, has been on Penn Avenue across from Heinz Hall since 1986. At one point it was called Harry G’s for a few years in the ’90s because of an ownership change.

Lauterbach took over about six years ago, and the restaurant has thrived with its prime location and Italian-American cuisine.

The menu has both northern and southern Italian dishes, with all kinds of pasta and sauce to mix and match: rigatoni in tomato basil sauce, spaghetti in meat sauce or fettuccine Alfredo, for example. Other pasta dishes are more exotic: pappardelle bosciola with wild mushrooms and a sherry cream sauce, and our featured dish — Linguine Pescatoria with red or white sauce, an entree that contains five kinds of shellfish over a bed of linguine with a creamy sauce.

The restaurant also offers many cuts of meat and seafood (minus the pasta), hence the “Americanized Italian food” Lauterbach describes. There are New York strip and porterhouse steaks, filet mignon, numerous veal dishes, broiled lobster tail, surf and turf, swordfish and tuna steaks, shrimp dishes, and several chicken dishes, including chicken parmigiana and chicken marsala.

Food vendors along Pittsburgh’s Strip District are Bravo Franco’s main suppliers. Every day, Lauterbach heads there to get the day’s supply of fish, and he restocks his pasta supply once a week from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.

“Ingredients should be fresh — the quality of the ingredients are going to make or break your dish,” says Lauterbach, who earned his culinary credentials at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. He had several stints as an executive chef before coming to Bravo Franco. “That’s what we do here. We don’t skimp on the expenses. We stick with the best possible ingredients.”

With its location across the street from Heinz Hall, Bravo Franco attracts mobs of theatergoers. This creates a “dysfunctional dining” situation, Lauterbach explains, because many folks make their reservations at the restaurant on production nights, show up late and then scramble to eat dinner and make the show on time. Some leave without ever eating, he adds.

Restaurant managers recommend making reservations at least a week in advance of big Heinz Hall shows — and, of course, to be punctual. If you go by for a drink at Bravo Franco’s bar afterward, you just might run into some of the performers, who have been known to hang out there. Ball players also have wined and dined at the restaurant, Lauterbach says.

Linguine Pescatoria with
Tomato Basil Sauce

Dry scallops have not been soaked in water or a phosphate solution, which increases the volume and lightens the color but diminishes the flavor. Look for dry scallops at fish specialty stores. Mirepoix is a mixture of diced fresh celery, carrots and onions.

2 ounces blended oil (olive and corn oils)2 cloves garlic, minced2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil1 green onion, chopped2 pinches of crushed red pepper2 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined5 whole dry sea scallops (20 to 30 count)5 blue Maine mussels in the shells, scrubbed and rinsed6 littleneck clams in the shells, scrubbed and rinsed2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) cleaned fresh calamari (squid)3 ounces white wineTomato Basil Sauce (recipe follows)4 ounces linguine, cooked to al dente

Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the parsley, basil, green onion and crushed red pepper, and saute for 30 seconds.

Add the shrimp and scallops first, then add the mussels, clams and calamari and cook over medium high heat until halfway done, about 21/2 to 3 minutes. Add the white wine to the skillet to deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom.

Add 1/2 cup Tomato Basil Sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes, until the shellfish is firm. Serve the sauce over the linguine.

Makes 1 to 2 servings.

Tomato Basil Sauce

  • 8 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 ounces (1/4 cup) blended oil (olive and corn oils)
  • 4 cups mirepoix (diced celery, carrots, onions)
  • 4 (28 ounces each) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 (6 ounces each) cans tomato paste
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) whole butter or margarine
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

Saute the garlic in olive oil until golden brown. Add the diced vegetables and saute until brown. Add the whole tomatoes and bring to a boil.

Add the tomato paste and reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering. Add the basil, butter, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently.

Additional Information:

More Information

Bravo Franco Ristorante, 613 Penn Ave., Downtown, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Typically, it is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Sundays, but hours will vary. Details: (412) 642-6677.

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