Editor’s note: Have you ever wondered about the folks working behind the scenes at your favorite restaurant? Starting this month, we are getting up close and personal with area chefs and restauranteurs in our new series, “Dishin’ in the Kitchen.”
Anyone who’s met Angelo’s Restaurant owner Michael Passalacqua knows he’s a man with a passion for food. What you may not know is that he didn’t always work in the restaurant business. In fact, he has a background in law enforcement, and worked as a police officer at Kent State University prior to joining the family business started in 1939 by his grandparents, Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua. When he’s not running the restaurant, Michael can be found in his backyard cooking on his Big Green Egg, serving up food at charitable events, shooting photographs or concocting a new gelato flavor. Here’s some dishin’ in the kitchen with Michael Passalacqua.
Where do you go when you eat out?
My favorite restaurant, other than Angelo’s, is Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon. It is a very authentic Italian restaurant in that everything on the menu is Italian. The wine is Italian, the beer is Italian, the pop is Italian. It is just a little different take than who we are here.
What is your favorite dish to make at home?
It’s what I call Michael Chicken, on the Big Green Egg. Brine the chicken, put a little bit of garlic and rosemary on it, get the Big Green Egg to the exact 425-degree temperature. I put it in, breast-down, for one half-hour, turn them over for 15 more minutes, and in 45 minutes I have perfectly cooked, golden brown, crisp-on-the-outside, totally juicy, moist chicken on the inside. (I use) big, bone-in, Perdue chicken breasts.
Who or what inspired you to go into the restaurant business?
That’s a very good question for me. I was raised not to be in a restaurant business. My parents thought it was too hard and wanted us to do something else. I was a police officer in 1981. My dad called me and said he just bought my aunt and uncle out and did I want to come home and get in the restaurant business. I immediately said no. And then something went off in my stomach that wouldn’t leave me alone. So I changed my mind and quit and came back here. I was learning, tending bar and learning. And the way I learned more about the restaurant business more than anything else was by eating in other people’s restaurants. I went out to dinner every week to the best restaurant that I could possibly find back in those days. I went to what was called Piccolo Piccolo downtown, Ricos up on the North Side. I would just go to what I considered the best Italian restaurant and pick the brains of the people who ran it.
What is your go-to ingredient?
Sauce. You can do a million things with it.
Is your sauce the same at home as it at Angelo’s?
What dish best represents you?
Spaghetti and meatballs. It’s just 78 years worth of spaghetti and meatballs, and the best meatballs in the world, I might add. We don’t ever bake them. We roll them and put them in sauce, and they cook completely in sauce. We have a big tilt skillet back in the kitchen. It’s about as big as this table (gesturing to the tabletop at the booth where we are seated). And we put everything in it for the sauce. When the sauce is about halfway done, we put 240 meatballs in there. It does two things: One, it helps flavor the sauce, and it cooks the meatballs. Sometimes people will cut our meatballs open and they might see pink on the inside and think they’re raw. That’s the pork in the meatball being stained by the sauce going all the way through it.
What dish have you never made but would like to and why?
I’ve never baked a pie. I’ve never made a homemade pie. I’m not a pie eater, so I’ve never made a homemade pie. And it is a guilt thing because my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family was the greatest pie maker in the entire world. My grandmother worked for Stack’s cafeteria (once located on Main Street in downtown Washington) way back in the day, and she was the pie maker.
What kind of pie would you make?
What is your guilty food pleasure?
Gelato. I can’t keep it at home because if I do, I just eat it all. I’ll bring a quart home and eat the whole quart in one night if I have it at my house. Here, at least I only eat one scoop or so. But if I have it at home, and I’m sitting down watching television, more than likely the whole thing is gone.
What is your favorite flavor?
I switch things around, but my all-time favorite is peanut butter Oreo. It’s one of our best sellers, and it was sort of my invention.