Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
Bourbon House 45 - Warren, OH
Having my father, Dutch, lift me into a barstool at the former Sabella’s bar and pizzeria in downtown Sharpsville is one of my most pleasant childhood memories. I truly enjoyed doing that a few times with dad and his adult male buddies.
While the adults downed a few beers and did their guy-talk thing, I listened, minded my own business, downed a few sodas, and simply felt very cool. Cool was a popular term even back in the day more than 50 years ago.
An infant sitting at a bar with his father and other adults today would probably result in a few dozen people being carted off to jail. But that’s another story.
Sometimes back then I imagined myself as a grownup. What would I be doing in the next 20, 30, or 40 years? Maybe becoming a professional athlete was in the stars. Or maybe I’d become a FBI agent, astronaut, or foreign diplomat. I was quite a dreamer.
It was beyond my imagination that I would someday enjoy high-quality cuisine in that bar area and adjoining rooms in what today is Muscarella’s Cafe Italia. Yes, first-rate pasta, seafood, steaks, soups, pizza, local beers and wines, and sandwiches in beautiful downtown Sharpsville.
Branzino is Muscarella’s favorite dish for my wife, Mary Michael, and I. No, branzino isn’t one of the Corleone brothers in The Godfather trilogy. Branzino is a European sea bass, highly regarded as a table fish, and sometimes known as Mediterranean sea bass, robalo, lubina, branzino, or bronzino.
Branzino is on a very short list of dishes in any restaurant that Mary and I both order. Usually we get different items and sample a little of each other’s selection.
Branzino gets our full attention. The sea bass prepared by Chef Tim Patton is that good—always cooked just right, flaky, moist, and tender.
Chef Tim’s preparation of branzino is seasonal. January had it priced at $24 and pared with crispy pancetta and a pea parmesan risotto, November with spaghetti, olives and mushrooms, while warmer months bring in some simply grilled vegetables with the fish.
All meals include a sizeable entrée, a side dish plated either as part of a special or as diner’s choice, soup or salad, and hard-crusted Italian bread from Mancini’s Bread Company in Pittsburgh. Some of the desserts are made in-house while varieties of cheesecakes are brought in from nearby DiLorenzo’s Deli & Catering.
Branzino is frequently available as a special and not on Muscarella’s sizeable regular menu. Branzino and other seafood come to Muscarella’s through the Port of Erie and an Erie-based food service distributor.
The Patton family started Muscarella’s about 24 years ago with Tom Sr., better known as Potsy, Tom Jr., and Chef Tim involved in ownership, management, and cooking. The restaurant includes a large dining room, an all-seasons patio, entertaining lounge, and a banquet room.
That memorable bar from the former Sabella’s remains in its original footprint. The wood beauty of about 45 feet is the anchor of a mammoth collection of alcoholic beverages. I doubt anyone at Sabella’s could have imagined the variety of craft, draft, or bottled beer, choices of wines, and specialty drinks offered in today’s Muscarella’s. Soft drinks are available for infants wherever they may be seated.
Pasta, which Chef Tim says is Muscarella’s most popular item, can be covered with a choice of about a dozen sauces. Prices start at $10 with type of pasta, sauce, soup or salad, and bread. There is an extra charge for meatballs, sausage, shrimp, tuna, chicken, greens, hot peppers, etc.
A Godfather-related item debuted recently as a pasta addition. A “Corleone-style” combination of grilled chicken, portabella mushrooms, hot and roasted peppers, is a new menu selection. Mary or I hear positive reviews and will soon try it.
Connie is our server of choice when available. We appreciate her professional assistance, knowledge of our tastes in food, and casual conversation. We know Connie from the former legendary Sharon restaurant, The Wave, where she served for many years. Connie has been with Muscarella’s for the past nine years.
Mary and I don’t have to travel out of the Shenango Valley to enjoy dishes such as veal chop, halibut, rabbit pappardelle, tuna piccata, osso bucco, chicken and 40 cloves of garlic, or swordfish and tapenade. Muscarella’s parmigiana, Marsala sauces, fried greens, wedding soup, and minestra are authentic Italian.
The minestra is a house specialty recipe from Chef Tim’s grandmother, Jennie Muscarella Patton. The soup combination of ham, greens and beans is served with grilled bruschetta. Jennie was Chef Tim’s inspiration and mentor in learning and perfecting the art of cooking. Jennie was hands-on with recipes and food preparation during the restaurant’s early years until her death about 20 years ago.
For special occasions we’ve delighted many times in Muscarella’s catering, particularly its Italian antipasta tray. Quality goodies of assorted cheeses, meats such as salami, sopressata, and prosciutto, variety of olives, tomatoes, roasted and hot peppers, dips, and gourmet crackers add a festive, Italian spirit.
My personal pick for lunch is a farmer’s chicken sandwich. At only $8, a grilled breast of juicy chicken topped with Italian greens, grilled hot peppers, mozzarella cheese, and red sauce on a warm roll makes me think of Italy, if only for short time.
Muscarella’s food is as good as what we’ve enjoyed during several glorious trips to Italy. And that isn’t my imagination.
500 W. Main St.
Sharpsville, PA 16150
Muscarella's Cafe Italia
by: Dick Davis