If you and your date are longing for some of grandma's homemade sauce and pasta, there's plenty of Italian-style home-cooking available right here in Western Pennsylvania.
So, grab your Pisan and plan to spend a Saturday in Bloomfield. Known as Pittsburgh's Little Italy, Bloomfield has residents whose Italian roots go back five generations or more.
This quaint neighborhood is overflowing with pasta places. Italian cuisine and culture begin along the main street -- Liberty Avenue -- and go beyond. You'll know you're there when you spot the red-, white- and green-striped parking-meter poles and curbs.
And, make sure you bring extra bags. You'll most likely be leaving with some food to take with you to enjoy later.
There's more than food here, too.
Bloomfield has shops, cafes, churches and plenty of entertainment. Every September, there is a three-day festival called Little Italy Days, where there's music, food, games and so much more.
"Most of the businesses in Bloomfield are family-run and owned businesses," says Karla Owens, Bloomfield Business District main- street manager. "They all have a unique identity and are willing to help each other out. It is so nice that we have an awesome residential district behind us."
Everyone knows it's important to start off right with a good, hearty meal, so why not begin at Grasso Roberto. This cafe offers breakfast all day. Try everything from the Sunrise Sandwich, which is scrambled eggs topped with cheese, sandwiched between a warm biscuit ($3.25) or M&M pancakes ($4.25). Weather permitting, there are tables outside for dining.
"This is a small business atmosphere," Acton says. "You won't see chain stores here, and everyone buys locally if they can. We have a great business association, which helps get the businesses publicity so people know who we are, and that is so important in a place like Bloomfield. What's neat is we get customers from the older Italians who don't speak much English to the hip college crowd."
Details: Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday, online, 4709 Liberty Ave., 412-818-2584.
Wanna really see how grandma made all those ravioli and pasta noodles? Come to Groceria Italiano along Cedarville Street, and see the products made right in front of you daily until 2 p.m. Owner Rose Marie Rossi and other employees spend hours rolling dough, so the coolers are stocked for customers who want to buy homemade pasta, from ravioli to gnocchi. They make 80 dozen ravioli per day - - in 14 varieties -- without using machines. They also make their own sausage and meatballs. Rossi says she loves coming to work because of all the great people in Bloomfield, many whom she considers friends and neighbors. People come from other cities and states, too. Rossi says that just the other day, a man who originally is from Boston but lives in Cleveland came into the store. He told Rossi he couldn't wait to go home and cook his ravioli. There also are homemade sauces, breads and desserts to serve with the pasta.
"When my store closes, you will never see another one like it," Rossi says. "We make everything fresh here, and I think that makes all the difference in the world. We bring in the chickens and hand clean them and cut them and make our own breading. You won't see anything processed here. We are old school. I think there are still a lot of people who don't know about us."
By watching the pasta makers at work, you can learn a few pointers about the art of working with dough. …