After 8 Decades, Angelo’s Restaurant In Washington Is Still A Family Affair
Started by an Italian immigrant in 1939, the eatery has been run by three generations of the Passalacqua clan.
Michael Passalacqua isn’t a doctor, but his Italian food is the cure for what ails ya.
Angelo’s Restaurant, his 84-year-old, family-run institution on North Franklin Drive in Washington, Pa., is contracted to provide meals for the neighboring orthopedic hospital. Once patients are back on their feet, they usually make a beeline for the eatery’s door.
Does marinara sauce have magical healing powers?
“I’m 69, so I’ve been eating solid foods for — what? — 68 years,” he says. “I’ve had our meatballs at least four days a week since then.”
A former officer with the Kent State University Police Department in Ohio, Passalacqua is energetic and jovial with a quick wit and a hearty handshake. The eatery’s tagline is “Redolent in garlic and good cheer.” During our interview, he greeted at least a dozen long-time patrons by name. All of them recommended that I try the meatballs.
Passalacqua wasn’t always happy to be at Angelo’s.
In 1981, he reluctantly left his law enforcement career and returned to Washington to help his dad and sister, Tonne, run the business that, back then, was located in a small building on nearby West Chestnut Street.
“For the first year I was miserable,” he says, “but then it all started to gel.”
The origins of Angelo’s Restaurant can be traced back to two tiny villages in Palermo, Italy, where his grandparents, Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua, spent the first half of their lives.
In 1917, at age 16, Angelo came to America aboard a steamer ship, where he shoveled coal into the vessel’s boilers. After a series of failed business ventures, he moved to Washington and opened a tavern that catered to local mill workers. Giacomina soon joined him and prepared his lunch and dinner in the bar’s kitchen.
Once customers caught a whiff of the garlicky goodness, they humbly asked her to fix them a plate.
The West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn soon became the go-to eatery in Washington.
Angelo died in 1953. Five years later, Giacomina retired and passed the enterprise to her children, Silvio and Carmelina and their spouses. The siblings’ first order of business was to renovate and rename the restaurant in honor of their grandfather.
In ‘81, when Silvio passed the torch to his children, Michael and Tonne, a classically trained chef, the menu got a makeover, too.
“We started doing cooked-to-order food, including sauteed pasta dishes,” Passalacqua says. “We started hiring younger people and started turning stuff around. We hired Chef Mark Reynor. We don’t even buy lemon juice; we squeeze it fresh. We make our own stocks, soups, salad dressings and slow-cook our meatballs in the sauce. Everything we are today, some 40 years later, is based on what my sister and Mark did in the early ‘80s. We’ve continued to improve on that same sort of style.”
The success of Angelo’s Restaurant allowed Passalacqua to ditch the outdated digs and, in 2008, construct a 5,600-square-foot building that seats 230, has a three-season patio, a gelato counter with 18 housemade flavors, a wood-burning oven, a large bar, three private dining rooms and a photo gallery of departed relatives who helped build the family business.
For more than a decade, 27-year-old Will Hart has helmed the kitchen. He learned Giacomina’s recipes along with modern techniques from Chef George Austin, who now showcases his cooking skills at Butterjoint in Oakland, one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants.
Hart got his start at Angelo’s as a busboy and quickly moved up the culinary ladder. He is calm amid the chaos of a weekend dinner rush.
“When this place is hopping, that’s where I thrive,” he says.
Hart was busy during my visit. He made me Italian tomato flatbread bread (a staple on the menu since 1984), lasagna, spaghetti with those to-die-for meatballs and Chicken Romano. And bread. Lots of bread.
Before I rolled out the door packed full of carbohydrates, I sampled more than a dozen flavors of homemade gelato (I took a pint of tiramisu to-go) and promised to return for all of the pasta dishes recommended by Joe Costello, a customer who has been dining at Angelo’s for four decades. He went through the menu line-by-line with me, reminiscing about certain dishes as if they were old friends.
Passalacqua, who served on the board of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association for 25 years and was the state chairman in 2003, says there’s no technological substitute for good service.
Front-of-the-house manager Dawn Calabro has been with Angelo’s for more than 18 years and, in 2022, was voted the association’s Manager of the Year.
“When you sacrifice the human element,” Passalacqua says, “you’re sacrificing passion.”
Angelo’s Restaurant has passion. And magical meatballs.