Piazza Talarico and Papa Joe’s Wine Cellar

In Restaurants by Eric FontanaLeave a Comment


There is something special about an Italian Sunday dinner cooked by Grandma. The smell of the homemade spaghetti sauce slow cooking in the pots that has been passed down from the generations. The potent homemade wine that kicks like a mule. The breaking of Italian bread and salad to follow. A lot of people will tell you that a family that eats together stays together.

Carrying on the tradition of Sunday dinner, “Papa Joe” Talarico, Deb, and daughters Katie and Beth started Piazza Talarico and Papa Joe’s Wine Cellar. What started out as the family purchasing a commercial winery license selling their wine at expos and farmer’s markets has grown into not only a wine cellar, but also a restaurant that serves delectable, rustic, southern Italian food. Let us explore how this Italian restaurant and wine cellar has skyrocketed in popularity in the trendy neighborhood of Lawrenceville.

There is a certain level of mystique when it comes to Italian cooking. One of the biggest keys to Italian dishes, like most culinary dishes, is the use of fresh ingredients. Daughter, Beth Talarico, can best be described as a “magician” in the kitchen, pumping out amazing, southern Italian culinary dishes. Let us see what she is cooking up!

Antipasto/appetizers – If you talk to Pittsburgher’s who have been to Piazza Talarico, most will tell you that they have arguably the best fried zucchini in Pittsburgh, let me explain why. The fried zucchini planks are deep fried and breaded with a side of their famous grandma’s red sauce for dipping. Texture is often overlooked when it comes to food and cooking in general. The zucchini is cut super thin, fried to a golden brown, and is soft and velvety on the inside and crispy on the outside, delicious!

Pizza – First things first, the pizza crust is homemade, 10” in diameter, and is thin and crispy and extremely light. The pizza sauce is made from hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes. The base cheese is whole milk mozzarella which gives you a touch of grease that adds to the flavor pop. A pet peeve of a lot of people is lack of abundance of toppings, Piazza Talarico loads on the toppings. Pizza selections include pepperoni, soppressata, margherita, Leonetta (white), and quattro formaggi (blend of Italian cheeses).

Meatballs – As you would expect, Piazza Talarico understands the concept of making a tasty meatball. First things first, fat equals flavor. Piazza Talarico uses the right fat content ratio that keeps the meat juicy, so it does not dry out. They also do not make the mistake of rolling them too tightly which can cause the meatball to be tough, rubbery, and hard to chew. They are seasoned generously, and Pecorino Romano cheese is also added to the mixture which give the meatballs added depth and flavor pop. The results are a mouthwatering meatball that when cut into does not crumble into pieces and holds its integrity.

Macaroni – The baked macaroni is a recipe that has been passed down from the generations and is over a century old. Piazza Talarico uses Swiss cheese with hard boiled eggs, continuing the family tradition traced back to Calabria in the 18th Century. They are so particular in that the pepperoni they use for the baked macaroni comes from Philadelphia. You can add meatballs or sausage to the macaroni dishes for a small upcharge. Check their menu for macaroni selections.

Dolce/deserts – I have been to many restaurants in my travels, it is going to be hard to find deserts made with such passion and love. The “Sea Salt and Olive Oil Gelato” features Mercurio’s vanilla bean gelato drizzled with Corto extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with black sea salt. The olive oil addition, discovered by the Talarico family in Bedford, PA and then again in the Napa Valley, adds a depth of flavor that is beyond belief. The “Zeppole” is fried Italian dough that is so light and fluffy it implodes when you cut into it. It is served with a side of Nutella.

Wine – Established in 2013, “Papa Joe” Talarico’s Wine Cellar prides itself on creating great tasting wine using the same hard work and fervor as their ancestors. Fan favorites include the “Tannat (red)” which is full bodied with high tannins, a good balance of acid, and notes of raspberry, blackberry, and leather. It has a nice kick with a ABV of 15.5%. The “Frascati (white)” is a dry white table wine that is composed of a blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes which is imported as juice from the Lazio region of Italy/Rome. It has a citrus aspect and some floral notes. It is a light bodied wine and served chilled. The “Vino da Tavola (red table wine)” is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes from the Lodi region of California. It has hints of black cherry, licorice, black pepper flavors, and is medium bodied.

  • Taste and Flavor
  • Portion Size
  • Ambience

My Final Take

There are a lot of Italian restaurants in the Pittsburgh area that serve tasty Italian food and are highly successful. The Talarico family wanted to do something a little different. Their vision was to create an Italian restaurant and wine cellar that was “off the beaten path,” much like a neighborhood restaurant that you would find in Southern Italy. There is a wine bar with indoor seating, and an outdoor area that gives you privacy and great ambience, and an upstairs dining area for special occasions. If you have never been to this place, you will be blown away by the quality of the food, service, and hospitality. To show you their dedication for the family’s mission and passion for their restaurant, “Papa Joe” indicated that rather than model a typical Italian-American restaurant to focus on increased business and growing their customer base, they want to do it their own way, featuring traditional Southern Italian peasant food, and are extremely proud of what they do. With this type of attitude, success will follow!

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