Dean Martin, Pittsburgh, and “One and a Half Italians”
I just returned from western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, with a little West Virginia thrown in for good measure. Why? My friend Antonio Soave and I spent the past few days there shooting a pilot episode of One and a Half Italians, a “Travel Channel meets the Food Network” show we’re currently pitching.
The show concept is simple. Antonio is a full-blooded Italian who has lived in Italy (he played soccer there), and who speaks the language fluently. I’m half Italian on my mother’s side (hence the show’s title), love the food, music and people, and have always wanted to learn more. In the show format, viewers can travel the country with us, and learn Italian and Italian-American culture right along with me.
We chose Pittsburgh for the initial episode because of the historic and lively marketplace district, a stretch of real estate between Allegheny River and Grant’s Hill known as “The Strip.” Famed for cafes, specialty shops and fresh food vendors offering ethnic wares of all kinds, shapes and sizes, it is a Saturday morning tradition for locals and visitors alike. Despite ominous clouds the day we visited, thousands of shoppers (and tourists like me) packed the sidewalks and businesses.
Shooting a segment inside La Prima Espresso Company on the Strip. That’s Antonio on the right, and Dom on the camera.
We started out at La Prima Espresso Company, where Antonio tutored me in the finer points of Italian Cappacino and Espresso, and it quickly became a moveable feast. At the sidewalk tables outside La Prima, we held court with dozens of locals, including Tony the Sausage King of Pittsburgh, leaders of local Italian-American associations, and the Italian Consulate-General of Pittsburgh himself. Next came street interviews and a tour of the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (a huge retailer of fresh cheese, olives, and an amazing array of other hard-to-find but great to eat food items) and The Enrico Biscotti Company, where owner Larry Lagattuta taught me how biscotti are made. For a full day, we tasted, sampled, scooped and dipped our way to food-flavor heaven. Hint: It is not an area you’d want to start a diet.
Then it was across the river to Steubenville, Ohio (Mr. Martin’s hometown), where we took part in the 12th Annual Dean Martin Festival. We also ate great food across the Ohio River at Mario’s Restaurant in Weirton, West Virginia, and learned all about Gelato at Janet’s Gelato Creamery & Eatery. Along the way, we chatted (and sang) with locals and fans alike, and hung with actor Vincent “Vinny” Pastore, formerly of The Sopranos and Celebrity Apprentice, the Grand Marshall of this years’ Dean Martin parade.
Vinny — who looked pretty good for having been “whacked” a few seasons ago by Tony Soprano — gave us a great interview, one which was serendipitously interrupted (and wonderfully augmented) by Dean Martin’s daughter, Deana, author of the memoir “Memories Are Made of This” and a driving force behind the annual festival. I’ve always been a huge Dean Martin fan, so chatting with Deana about her Dad’s life, music, films and TV shows was a real treat. Personal nerd moment: I asked her to sign my copy of her book. She did.
“Everybody loves a little Dino.” This particular little Dino was on the counter of The Naples Spaghetti House, where Dino dined, and where we interviewed Vinny and Deana.
All in all, a fruitful (and very filling) trip, and what we hope will be an educational, energetic and enjoyable show. It was great fun to work with Antonio, and special thanks to crew members Rachel Ramey, Rick Terry, Dom Durbin and Trez Drake from Capistrano Films for helping make it a great weekend.
I’ll keep you posted, pallie…