Legends of the North Shore warm and welcoming; counted the late Dan Rooney as a regular
The decor is eclectic, but the cuisine is decidedly continental Italian-American at Legends of the North Shore on Pittsburgh's North Side.
Occupying East North Avenue at the corner of James Street, this cozy trattoria has an open kitchen visible from just about every seat in the house. It is a family-run, family-friendly affair especially known for homemade pastas and seafood, such as blackened shrimp, spots Romano and mussels Bianco with red or white sauce.
Legends has welcomed a diverse clientele, from locals who come on foot or bike to folks who drive some distance, says owner-chef Dan Bartow, noting that 60 percent are regulars. The late Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers chairman, was among them.
“He came with his wife, and his children and grandchildren,” Bartow says. “Gnocchi Bolognese was one of Mr. Rooney's favorite dishes, but he'd try things like mahi mahi. He also liked veal with peppers and spots Romano.”
Other menu mainstays include veal Parmesan, gnocchi Bolognese, spinach ravioli, penne vodka and spaghetti with Mama's gravy, a house favorite. “When I make a pot of sauce I call it gravy — that's family, that's Sunday to me,” says Bartow, who serves each dinner old-school style with a basket of homemade rosemary-focaccia with dipping sauce and soup or salad. Every guest receives a complimentary chocolate at the end of their meal.
Bartow starts each day in the Strip District, making early morning rounds at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., La Prima Espresso Coffee, Parma Sausage Products and other shops, finding inspiration in seasonal vegetables and specialty items.
“I buy in small batches to keep dishes fresh and rotating,” Bartow says.
On Thursdays, his wife Zoe and her mother Connie Springhetti, bake, turning out coconut cream pie with walnut crust, fudge-iced chocolate layer cake, and their signature dessert — four-layer caramel butter pecan cake with cooked whipped-cream icing.
Bartow opened the restaurant in 2002 after operating Legends on the Green at Frosty Valley Golf Links in Upper St. Clair. “When I was looking to relocate, a friend brought me to the North Side. He said, ‘I just want you to see it,' ” recalls Bartow, who felt instantly at home. “It reminded me of Long Island, where I grew up.”
The restaurant has seating for 30, with additional tables outside along James Street, where folks often dine accompanied by their dogs.
Penne Pasta & Blackened Shrimp is one of Legend's most popular dishes, says Bartow, who suggests serving it family style with a salad and Italian white sparkling wine or a white burgundy. Bartow makes a version of this dish — the Legendary Blackened Shrimp Taco — on his new food truck, Cool Beans. “It's my specialty taco and marries my two businesses — the restaurant and the truck.”
Legend's Penne Pasta & Blackened Shrimp
1 pound imported penne pasta, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Portobello mushroom caps, roasted and sliced
1⁄2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1⁄2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1⁄2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
10 large shrimp, blackened
4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning for blackening shrimp (see recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all Cajun seasoning ingredients in a medium bowl. Place peeled, deveined shrimp and seasoning mix in a large Ziploc bag and seal. Shake to evenly coat. Let sit for at least 5 to 10 minutes so spices can soak in. Heat oil in a large non-stick pan on medium high heat. Add seasoned shrimp and cook 5 to 6 minutes, stirring or rotating after about 3 minutes until shrimp are opaque white and cooked through. Remove from heat. In a separate pan, saute garlic in olive oil for 1 minute. Add cherry tomatoes, Portabello mushrooms and cooked pasta. Season with basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Top with blackened shrimp and grated cheese.
Chef Dan's Cajun seasoning
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil leaf
1 tablespoon dried leaf thyme
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.