Cooking Class: The Carriage Inn's Chicken Marsala

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 5:10 p.m.

The Carriage Inn started out as a store in Lincoln Borough in the early 20th century. Then it became a speakeasy during Prohibition, reportedly with the dubious name Bucket of Blood.

Built partly with beams salvaged from the old Boston Bridge nearby, the inn then went through several other names, including Piccolo Pete's. Famed clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman played a few numbers there during a stay in Pittsburgh.

But when a previous owner inherited the property in the 1960s, he renamed it The Carriage Inn, after a restaurant and hotel he frequented in Florida.

Dave Walls was working as an Allegheny County police detective when his sister, Patty, was looking for a viable business. In 1982, the siblings bought The Carriage Inn, with Patty Walls the owner of the liquor license.

Dave Walls bought her out after eight or nine years and has owned it ever since, though his then-wife subsequently owned the liquor license. Police are prohibited from owning liquor licenses by state law, but Walls began ownership of both the restaurant and the liquor license when he retired from the county force in 2001, after more than 30 years in law enforcement.

“There wasn't the loyalty to the alcohol as there was to the food,” says Walls, 62, of Elizabeth. “We wanted to put out a good menu and develop the clientele.”

“Our goal is serving good food and giving good service,” says general manager Judy Gibala of Sewickley Township, Westmoreland County.

About 20 years ago, The Carriage Inn started catering events. The rear dining room down the hall from the bar seats about 60 for showers, rehearsal dinners and other events, Gibala says.

Kitchen manager Ed “Butch” Carr, 41, of Liberty, has been with The Carriage Inn for three years. Chefs here, such as Bruce Hoagland, 39, of McKeesport, are given free rein to develop recipes, such as Hoagland's Taco Soup, for $4.40 a bowl.

Carr is a chef who learned on the job and on his own through “trial and error,” he says. He spent three years with the Gateway Clipper fleet.

Entrees include Baby Back Ribs, with a whole rack for $21.99 or a half for $12.99; and The Carriage Inn Sirloin of 8 ounces for $11.99. Dinners come with a choice of two side dishes and freshly baked bread.

Pasta dishes include Chicken Parmesan with a side of spaghetti for $13.99 and Linguini Alfredo for $11.59. The Carriage Inn, also open for lunch, has a variety of salads, calzones, wraps, burgers and sandwiches. They include the Buffalo Chicken Calzone for $8.99, the One Pound Fish Sandwich for $8.99, the Hot Sausage Sandwich for $7.69 and the Spinach Salad with hot bacon dressing for $8.89.

Diners eat in the bar or the back dining room, which is decorated with prints of Kennywood, Forbes Field, the Civic Arena and Pittsburgh, as well as farm implements.

Walls' mother, Velma, 87, of Portvue has been bookkeeper practically since the Wallses bought The Carriage Inn “and continues to contribute,” her son says.

“You get a real sense of accomplishment when you feed a lot of people and they seem to be happy with” the food, Dave Walls says.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala is one of the most popular entrees at The Carriage Inn, says kitchen manager Ed “Butch” Carr. The elegant and tasty entree is “a very easy dish” to prepare with not many ingredients, he says. The combination of chicken and beef stocks added to the chicken deepen and enrich the flavor.

2 ounces chicken stock

2 ounces beef stock

3 tablespoons butter, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 chicken breasts (6 ounces each), pounded thin

4 tablespoons seasoned flour plus more for thickening (see Note)

2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms

4 ounces Marsala wine

Pinch of parsley, freshly chopped and left out to dry

Combine the chicken and beef stocks in a container.

Season the butter with salt and pepper. Place half the butter in a hot pan to melt. Dredge the chicken breasts in the seasoned flour. Place the chicken in the hot pan, skin side down. (If the chicken breasts are skinless, place them down on the side from which the skin was removed). Add the mushrooms, moving the mushrooms around the chicken to cook.

When one side of the chicken is cooked but not brown, turn it over. Add the Marsala and simmer, reducing the liquid to one-third. Add the parsley and the broth mixture and stir or shake to combine. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by by half. Add a couple of teaspoons of flour to thicken the sauce. Turn the chicken out onto a plate and pour the mushroom mixture over the chicken.

Makes 2 servings.

Note: The Carriage Inn's seasoned flour calls for a pinch each of salt, pepper and its wings seasoning per 2 cups of flour. Owner Dave Walls says the seasoning is patented and would not give out the recipe, but said Lawry's Seasoned Salt is an acceptable substitute.

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