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Homestyle dishes shine at Monroeville trattoria

| Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009

Bella Luna —- "beautiful moon" — is the fitting name of a popular restaurant on the Monroeville-Murrysville border.

Bella Luna Trattoria boasts a moderately priced, Italian-American menu that reflects its heritage but is nontraditional, according to general manager Scott Levin, a trained chef.

"Most of our dishes are pretty simple stuff," says Levin, 42, who has been at the restaurant since its inception 15 years ago. "I trained under the original chef, Rick Sheetz. The base of our menu is from him."

The menu ranges from healthy-sized salads and unique appetizers to large entrees, sandwiches and pasta dishes. Levin says Bella Luna prides itself on being a neighborhood bar and grill, but also a destination place, because "the food is really good."

"We get a lot of customers from Penn Hills and Apollo," he says. "Starting in the fall, there is usually a wait to get seated, but we turn tables quickly."

Customers clamor for the tried-and-true Italian dinners -- chicken or eggplant parmigiana, chicken romano, chicken marsala, chicken diavlo and homemade lasagna and ravioli. The menu also features items such as chicken and shrimp sauteed with hot sausage, banana peppers, tomatoes, garlic basil and white wine. Pastas include Bolognese, alfredo, allio olio, marinara and sausage, made with the customer's choice of angel hair, fettucine, garlic basil linguine or black pepper linguine.

A wood-fired grill and pizza oven make great ribs, salmon, mahi mahi and pizzas, Levin says. All of the soups are homemade, and one of the bartenders -- Sissy Seneca -- creates the New England clam chowder every Friday for an appreciative crowd.

"If you use the best of ingredients, it will come out great," says Levin, a Murrysville resident and graduate of the hospitality program at Community College of Allegheny County. He graduated from Gateway High School in 1985. "Most of our Italian products come from the Strip District. That's the key. We do use other purveyors, such as Frank and Dom's Produce in Penn Hills."

Levin always has enjoyed cooking. His father was a wonderful cook, he says, but died when Levin was young.

"He inspired me," says Levin, who is married and has a son, Jeremy, who's 10 and a drummer. Jeremy plays at Bella Luna, as does many other young musicians. "We feature local, young entertainment on the weekends, which is very popular."

Bella Luna is a large, 200-seat restaurant, decorated in classic Italian decor but with an American flair. Pictures of Italy -- with lots of moons -- line the walls. The wooden tables have navy blue and gold chairs. The restaurant is owned by Kevin McFadden and has 35 employees. Al "Butch" Pugliano is the assistant manager, and George Miller serves as the chef.

"The best part of this job is making people happy," Levin says.

Pasta Bella Luna

This is a very simple and delicious summer pasta dish that takes only minutes to prepare.

Use the best fresh garlic cloves you can find, says Bella Luna Trattoria general manager Scott Levin. It makes a real difference in the flavor.

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1/4 cup butter

• 1 teaspoon fresh chopped garlic

• 5 to 6 chopped fresh basil leaves

• 6 to 8 broccoli florets, steamed in advance

• 2 artichoke hearts, quartered

• 2 sundried tomatoes, sliced

• 2 mushrooms, medium-size, quartered

• 8 ounces cooked pasta of your choice (Levin uses fresh garlic basil linguine he buys at Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District.)

• 2 tablespoons fresh shredded parmesan cheese

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and butter ( see Photo 1 ) over medium heat. Warning: If you heat it too hot, you'll burn the garlic.

Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes.

Add the chopped basil leaves ( Photo 2 ), broccoli, artichoke hearts ( Photo 3 ), sundried tomatoes and mushrooms ( Photo 4 ), and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta ( Photo 5 ) and toss. Sprinkle the parmesan over top ( Photo 6 ). Serve immediately.

Makes 1 serving.

Additional Information:

Bella Luna Trattoria

Cuisine : Italian-American

Hours : 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays,11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Entree price range : $10.75-$19.95

Notes : Major credit cards accepted. Handicap-accessible. Fifty different brands of bottled beer and 20 different beers are on tap. Reservations are accepted for parties of eight or more.

Address : 5060 William Penn Highway, Monroeville

Details : 724-733-2662 or Web site

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