Tucked away just up the street from the statue of Seneca Chief Guyasuta in Sharpsburg is the Gran Canal Caffe. Since 1995, owners Michele and Antoinette Bonaventura have been serving freshly-made and cooked-to-order delicious Italian cuisine. How this restaurant escaped my attention baffles me, but I’m beginning to suspect that their loyal diners must have been keeping this gem to themselves for fear if word got out how good the food is, they’d never get a table again.
Fortunately, a business associate generously shared her love of the Gran Canal by making reservations there for our meeting. While the topic was business and the meeting was successful, I noticed that the conversation among the five of us at the table kept straying to the food, commenting on how delicious it was.
A few weeks after my first visit, I was back at the Gran Canal, but this time, there was no talk of business as I had brought my wife for dinner. We were greeted warmly by Antoinette and seated promptly.
Our server, Liz, took extra care to avoid interrupting any conversation but was more than ready and able to offer recommendations for pairing wine and entrée choices–something I find difficult since I’m apt to change my mind at the last minute when selecting an entrée. Liz suggested the A-MANO Primitivo, stating that it was a versatile wine, food-friendly, and would be appropriate for enjoying with our appetizers as well as our entrée s. It was a good choice–not extremely bold but fruity with a slight bite that I have experienced with a few other Italian wines.
Satisfied with our wine selection, we then ordered escargot for our appetizer (I can’t believe I ate escargot!) and the Gran Canal’s classic Italian salads, which consisted of a heartier green than Iceberg lettuce and were dressed to perfection with vinegar and oil, cheese, and a little freshly ground pepper.
For our entrees, I ordered the Pollo al Marsala, and my wife opted for the Homemade Cannelloni. My chicken was tender and delicious. A gentle edge from the Marsala wine sauce blended well with the cutlets and mushrooms. The accompanying carrots and rice were delicious as well.
I don’t usually engage in sharing my food with a dinner companion, but when my wife mentioned how great her cannelloni tasted, I was enticed to bend my rules. I reluctantly gave up a portion of my Pollo al Marsala. One taste of the cannelloni, and I knew swapping samples of our entrees was a good deal. My only comment on how describe the cannelloni was: WOW! This pasta dish had a very light texture and taste but was still heavy on flavor. This was a dish that would please even the most demanding diner.
We were on a roll with sharing and that extended it to our choice of dessert. Michele who was born in and trained in the culinary art in Italy prepares most of the menu, but Antoinette creates the Gran Canal’s desserts. Her tiramisu was the perfect complement to our dinner. Its light creaminess tantalized the tongue.
Our table wasn’t the only one where sharing was taking place. Four diners at the next table arrived while we were enjoying our appetizer. I couldn’t tell what they ordered although I did notice that all there was quite a bit of swapping taking place.
The Gran Canal Caffe is located at 1021 N. Canal Street, a few miles north of Pittsburgh between Route 28 and the Allegheny River. The main dinning room has 14 tables in an oddly shaped but comfortable room and a bar with six bar stools. A second dining area accommodates seating for about 30 diners.
The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. It doesn’t serve lunch, but it opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Sometimes the Gran Canal observes seasonal hours so call ahead to be sure they are open. Also, it wise to make reservations since the restaurant has many fans. From what I’ve seen, I feel that it’s safe to say that when it’s open, Michele and Antoinette are there, hands-on and doing whatever needs to be done to create a memorable dining experience for their diners. That’s not to say that a great restaurant can’t operate without managers running the show, but with this family-owned restaurant, it’s all about the details.
In summary, the Gran Canal Caffe is a find. The prices were extremely reasonable and the portion sizes were more than adequate. If you go, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing dishes and struggling to find words to describe just how exception the Gran Canal’s food is.