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Paterno's offers classic, inventive Italian fare

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The lasagna served in the Italian restaurant opening in October in Power Park might taste vaguely familiar to people who dined in South Charleston in the 1970s.

Paterno's at the Park will feature some of the classic Italian recipes Mary Jo Paterno prepared for Paterno's Little Italian Seafood Inn, the cozy restaurant she and her husband, Andy Paterno, ran for several years.

Fast forward to 2012 and find their daughter, Niki Kurten, managing the family's foray back into the restaurant business. Paterno's at the Park, opening in early October, will again feature classic Italian food prepared from Mary Jo's family recipes, as well as new entrees created by executive chef Brent Pauley. This time around, Mary Jo won't be cooking.

"Mom is a phenomenal Italian cook. When Dad had important business meetings, he didn't take them out to a restaurant. They come over to our house, instead. They still do," Kurten said.

Mary Jo's lasagna, meatballs, bolognese and alfredo sauces and spaghetti carbonara will be prepared by Pauley, who most recently was executive sous chef at Edgewood Country Club. Assisting Pauley are sous chefs Amie Dodson, formerly of The Barge, and Michael Aiello, a recent culinary school graduate who was also at Edgewood.

"Classic Italian dishes will be our core menu, but our chefs will have free rein to create daily and nightly specials," Kurten said.

Pauley's initial creations include a pan-seared red snapper in a spicy tomato sauce with kalamata olives, capers and fresh herbs, a 14-ounce veal chop prepared piccata style with capers and a lemon butter sauce and risotto, and an appetizer of shrimp in a light cream sauce with mushrooms, prosciutto and spinach topped with Asiago cheese.

"The veal chop will be a signature dish," predicted Aiello, who contributed some of his own creations to the menu. The house-made Italian sausage will be made fresh from ground pork and Aiello's own seasoning mix. They'll use it in stuffed peppers and a sausage patty sandwich.

Aiello and his wife, Ashley, also created an unusual presentation of the classic Italian dessert cannoli. Instead of serving the vanilla lemon/orange ricotta filling stuffed into a tube-shaped pastry, they offer the filling along side pastry chips. The chips solve the messy dilemma of whether to pick up the crispy shell with fingers or eat it with a fork, which tends to scatter the pieces of broken shell all over the table.

Wild mushroom risotto, polenta and meatballs and rigatoni and meat sauce will also be on the menu, as well as Mary Jo's unique eggplant parmigiano recipe. In it, she layers slices of eggplant with meat sauce and cheese, lasagna style.

Paterno's has some nearby Italian competitors in Soho's, owned coincidentally by Dodson's father Bill Sohovich, Fazio's and Leonoro's, but Kurten thinks the menu at Paterno's is different enough to bring in a crowd.

"Every Italian family has its own meatballs and sauce recipe. They make their lasagna their own way. I think our family recipes will set us apart," she said. "There's a lot of tradition in it."

 A lunch menu focuses on sandwiches and wraps, salads and soups, Italian of course. Pasta Fagioli, Italian wedding soup, and Zuppa de Pesche are on both lunch and dinner menus. Lunch prices range from $9 to $15. Dinner entrees range from $15 to $40, with most falling below $25.

Rashaun Brown, formerly of Berry Hills, will manage the front of the house. He hopes guests will feel like they're coming into someone's home. They'll sit down at tables covered in white linens, but can relax in an informal family-friendly atmosphere. That's important to Kurten, who has two children.

It will be even more informal during baseball season when the WV Power, and WVU and Marshall baseball teams play at the park. On game days, the menu will change to feature bar foods.

The first time the Paternos and Kurten walked through the space that was formerly Power Alley Grill, a plaque on the wall immediately grabbed their attention. It was in honor of Michael Paterno, Kurten's uncle, who was instrumental in keeping minor league baseball in Charleston.

"We walked in and looked up and there was Uncle Mike. We thought it was meant to be," said Kurten. The plaque bearing his image remains on the wall.

Her parents' restaurant experience guides Kurten, who is an elementary school teacher by training. She describes her family as foodies who plan trips around the restaurants at which they want to dine.

They guide menu decisions, and her father gets the final vote on the wine list. He has a personal collection of 3,000 to 4,000 bottles. Her brother Tony also helps with the bar and wine. Andy and Tony will keep their day jobs, but Kurten left her teaching position.

Mary Jo, who owns Bella Cupcakes, will provide some of the sweet treats for the restaurant. Kurten's great aunt Bella Panzera is doing her part. She'll bake biscotti for the restaurant. The dessert menu will also include tiramisu and limoncello sorbet.

Kurten's teaching background should come in handy in the area of customer relations. "It's all about dealing with people," she said. She brings a unique perspective to the staff.

 "She has the customers' point of view. We see it from the kitchen, but it's nice to have her point of view," Aiello said.

Paterno's at the Park, located at Appalachian Power Park, 601 Morris St., will open in early October. Hours will be: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Call 304-720-7640.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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