Celebrity chef Steve Martorano started out as a child making his grandmother’s meatball and Italian hoagies from the basement of his Philadelphia home.
He would go door-to-door selling the sandwiches in South Philly.
“They called my grandmother ‘Fat Mary,’ ” said Martorano as he stood inside his fourth restaurant, Martorano’s Prime at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh on the North Shore, on Thursday. “She was pretty big. I’m South Philly born and raised. I learned to cook at my grandma’s elbow, and a lot of our menu is built on those family recipes. We’re beyond excited to open our first Italian-American steakhouse at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.”
Martorano’s was scheduled to open at 5 p.m. Friday. It will be open Wednesdays through Sundays.
The pandemic delayed original plans. A lot of the design of the space was done by his wife, Marsha Daley-Martorano, virtually because of covid-19.
“How many people have tried to open a restaurant without being there in person?” Martorano, 63, asked. “We had to do most of it without physically being here. We usually take a month for in-person training, but we only had a week. It’s hard to taste food over a computer.”
They cut the menu in half for precision.
“If something isn’t right, it’s not leaving this kitchen,” he said, pointing to the open area where guests can watch meals being prepared. “My name is on it, so it has to be perfect.”
He said his restaurants are all about the food, but they also seek ambiance. The place comes to life when the lights are low, he said.
“It’s an experience,” he said. “I give my commitment to every restaurant because my name is on it. The word ‘it’ is important. If you are here and you don’t get ‘it,’ then you don’t get the atmosphere.”
Themed movies and music play on screens and throughout speakers from “Goodfellas” to “Rocky.”
By 9:30 p.m., the transformation begins. The music gets louder, the lights dim — perfect for date night, he said.
Martorano said he chose Pittsburgh because of its reputation as a blue-collar town.
“That kind of work ethic is what I am all about, what the Martorano brand is all about,” Martorano said.
He describes the food as Italian-American comfort dishes that are hearty. The mozzarella will be served warm and the pasta al dente. Martorano calls the signature sauce “Sunday gravy.” He also plans to introduce a Philly cheesesteak, Pittsburgh style.
There are no menu substitutions. And he will never make a well-done steak.
“The customer is not always right,” he said. “If I can’t stand by it, I won’t make it. If you want to change something, I won’t do it. I will suggest a different dish.”
“Everything is cooked to order,” said Walter Pytel, corporate executive chef. “We don’t use big pots full of food.”
There is a private dining room for 14.
Martorano’s Prime, an Italian-American Steakhouse, is NOW OPEN! This immersive dining experience features dishes like Linguine & Clams (Steve Martorano’s favorite), Spaghetti & Meatballs, our 16-ounce New York Strip Martorano & more!
— Rivers Casino Pittsburgh (@WinBigRivers) January 7, 2021
Martorano’s Prime also features what the owner calls elevated Italian-American cuisine — prime cuts of beef and other high-end steakhouse staples. A 16 oz. New York Strip will go for $69.
The opening of Martorano’s Prime brings 50 food and beverage jobs to the casino. Other locations include Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where the flagship Cafe Martorano recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Martorano has published two cookbooks: “Yo Cuz! My Life, My Food, My Way” and “It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy.”
“Martorano’s is one of those places where you keep talking about the amazing Italian food and dining experience for days and weeks later,” Rivers Casino general manager Bill Keena said in a statement. “Introducing prime-cut steaks and skyline views of Pittsburgh … that’s what makes this unique to Rivers.”
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Inside the dining room at Martorano’s Prime at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.
Martorano’s Prime is located on the riverfront side of the casino. The interior is a mix of high-polished steel and marble, light leathers and woods. A circular central bar features a display of wines. The restaurant is only accessible via the gaming floor. It is currently seating at 50% capacity because of state covid-19 indoor dining restrictions.
The 5,400-square-foot restaurant is designed to accommodate 159 guests. Restaurant staff and guests must wear masks — except while eating or drinking — and temperatures are checked upon arrival at the casino.
All guests must be at least 21.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Steve Martorano inside of Martorano’s Prime at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh on the North Shore on Jan. 7, 2021.
Martorano greets everyone like family — “Yo Cuz!” — whether you are a blood relative or not. He often works in the kitchen.
“My message to Pittsburgh is come here and be part of the tradition,” he said. “You don’t have to be Italian. We are all family. You support me and I will support you.”
Reservations are available via Open Table or by calling 412-566-4799.
Food & Drink | Lifestyles | Local | Northside | Pittsburgh