RIP Larry Lagattuta of Enrico Biscotti. He loved the Strip, and the Strip loved him back | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

RIP Larry Lagattuta of Enrico Biscotti. He loved the Strip, and the Strip loved him back

click to enlarge RIP Larry Lagattuta of Enrico Biscotti. He loved the Strip, and the Strip loved him back
Photo: Courtesy of Enrico's Biscotti Company
Larry Lagattuta shows how to cook pizza

In 1993, Larry Lagattuta quit his corporate job to bake biscotti.

“Every time I went to work in the morning, I felt like I was going to jail,” said Lagattuta in a feature on The Italian American Podcast.

So he ditched the suit and tie for a light dusting of flour, and opened a tiny shop, Enrico Biscotti, that has become one of the Strip District’s defining places. He also shared so much of what he knew about Italian cooking and baking with several generations of Pittsburgh culinary students, whom he taught in his bread classes. Lagattuta’s story became a movie, “The Bread, My Sweet,” by producer/writer/director Melissa Martin, to whom Lagattuta was married at the time. (Scott Baio played the character based on Lagattuta.)

Lagattuta died June 26 of a heart attack, at home. He was 65.

It all began by hanging out at La Prima in the Strip, the most Italian of Pittsburgh coffee shops, and chatting with owner Sam Patti and Italian-born baker Antonio Branduzzi of Il Piccolo Forno.

“One day, I said, ‘If you need any help, let me know,’ said Lagatutta on the podcast. “[Branduzzi] called me three months later and said, ‘I have to make 30 pounds of pastries tonight; I don’t know how I’m going to do it.’ We went to his basement kitchen and worked all night long. At five o’clock in the morning, the sun comes up. He had a focaccia stuffed with meat and cheese. We sat out on the porch; I’m watching the birds fly, the grass grow, and I thought, ‘What am I doing with my life?’”

Patti was getting biscotti for La Prima from a place in St. Louis at the time, until that purveyor burned down.

“I lost my biscotti guy,” Patti tells Pittsburgh City Paper he recalls saying. “Larry said, ‘Won’t you let me take a shot at the biscotti?’”

Now, Enrico bakes 30 varieties of biscotti, from Anise Almond to Cinnamon/Lemon and Pineapple — about 2,000 pounds of them a day. They also make panettone, focaccia, traditional Italian Easter bread, and many other things. Down a short alley nearby, there’s Enrico Cafe — marked by an iron biscotti with wings — that provides an intimate showcase for the late Lagatutta’s pizzas, beans & greens, and other traditional favorites.

One of six children, Lagattuta grew up in Beechview and learned how to cook from his family as a child. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge with others. Some of his students, like Kate Romane (of Black Radish Kitchen and E2), went on to chart distinctive courses through Pittsburgh’s recent culinary renaissance.

In a short feature for WQED, Lagattuta points out the pictures of his family that adorn the walls at Enrico Biscotti: “My grandmother’s standing right next to you, isn’t she? All the Italians are here; I keep pictures of them around. My dad’s here, my aunts and uncles are here; there’s a picture of my grandfather. We have his manifest from when he came from Italy.”

Many recipes come from his family. He recalls talking to his grandma about one cookie recipe in particular.

“I would suggest that food is the most important part of our heritage,” says Lagattuta in the WQED feature. “It’s what ties us together.”

Last year, Lagatutta wrote a cookbook, describing his culinary journey alongside recipes for macaroons, biscotti and “chocolate oblivion cake.”

Patti recalls Lagatutta’s dedication to the Strip District.

click to enlarge RIP Larry Lagattuta of Enrico Biscotti. He loved the Strip, and the Strip loved him back
Photo: Courtesy of stumptownpanda on Flickr // (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Enrico's Biscotti

“He loved the Strip,” says Patti. “We always talked about what was going on in the Strip. He came out of the corporate world and I think it was very clear to both of us that that world was very different than the one we lived in. They could never offer the customer the authentic food and feeling of the stores (like ours). But you always have to question whether you can survive in their world.”

It seems The Strip loved him right back. Pamela Austin, President of Strip District Neighbors, tells City Paper: "Enrico Biscotti is one of the names that is synonymous with the Strip District. From cakes to pies to cookies to bread to biscotti, Larry Lagattuta made it all deliciously in his Penn Avenue shop. His bread making class was a fun team building event that people talk about long after the event. During the Christmas season, familiar faces would cram into the cozy restaurant in back to drink wine and soak up holiday cheer. He was a well-known and respected figure in the neighborhood. His presence will be missed and now it is up to everyone to help his family and employees maintain his legacy by supporting the business he worked so hard to create."

“Larry loved to teach and loved to share,” recalls Patti. “I believe one of the key ingredients is that natural, innate desire to want to feed people. Not only did he want to feed people — he taught bread classes. He took people to Italy, so he was just as much a teacher as he was a businessman.”

The Enrico Biscotti Company posted on Instagram Wednesday: “The Enrico Biscotti Company will be operating under normal hours on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We will post our hours for Friday tomorrow. Visit us at the bakery and celebrate Enrico!”