For several years, Ladles Restaurant in Springdale has offered gourmet Italian cuisine along with other homemade dishes.
But now Ladles owner Cathy Marsico is offering connoisseurs of all things Italian a deep dive into the Italian way of life.
Marsico shares his Italian heritage and his passion for Italian food, wine and culture with anyone interested in traveling to the place with the oldest recorded human presence in Italy.
Marsico created Calabrian Girl Tours, which showcases her Italian heritage and takes people to Italy, specifically Calabria, in the southwestern part of the country, where her family is from. Human life in Calabria dates back to 700,000 BC and is known for its mountains, Old World villages and beautiful beaches.
Marsico points out that his trip can’t be classified as a tourist trip any more than his amazing experience in the ancient hilltop village of Miglierina.
“This is a trip where you live like a local. You become part of this community,” Marsico said a day before the start of another regional tour in December.
“This is the village of my parents and ancestors, which I discovered a few years ago. From the first time I went there, I was bitten by love. And something kept calling me. And so we started this business.”
Marsico took his first group of 25 people to Calabria for 10 days in 2019 and said he didn’t know if people would like him.
“I was nervous,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life because everyone told me it was the best trip of their life.”
But then the epidemic broke out, and Marsico had to close the company for a year and a half.
At the same time, the pandemic has created similar challenges for operating his restaurant in Springdale. Marsico was forced to close Ladles in September 2020 because it could not operate at the state-mandated 50% capacity limit.
It was sad news for residents of the Alle-Kiski Valley, who have made Ladles a place for club gatherings, retirement parties or outings with family and friends.
But almost a year later, in August 2021, Marsico took a “leap of faith” and reopened Ladles on Pittsburgh Street. And with the relaunch of her Calabrian Girl Tours, the two companies feed off each other.
“It’s been a great little business for me, and it’s helped the Ladles’ business because they both work hand in hand,” Marisco said.
People from all over the United States are signing up for Calabrian Girl Tours and it’s selling out, said Marsico, whose business has even been featured on an Italian TV news show.
“We have a lot of repeat business and people out there looking for homes. So it’s been a great thing not only for us, but for that community (Miglierina), but for all the surrounding towns,” Marsico said.
“Every day we go to the beach, go to the mountains, go to the wineries and experience as much as possible about Calabria.”
The tours are highly rated by the people of the Alle-Kiski Valley.
“Southern Italy is beautiful, with mountains and water. If you can’t eat enough while you’re there, it’s your fault,” said former city councilman Joe Grillo, 63, of Lower Burrell. “I plan to go back.”
Grillo wasn’t the only one to rave about the food.
“The different foods we got to try were out of this world,” said Jennifer Pallone, 35, of New Kensington. “In addition to traditional pasta and things like that, we had different seafood, swordfish, tuna, etc. I had octopus – I didn’t turn down anything. It was amazing.”
“Lunch was the biggest meal. I’m talking about a six-course lunch and a great dinner (with a glass of wine),” said Patty Walker, 73, of Gibsonia. “I’ll tell you, (when it was time to go) I just couldn’t eat, so I was ready to come home.”
Few people speak English in Miglierina, but Marsico and his friend Enzo Celli speak fluent Italian and are willing to translate.
“I really wanted to be with people, so it was perfect,” Walker said. “You really lived in this small town with these people. When you came back from dinner at 9 o’clock at night, they were waiting on the square with music playing. They stayed up late waiting for us to hear about our day and dance. I don’t think it was just for our group. It was taken by Katie. for all groups.”
Calabria’s location near the foot of Italy’s boot-shaped terrain, surrounded by the Ionian Sea to the east and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, made for some unforgettable swimming opportunities.
“There was so much salt in the water that you couldn’t swim, but you could float in it,” said Karen Henrich, 64, of Gibsonia. “It was crystal clear and you could see the fish. It was beautiful.”
“Wonderful mountain towns and gorgeous beach towns can’t be expressed in words. I don’t think the beauty was comparable to anything we’ve ever seen,” Pallone said.
For more information on Marsico’s tours in Italy, visit calabriangirltours.com.
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