Written By Patricia Bianca

Saying that amorŽ is an Italian word for love is like comparing The Amazon to Piney Creek. AmorŽ is all-consuming passion, the stuff of classic novels, ageless songs and timeless poetry. The Italians are a passionate people and nowhere is it more evident than in their love affair with food – their real amorŽ. At Liberatore’s’ Ristorante, the passion is truly a family affair.

Liberatore’s Westminster is just one of six successful restaurants developed and operated by the Liberatore family. Pino Liberatore manages and acts as executive chef in Westminster. His brothers Giovanni, Italo, and Dante, in addition to cousin Michael, who is a partner in their Timonium restaurant, run the others.

The Liberatore brothers came to the United States as youngsters in the early Ô70s, by way of Argentina. They brought with them, however, a love of their native northern Italy and its delicious cuisine, thanks to Mama Liberatore, who Pino says is “the best chef in the world.”

The boys quickly found their way to Baltimore’s Little Italy and found jobs bussing tables. They then worked their ways up to positions as seasoned waiters and chefs. Pino, who boasts the most experience in the kitchen, worked as chef at Little Italy’s Velleggia’s Restaurant for more than 15 years before the family launched its own endeavor in 1988: Liberatore’s in Eldersburg. It proved a very successful move.

Soon, they expanded their Eldersburg location. Next they opened a new restaurant in Timonium in 1991, a third restaurant in Owings Mills in 1996, the Cosmopolitan Bar & Grill in Canton in 1997, Liberatore’s Westminster in 2001, and their latest, which opened in the White Marsh area about four months ago.

The secret of the Liberatores’ success is quite evident to anyone who has had the pleasure of dining at one of their restaurants. Passion is apparent in everything they do, from the purchase and preparation of their food, the well planned dŽcor, and the selection and training of their staffs, to the relationships they foster with their clientele.

Liberatore’s Westminster is a fine example of the brothers’ operating philosophy. The menu is diverse, including old favorites as well as a touch of the unusual. Each day, patrons can select one of several featured dishes on the extensive menu, including chicken, seafood, veal, grilled meats and traditional pastas. Daily specials further expand the options.

Pino and his family know that fine food begins with fine ingredients. The Liberatores have had years to develop relationships with their purveyors, buying the highest quality meats, seafood and even their pasta, which is handmade in Little Italy. “We buy the best of the best,” he said. “We take no short cuts. It’s not about price. Our steaks are so good because they’re certified Black Angus; top of the line.”

The same devotion to excellence extends to the preparation of their dishes. “I’m the easiest guy to work for,” said Pino, “but when it comes to food, I’m very critical. I would like anybody to close their eyes, point their finger at the menu and pick something that’s going to be delicious. Not just your better steaks, shrimp and veal, but anything. It could be a simple salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, stuffed lobster; it’s got to be good!”

The restaurant’s rockfish is an excellent example of the fine hand the Liberatores have cultivated in preparing their food. A whispered layer of batter barely reveals and never overwhelms the taste of Maryland’s favorite fish. It also features a delicately balanced white wine and lemon sauce, with just the right hint of citrus. The asparagus, which tops it is sautŽed to a flawless texture.

The house favorite in Westminster is the Veal Liberatore – it features a fine cut of veal, sautŽed with a light cream and sherry wine and topped with jumbo lump crabmeat. Chicken Pino is also very popular. It includes two chicken breasts prepared with an egg, garlic and cheese batter.

“Having the garlic and cheese in the mixture makes it a little thicker so it absorbs a little more breading,” Pino said. It is then pan fried and covered in a white marsala lemon sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes.

All of Liberatore’s food is cooked to order, a point of pride to the brothers, who heartily believe in catering to their customers.

“If you want something that’s not on the menu, we’ll make it for you,” said Pino, as long as the ingredients are available. The brothers also trade favored dishes among their restaurants, so that if you have a favorite in Timonium that is not on the menu in Westminster, Pino will be happy to prepare it for you.

That dedication is quite evident at Liberatore’s Westminster, where Pino warmly greets many of his diners by name and happily takes a moment between his many duties to chat with them. His charm infuses the rest of his staff, who are diligent and smile easily.

“At this restaurant, we have many people who are still here who started on day one,” said Pino. “They’re very professional and very talented.”

The dŽcor of the restaurant reflects the warmth of the service. Softly lit and surrounded by rich oak and shades of burgundy and taupe, the atmosphere is cozy and puts one in mind of the romance of Italy. The low music adds to the ambience without being intrusive.

Of course, nothing says romance like fine wine, and Liberatore’s boasts a terrific selection of California and Tuscany wines, including chardonnay, merlot, shiraz, and all of the favorites. Every day, Liberatore’s features three types of wine by the glass in addition to their house wines. Rich, full-bodied Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon and Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir, with its spicy blackberry and cherry accents, are just two of the many fine wines available.

Liberatore’s also offers carryout and catering services, so that all the wonderful food and service is available at a location of your choice. Or you can choose to have your next party in their private banquet room, which seats up to 50 people.

With the perfect marriage of food, service and atmosphere in all of their locations, it is not surprising that Liberatore’s Ristorantes have routinely made the “Best of” lists in the Carroll County Times, Zagat’s Restaurant Guides and Baltimore Magazine.

Pino and the hard-working staff at Liberatore’s Westminster are currently preparing for Valentine’s Day, which will feature a special menu that Pino promises will include “the best of everything.” He invites you to come join him and discover the depth of amorŽ that fine food can inspire.

Chicken Giovanni

Serves 2

4 pieces Chicken breast (3-4 oz. each), pounded thin
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoons margarine
4 ounces white wine
4 ounces sherry wine
6 ounces chicken stock
2 ounces lemon juice
Dried rosemary
Fresh steamed spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sautŽ pan, melt margarine until bubbling hot. Coat and place into hot margarine. Lightly brown both sides, and then add all liquids and rosemary. Let simmer for two minutes, and then add steamed fresh spinach over each chicken breast. Top spinach off with mozzarella cheese. Cover pan to melt cheese. Simmer on medium heat for two minutes.

Fruitti di Mare
(Fruits of the Sea)
Serves 2

1 dozen fresh mussels
1/4 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/4 pound sea scallops
Two 6 ounce lobster tails, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup diced onions
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
4 ounces sherry wine
12 ounces chopped canned peeled tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 pound linguine, cooked al dente
2 ounces olive oil

In a saucepot, mix all of the above ingredients except the tomatoes and sherry wine. Cook, covered, on high heat until mussel shells open. Then add sherry and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium, stir and recover. Cook until scallops are done, approximately 3 minutes.

Place cooked linguine in a large bowl and pour the seafood mixture over linguine.

Buon Apetito!

Liberatore’s Ristorante
140 Village Shopping Center
521 Jermor Lane, Westminster, MD 21157
(410) 876-2121 ¥ www.liberatores.com