Harrisburg’s new pizzeria & wine bar pairs an elegant atmosphere with fresh new takes on classic dining and drinking
The ancient Romans celebrated Bacchus (the god of wine) with the Bacchanalia – decadent festivals of good wine, good food and hedonistic pleasure. Bacco Pizzeria & Wine Bar – Harrisburg’s latest option for Mediterranean dining – takes its name from the Roman god as it offers a feast for the senses.
Bacco, which opened on Market Square Plaza at the end of March, features owner Max Randazzo’s Mediterranean-inspired menu of small plates paired with a seasonal list of wines and craft cocktails. Bacco also offers several Pennsylvania beers and whiskeys.
“We opened quietly,” says beverage director and general manager Tommy Pavlovic. “But I think we’re really on to something here. The response for the cocktails has been awesome.”
Randazzo took charge of redesigning the space in the 100-year-old building, which was originally a bank. Bacco’s interior boasts marble walls, scrolled columns, plaster-relief ceilings, large windows looking out on the square and a refaced, rolling back bar.
Randazzo plans to reveal Bacco’s new downstairs cocktail lounge later this summer, where guests will be able to relax and enjoy South American-style cocktails blended with Pavlovic’s house-made simple syrups and fresh-squeezed fruit juices.
In a newly refreshed atmosphere, Randazzo and Pavlovic are excited to reintroduce downtown Harrisburg to a classic menu. Bacco focuses on quality ingredients used in Sicilian and Mediterranean cuisine, like olive oil, meats and cheeses, seasonal produce and herbs.
Almost everything – from the pizza dough and pasta to the sauce and salad dressing – is made in-house. Produce is sourced locally whenever possible. The rustic menu features a mouth-watering selection of pizzas, salads, baked pastas and desserts. And the dishes are extremely affordable, all ranging from $5-$15.
The classic Margherita pizza – baked in a 700-degree gas-fired oven – features a perfectly crispy crust beneath a layer of sweet crushed tomato sauce, mozzarella, whole basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. The Bacco signature pizza, with its crushed tomato, roasted eggplant, red onions and melted mozzarella cheese, is another example of simple elegance.
For dessert, a cup of espresso goes down nicely with a refreshing blend of lemon gelato and limoncello liqueur served in an elegant Champagne flute.
Bacco’s charcuterie boards are served with whole grain and Dijon mustards and cured Italian meats, including smoked speck, aged and dried bresaola and a house-made duck prosciutto. A small selection of cheeses are offered, including an aged Grana Padano served with fig jam, fresh buffalo mozzarella and drunken goat cheese soaked in red wine.
The wine list at Bacco features 10 reds and 10 whites. Five of each are Sicilian, and the others are a rotating selection from some of the leading wine regions of Italy, Argentina and California.
Not to be missed is a hand-crafted cocktail made by Bacco’s talented and knowledgeable mixologist. Originally from Harrisburg, Pavlovic spent the last six years in Los Angeles, mastering his craft at the world famous Townhouse Cocktail Lounge in Venice Beach.
“It really rounded me out,” he says of the experience. “It cleaned up any bad habits that I had and really put me to work on becoming a mixologist – somebody who blends drinks and doesn’t just throw them into a glass together.”
Luckily for this restaurant, the timing of Pavlovic’s return could not have been more perfect. Randazzo worked with Pavlovic years earlier and approached him about taking on the drink list for Bacco.
“Being back in Harrisburg has really rejuvenated me to continue to make classics for people,” says Pavlovic.
“Classic cocktails were intended to accentuate the base spirit, not to hide it,” he says. “I’m a fan of doing things the right way.”
Even the ice cubes are methodically prepared as if from another era. Pavlovic describes how he starts with a 40-pound block of ice, carefully prepared to make sure it’s clear. He then scores the ice with just a couple of simple tools and breaks it down to make the perfect sized “king cubes.”
Bacco’s opening marks yet another recent change to Harrisburg’s storied Second Street lineup of bars and restaurants. Randazzo and Pavlovic have seen the many shifts the neighborhood has gone through over the years and are feeling optimistic about its current state.
“We can spring night clubs up anywhere,” says Pavlovic. “But the city is here and the beautiful downtown area is here. People should be coming out. They should be dressing up a little bit and enjoying their city and enjoying the vibe. It’s theirs. It’s up to them to make it as cool as it’s going to be.”
• 20 North Second Street, Harrisburg
• Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m.; and Saturday, 12 p.m.-1 a.m.