Latitude 48 brings fine dining to Finleyville

Katie Anderson

Four friends who used to frequent the former Little Dicks Tavern in Finleyville, recently purchased and remodeled it, transforming the dive bar into a fine dining restaurant.

John Ruffalo, Brian Ferrence, Mic Connolly and Greg Terpin are commercial pilots, all originally from the Washington County area, who have worked together over the past few decades. They used to meet up for a beer or two at Little Dicks, also known as Peters Creek Pub, before its closure more than two years ago.

The former staff there told the group of friends that they should buy the bar, at 2103 Rankintown Road, and reopen it. A few months later, they contemplated the suggestion over drinks and decided to not only buy the bar, but take it to new heights.

“We knew nothing about running a restaurant before we bought it,” Ruffalo said in a recent interview. “We’re all pilots, we’ve all traveled the world, and we thought that this area could use a nice fine dining restaurant, because there’s nothing really around here, and there’s a lot of people moving into this area.”

Their food choices are also inspired by their travels, Ruffalo said, with entrees like Japanese wagyu, Chilean sea bass, Scottish salmon, elk, bison and shark. They also make their own ice cream and offer an extensive wine list, with selections from all over the globe.

“We’ve seen a wide variety of all these different places and restaurants we’ve been to,” Ruffalo said. “In America, you see a lot of cookie-cutter places.”

Last fall, they spent time remodeling the building, which was originally built in 1876 as a hotel, Ruffalo said. Together, they turned the two-level bar into a one-level open dining space with rustic décor. They named it Latitude 48, as a play on its location – 40 degrees north, 80 degrees west.

Just as their project was ready for takeoff, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state in March.

“We were finishing the construction and probably a week away from opening, when COVID hit and everything shut down,” Ruffalo said.

Ferrence said they took it as an opportunity to “fine-tune” things, like finding and training staff about the many different wines and “the proper way to serve” at a fine dining establishment.

Connolly said while they could see a “short-term hit” because of the pandemic, they’re “taking a long-term view as to the demand for in-person dining.” He said they want it to be a place for guests to make dinner a 2- to 3-hour experience.

“Especially in Western Europe, dinner is an event,” he said. “Most places make it a whole evening. We are in no hurry to turn tables here. Our goal is to have people sit and enjoy their evening as long as they’d like. That you don’t see around here.”

In the few months they’ve been open for dining this year, they said the feedback from the community and their guests has been very positive. Ferrence said they’ve had people drive close to an hour to eat there. He said they have items on their menu that people can’t get anywhere in the Pittsburgh region, wagyu beef being one of them.

Ruffalo said they try to change up the menu on a monthly basis, with the help of their three chefs, Matthias Wedlake, Tim Tatel and David Galiffa. Tatel said he worked as a chef in Las Vegas for five years.

“Working for big corporations, you’re usually stuck on a certain concept, and you’re limited as far as your creativity and what you can do,” he said. “An independent restaurant gives you more flexibility to be creative and bring out new items and fresh ideas.”

That’s why he was excited for the opportunity Latitude 48 presented, he said, especially since the owners back their ideas for new specials and entrees.

“The owners wanted to bring high-end food to a neighborhood that didn’t really have it,” Tatel said. “For a chef, it brings you back down to the reason why you started cooking – to create exciting food for people to share and enjoy.”

When the in-person dining restrictions are lifted next month, Latitude 48 will be open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with reservations suggested.