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Legendary Pittsburgh Restauranteur Joseph Costanzo Jr. Reveals all in Memoir with “On The Rocks”

Legendary Pittsburgh Restauranteur Joseph Costanzo Jr. Reveals all in his Tasty Memoir with “On The Rocks”

On the Rocks chronicles the real-life journey of restaurateur Joseph Costanzo Jr., from his rise to success in the 1990s as a owner of the highly acclaimed Primadonna Restaurant, radio host, columnist, and aspiring politician to his sharp fall in the early 2000s, ending in an investigation and a stint in federal prison.

Costanzo is a complex character, whom readers will admire for his confidence and rebuke for his arrogance, will love for his generosity and despise for his egotism, and will learn from in both his attention to detail and lack thereof.

This driven, not-your-average-Joe is an unforgettable character who achieves the seemingly impossible but can’t help getting in his own way. Come along with Joe for a bumpy ride on the rocks

On the Rocks: The Primadonna Story, co-written by Maria C. Palmer and Ruthie Robbins is available now on Amazon,, Walmart, Target.  Signed copies at the Heinz History Center. Also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Today, we’re having a conversation with all three: Joseph Costanzo Jr., co-writers Maria C. Palmer and Ruthie Robbins.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.  Find the un-edited conversation on our FlavRReport YouTube channel.

Something that I find amazing, this book has been 17 years in the process. Is that an accurate piece of trivia?

Maria C. Palmer: 100%. Yes, that is a very accurate piece of trivia.

So way back 17 years ago, what sparked this for you?

Maria C. Palmer: A couple of things. I think that because the restaurant was such a significant part of our lives, and it was always the highlight of my father’s life. Once it went away, the spark kind of went away, too. And I wanted to bring that back in my Dad. So I started asking him lots of questions about his life. Specifically for a family history. At the time, being a writer myself, in addition to grant writing, I’m also a writer and I can really spot a good story that has commercial value.

On The Rocks co-author Maria C. Palmer

On The Rocks co-author Maria C. Palmer

There were just so many wonderful elements to his story. So I started recording some vignettes of different things that had happened throughout his life. But not really knowing and or intending at the time that it would be a book. 

But as we went on, I saw that the potential was there and I was lucky enough to still be in contact with my former teacher, Ruthie Dines Robbins and brought the project to her and asked her if she would be willing to work on it with me.

It was really from there that we decided it would become a book and that we would work together diligently for probably 10 years together.

Ruthie Robbins: I’m only 7 years.

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: They had it in Maria’s voice originally. Ruthie was in a book club and they said, “Put it in Joe’s voice and they had to go back and change the whole book.”  I watched 11, 000 emails back and forth. 

Ruthie Robbins: We were not primarily emailing. We were mostly talking and texting, and that year was the pandemic year. So I was off teaching that winter and the following fall.


Before we get into the restaurant itself, what was the writing process like?

Maria C. Palmer: I can speak to the family history and just the overall process of it. It was really challenging. Because whenever you’re writing a memoir or a biography, You’re not writing a Wikipedia page. So it’s not from the time somebody is born until the time that they pass away.

You’re picking the most poignant time in their lives. Not only cherry picking all the good things that happened during that time period, but you’re picking some of the challenges too, because that’s what makes a good story. 

It was challenging to figure out what the storyline was going to be and sometimes to tell those hard parts of the story.

What was even more challenging, was just the nebulous nature of the publishing industry.  I just thought you wrote a book, it’s on Amazon and then people buy it. And that could not be further from the truth. Query letters.  Polished one page, a 90,000 word manuscript.  A whole book proposal.  An entire business plan of why we’re writing the book and why it’s going to sell into the market. Requiring that much to not even get a thanks,, but just no response whatsoever.

Ruthie Robbins: Totally agree. The writing was not arduous part because Maria and I get along so well.. We’re real partners, but this publishing thing.  We really didn’t understand the process, so it is difficult, and especially in this genre, [competing with] the celebrities and athletes and reality stars who wrote memoirs.  They want a name on the shelf that someone will pick up in a bookstore. 


Mr. Costanzo, one of my favorite parts of this book is the wine mentions.  Tell us your “Pin on the wall” story.

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: Yeah we’re in a tough neighborhood, but we brought in a lot of people outside the area and upscale people,  limos, what have you. 

I had a bus boy and he was a really good worker. He became a server and he came to me after he got the drink order and said, ”what’s a pin on the wall?”

I never heard of a “Pin on the Wall”. So we went to the bartender. He didn’t know either.  We looked it up, nothing. 

So I went out there to ask the customers, so we could make it for them  – and one of the most mortal sins at the Primadonna was making Joe Costanzo look bad – I said, excuse me what’s in a Pin on a Wall and they all started laughing. The guy said, “Pinot Noir.”

They’re laughing at me.  That’s bad. So I went in and I really did a job on this kid.  My wife grabbed me by my tie and pushed me downstairs to my office.

I was in this kid’s face because he really wasn’t real serious about the situation.  If you’re going to be the best at what you’re doing, you can’t be messing up like that.

He ended up being great.  Chris, who was the server, became a maitre’d and a great employee of mine.  He was very loyal. I really went overboard with him and I did feel bad about it. 


Reviews are incredibly important.  The amount of work and effort you put in to get your Four Forks Review. Tell us a little bit about what happened.

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: Because the area was an old steel town which had a reputation of a lot of fighting, a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs, nobody would come into that area to eat.

I knew I needed credibility, and the only way I would get credibility was through the Pittsburgh Post, because the dining critic, Mike Kalina,  who was a syndicated columnist, had tremendous credibility. KDKA TV, Post Gazette, New York Daily News.

For two and a half years, I kept reaching out to him.  This is in a time before cell phones and emails.

But I knew if he comes down and gives us a good review, people from outside the area, from the upscale areas of the city are going to come in.  That’s what happened. 

But he did say to me, “You deserve four, but I’ll only give you three because you’ll never handle the business.” 

That Friday night, June 3rd 1988, he was 100 percent right. People were lined up at the door. I was used to doing 10-15 dinners a night. We did over 200 dinners that night and it was a total joke. People waited two and a half hours. When food came out of the kitchen, people actually applauded. People were begging me to get him a bottle of vodka because they couldn’t get a drink at the bar. 

We were short of service. We were short of bartenders. I made it all work in the next couple of weeks and I hired people.


I don’t want to ruin the upcoming movie or TV series, but when you trimmed it down, how much heartbreak was there in cutting out so many stories?

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: It was very tough. We had a book signing in August. I kept telling people they were in the book, and they were in the draft I read.  But there were final touches that I didn’t see and we lost a lot of names and alot of stories.  So I really felt bad. I found the actual early draft and sent copies to those people.  This should be in a book, but it will be in the movie, I guarantee you.

Ruthie Robbins:  It was so hard. We did a lot of fact checking when we wrote, because memories are so unreliable. We talked to people who were in the original book [draft] and they expected to be more.  And on top of that, you try to end the chapter on a cliffhanger.  When you take out a story that changes the number of pages in the chapter, it changes the pace of the book.  That was a terrible editing challenge.

Maria, what was that like for you as the author and the daughter?

Maria C. Palmer: Originally the book was written partially in my voice and partially in my Dad’s voice. It started chronologically for me in my twenties and [had] flashbacks because the story starts in 1986 and I was very young at that time.  It was confusing and it didn’t work.  Everything that I wrote and all that I put my heart and soul into  was all cut from the book. So now I have another book project that I’m working on.

But I will echo what my father and Ruthie said. It was hard because everybody did have a significant piece to the Primadonna story.  


Mr. Costanza, it would be an easy assumption to say you’ve lived a big life. Are there one or two things you would have done differently in the stories of the book now looking back on them?

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: Sure. When you are hitting all home runs, you tend to believe that everything that you do is gonna be a home run.  I had the most popular restaurant in Western Pennsylvania. Maybe I’m going to do something else, maybe I’ll go into politics.

I spent about $300,000 of my own money to put my name out there. Most people loved Joe Costanzo, but now when you get into politics it’s not that way. So that was probably my biggest regret.

My wife begged me not to do it. She said, Joe, we have a miracle here and you’re going to try for another miracle. And she was right. You may or may not like Joe Costanzo when you read the book, but you will love Donna Costanzo.

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: And that’s bottom line. Everybody says the same thing. Joe, it was great. What he did is impossible, but his wife was a saint for putting up with all this stuff that a restaurateur has to go through. 

The theme of hospitality comes out in the book, but you so clearly love people.  What has it been like getting all these people’s responses to this story?

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: This has been unbelievable for me. People are very happy that this all happened this way.  I treated people really well and people wanted to reciprocate.  So exhilarating to me. My life has been very boring, but now it’s really gotten to the point where it’s been great thanks to Maria and Ruthie.

Ruthie Robbins: It’s heartwarming. Especially from former students, the outpouring has brought me to tears sometimes.  It’s reconnecting with people over the book. That has really been so wonderful

Maria C. Palmer: This has been such a 17 year journey. I always believed that there was something special about this story.  Seeing that exactly what I felt in my gut for 17 years is actually playing out in real life.

Whenever we’re in Pittsburgh, it is almost surreal because people are talking about “On The Rocks and it’s really cool and crazy to know that something that you created means so much for people.

Joseph Costanzo Jr.: The big thing which is amazing to me is that the book came out August 8th, 2023. For two weeks, the book was the number one bestselling ebook on Amazon for culinary memoirs. Ahead of Anthony Bourdain’s, Kitchen Confidential and Stanley Tucci’s Taste “On the Rocks” for over two weeks was the number one overall best-selling ebook. Now that’s hard to believe because this was just a Western Pennsylvania thing and Bourdain and Tucci are worldwide known authors and entertainers.

Tell us where we can find the book and all the ways we can keep in touch with this story.

Maria C. Palmer: So the book is really wherever books are sold.  We’re on Amazon,, Walmart, Target. We’re also at most bookstores.   Also on Facebook and Instagram.

Ruthie Robbins: There’s also signed copies at the Heinz History Center

Eagles Fans: Where to Get Superbowl 2023 Cheer Cards in Philadelphia

Eagles Fans: Where to Get Superbowl 2023 Cheer Cards in Philadelphia

Fans across the city and state can celebrate the Birds with cheer cards.

Fans can pick up the free signs at restaurants, attractions and businesses across the city to display in windows and to hold as a show of support.

The growing list of participants includes:

  • Betsy Ross House (239 Arch Street)
  • Brauhaus Schmitz (718 South Street)
  • Bridget Foy’s (200 South Street)
  • Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse (1921 Sansom Street)
  • Craft Hall (901 N. Delaware Avenue)
  • Dilworth Park (1 S. 15th Street)
  • Dim Sum House (1930 Chestnut Street)
  • Evil Genius (1727 N. Front Street)
  • Figo Ristorante & Bar (1033 N. 2nd Street)
  • Franklin Institute (222 N. 20th Street)
  • Independence Visitor Center (599 Market Street)
  • Lamberti Pizza (707 Chestnut Street)
  • Libertee Grounds (1600 W Girard Ave, Suite C5)
  • Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia (900 Packer Avenue)
  • McGillin’s Olde Ale House (1310 Drury Street)
  • Metropolitan Bakery (262 S. 19th Street)
  • Osteria (640 N. Broad Street)
  • Philly AIDS Thrift (710 S. 5th Street)
  • Reading Terminal Market (1136 Arch Street)
  • South Bowl (19 E. Oregon Avenue)
  • Tradesman’s (1322 Chestnut Street)
  • Victory Brewing Company (1776 Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
  • Wicked Wolf Philadelphia (1214-1216 Chestnut Street)

Philly: Local PA Hot Spot Poconos Park Unleashes Halloween Oct 28-29

On Halloween weekend, just outside Philly is Poconos Park — unleashing fun for all ages, with a slew of events from kid-friendly trick or treating to genuine thrills, even sit down dinner and a dance party.

And you’re invited!

Poconos Park is popular for its central location in North East Pennsylvania, with easy drives from NYC, Philly and the Lehigh Valley.  

A scene from Poconos Park Halloween event


This time of year the road trip is gorgeous.   But as you get closer, your view turns from romantic Autumn to haunted destination.

You drive deep into the dark woods, fog creeps around your car, moonlight pierces through the trees, howling wind makes screachy scratching sounds.

Just then, you expect Leatherface to run out sparking up his chainsaw – and the party hasn’t even started yet.

All of the festivities take place within walking distance at the newly-acquired Pocono Park, a huge indoor / outdoor destination that hosts concerts, theater shows, corporate events, weddings and private gatherings.

This weekend it’s transformed into a Halloween Haven.

Pocono Park manages to create Halloween for everyone, from you littlest goblin who wants candy, laughs, and no scares to the group of friends who want scares and thrills.   Every Halloween and horror lover has a spot here.

For Halloween, event company From The Roots has taken over and promises thrills, smiles and memories for you, your friend and your family.

John M. Oakes who runs From The Roots, loves putting on a show and delights in every twist and turn from ultra scary, to the cutest moments.

John M. Oakes who runs From The Roots

John M. Oakes who runs From The Roots

Earlier this week, we got a preview tour of the most popular attraction – Playhouse of Horror. 

It’s a fast-moving, screams around every corner, standing – crawling – jump fest.  Pro tip: Go through it next to your friend who screams the most — it’ll +10 the whole experience for ya.  The Playhouse is fun, fast-paced, well-designed and has the mark of any good maze, when it’s done you’re high-fiving your friends and wanting to get right back in line to go again.

But that’s not all.  Oakes has a banquet planned and an 80’s throwback Dance Party. 

Check out each event listed below


4 – 7 P.M.— (Children Ages 12 & Under):

Prior to sunset, children will be sent along a fright-free, wooded trail to gather candy treats, participate in interactive games, and meet a host of kid-friendly characters—with plenty of photo opportunity stations for parents along the way. 

Cost is $5 per child with an accompanying adult. 


6 – 10 P.M.— (Ages 13+):

Beginning at twilight, our “braver” and older guests can explore the more eerie dwellings of an authentic haunted house. Meet POCONOS PARK’s playful specters, murderous villains, and Goghoulish monsters. Take in our wonderful macabre displays and get a few jump-scares along the way. (Note: ONLY those in line before 10 P.M. will be admitted. Children aged 12 and under MUST be accompanied by an adult)  

Early Bird Cost is $19.99 plus fees, Week Of Cost is $24.99 plus fees, and Day Of Cost is $29.99 plus fees. Grab a Skip The Line admission for only $39.99.


5 – 8 P.M.—(All Ages):

Say “Bone-Appetit!” as we serve no tricks, just treats, at this otherworldly upscale dinner buffet. Enjoy delicious culinary treats and only the finest, delightful “spirits” curated especially for you by Event Hospitality Solutions. This family-friendly dinner will be served with paired wine from Blue Ridge Winery and distinguished ghostly guests. Tickets are LIMITED at $59.99 per guest (plus fees) and include “skip the line” admission to the Playhouse of Horror, access to the buffet, and one alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink per person. (Note: Additional alcoholic beverages cost extra.)

“SCREAM! AT THE LAKE” 90’s Throwback Dance Party

Friday, Oct. 28,  9 P.M. – 1.A.M. (21+):

Calling all ghosts and ghouls to scream with delight as we turn off the lights and on the 90s tunes! Join us down at the Lake House to enjoy some scary libations at the Bloody Bar and graze on some skull candy (aka yummy bar food). Dress to kill, as we’ll be giving away prizes for the most spine-chilling, the most scandalous, and the most striking costumes!  (Must show valid ID to enter) Tickets are LIMITED at $49.99 per guest (plus fees), and includes “skip the line” admission to the Playhouse of Horror.

“CURSED CAMPGROUND” Electronic Music Dance Party

Saturday, Oct. 29, 9 P.M. – 1.A.M. (21+):

After you’ve had your pants scared off inside the Playhouse of Horror,  join the crowd at the Cursed Campground at the Lake House! If you dare to venture through the cursed trails of this abandoned summer camp, you will reach the most electrifying dance party in the Poconos! 

Costumes are encouraged, as prizes will be given away for various spooky categories. (Must show valid ID to enter) Tickets are LIMITED at $49.99 per guest and include “skip the line” admission to the Playhouse of Horror.

For tix and more info: Haunted Poconos Park

Philly’s Top Halloween Events in 2022 (Updated)

October is here!  Time for Philly’s Top Halloween Events in 2022

The City of Brotherly Love hosts some of the US’s biggest parties, festivals and parades.  

There’s plenty of ways to celebrate the spooky season this year Liberty Bell Land, from family friendly fun to adult-level screams and scares.

We’re listing them all out for you, and updating them as we discover more.

Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary

Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary

Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary

Fairmount’s historic prison gets divided into five separate haunted house experiences: Delirium (in 3D), Machine Shop, The Crypt, Big Top Terror and Nightmares. There’s also a vampire-themed Bloodline Lounge for Halloween cocktails, live dance performances by the Skeleton Crew in the Gargoyle Gardens, a beer garden, tours and more.

$34; September 23rd-November 12th, Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Avenue.

For more information on Eastern State Penitentiary Halloween Nights

The Nightmare Before Tinsel

This Halloween pop-up bar is located in an abandoned jewelry store.  Imagine  skeletons, a giant smoke-breathing dragon, creepy baby dolls and more. Of course, the drink menu does not disappoint either. The Blood Bag (filled with cranberry juice), skull-shaped specialty shots (take the skull home with you), and more served up in Halloween spirits.

Open now through October 31st, 116 South 12th Street.

For more information on Tinsel Philly

Fright Factory

Fright Factory


Fright Factory

Venture into the basement of this 120+ year old factory split into three different frightening themes to explore, complete with  scare-actors, special effects, and elaborate set design.

$30-$45; select dates through October 31st, 2200 South Swanson Street.

For more information on Fright Factory

Bates Motel

Bates Motel

Bates Motel

This haunted motel is worth the drive out to Delco. The Philly favorite known for production design has a 25-minute haunted hayride through Arasapha Farm. Plus, a haunted corn maze called Revenge of the Scarecrows!

$40-$125; September 23rd-October 31st, 1835 Middletown Road, Glen Mills.

For more information on Delco’s Bates Motel


Founding Footsteps ‘Bad Things’ Philly Tour

Taking place on a haunted BYOB trolley with live music and performances, Founding Footsteps is a locally inspired true crime tour of Philly! The tour runs Thursdays through Saturdays all October long (and the first weekend of November), and your $48 ticket also includes one cocktail from PJ Clarke’s, where the tour begins. Tickets available online.

$48; weekends through November 4th, begins and ends at Curtis Building, 6th and Walnut streets.

For more information Founding Footsteps ‘Bad Things’ Philly Tour

Uptown Upside Down

The Uptown Beer Garden is getting spooky this year with a Stranger Things-themed experience! Step inside a circa-1983 Hawkins, Indiana, with plenty of photo ops based on the show (Demodogs! Demogorgons! Vecna!), plus themed cocktails in take-home souvenir glassware.

September 30th-October 31st, Uptown Beer Garden, 1500 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

For more information on Uptown Upside Down


Trick or Treat (adult version) at Chaddsford Winery

Join a Chaddsford Wine Guide on a walking tour to visit five Halloween-themed pairing stations.

You’ll get a keepsake Halloween wine glass, plus plenty of wine and snacks, in a one-of-a-kind trick-or-treat experiences that’s 21-and-up only. After the 45-minute spooky walk, return back for more wine (or beer) by the glass, plus food from the Common Good Food Truck.

$35; Saturdays and Sundays in October, Chaddsford Winery, 632 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford.

For more information on Chaddsford Wine Trick or Treat 

Laurel Hill Cemetery Tours

Take a scary October spooky tour through this historic graveyard, including their classic Halloween flashlight tours

See their whole calendar of events and choose a perfectly macabre tour here.

For more information Laurel Hill Cemetery Tours

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