New Castle, Pa., is one of those places that many people from Youngstown know exists…but just don’t go there. When I was the repo man for Sears back in the very late 1960’s, the New Castle Sears store was in my territory, so I made numerous trips to New Castle with repossessed television sets and refrigerators. What? Don’t feel too bad. While little Johnny was crying as we unplugged the Sears television on Saturday morning and taking it out the front door, Monkey Wards was usually bringing in a new one through the back door. What? You did what? Repo man?
At any rate, I think the last time I was in New Castle was in 1970 until I joined my community chorus a few years back. We had and have many members from New Castle in our chorus, and we perform each of our concerts in New Castle on Friday nights and Youngstown on Sunday afternoons. So over the past few years I have become reacquainted with this interesting western PA. town.
It has always had a reputation for good food. Like Youngstown, it has strong ethnic communities, and good food is sure to follow. I have seen several places close, including the Mill Street Grill which was a beautiful restaurant…almost too sophisticated for our area. And I don’t know what happened to Sghetti’s which supposedly moved from its really neat location under a bank building downtown to East Washington Street. It looked empty when I drove by the other night, and the telephone number I dialed was disconnected. Mmmmm.
At any rate, I have spent some time in New Castle the last couple of weeks, and have eaten at two interesting places.
The first is Mary’s Restaurant on Long Street about block down from the New Castle Playhouse. I have some friends who LOVE Mary’s Restaurant, and have mentioned it to me on more than one occasion. He said he would take us there, but I was looking for a new place to go so I beat him to the punch. And my wife and I found out why he and his family like it so much. This is a mid-eastern restaurant, primarily Syrian looking at their restaurant info sheets. I am not generally a mid-east food fan, but I have to tell you. This place is the bomb.
Mary's is not fancy. It is basically two dining areas. Parking is in the back so you enter through the back door. There is an assortment of tables and chairs scattered through the establishment. This is a family friendly restaurant. In fact, we were there on a Saturday night, and one large table was apparently occupied by the owner and owner’s family sitting around it doing what families do. Special platters of fruit and veggies were brought out to them along with what could described as a mid-eastern antipasto.
The prices here are more than fair. In fact, they are downright inexpensive. My wife ordered a gyro. I ordered grilled lamb with peppers and onions served with tabbouli (a salad made with fresh parsley) and rice. Everything was just delicious. As a bonus, we were out of there for under $22.00. It didn’t appear to have a full liquor license although it was serving beer. I am no expert on this type of food...but everything that was coming out of the kitchen looked wonderful.
A little bird told me that the same family that owns Mary’s also owns Zenobia in Canfield. I wouldn’t be surprised because the grilled lamb with tabbouli was just as good here as there…although the prices in Canfield are a little higher than New Castle…but you miss the fun of the drive down 422 or 224!!!
Mary’s is great. Please give it a try. Extremely casual and go hungry.
This past weekend my chorus sang at Christ Lutheran Church on E. Washington. Right across the street is a restaurant called Pagley’s. It is an Italian joint that my wife’s nail tech told her about last week. As my wife was out of town, I was “batching” it. Fully intending to eat something back in Youngstown, I saw Pagley’s as I drove out of the church entry way and recognized the name as the one my wife was telling me about, so I stopped in by myself for dinner to see what the fuss was all about.
Well…what can I say? This apparently is a New Castle landmark type place. Pagley’s has an extensive and ambitious menu with everything from steaks to pizza. It is obviously family run. The people who worked there were a cross between extremely friendly and helpful and how did you get this job. It was somewhat disorganized. You get the picture.
My dinner, on the other hand, was very, very good. I had the Chicken Saltimbocca with a side of pasta. Although I prefer veal to chicken in the recipe, it was about as good as I have had anywhere, if not better. And the portion was generous. The salads are nondescript so I had wedding soup instead, and it was also extremely well prepared. The sauce and wedding soup resembled my own family recipes so the flavors were comfort food to me.
Here’s the thing. The menu is not cheap with prices pretty much up there with places like Café Capri here in Youngstown or Two Tomatoes in New Castle…and the restaurant space at Pagley’s is, and I am being polite, uninviting. With food this quality, a couple of grand could fix up the dining room so it doesn’t look like a warehouse with a bunch of tables randomly thrown into it. When you price a steak over $21.00, you put the restaurant into a different class above neighborhood tavern status. So…while I appreciate the reputation Pagley’s rightly enjoys for its wonderful food, given the prices there are any number of other places where I can eat in an inviting atmosphere with the same quality meal. I can name at least twenty…maybe thirty.
I’m not saying don’t go there…just know what you are getting. On the other hand, if you just want good food and don't give a rip about where you get it, this fills the bill.