Hot!New Castle, PA Roadfood

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2013/11/11 18:00:45 (permalink)

New Castle, PA Roadfood

Have you ever found out that there was a really good restaurant fairly close to you for years and you had no idea?  This recently happened to me with several restaurants in New Castle, PA.  This report will be about some of these wonderful places.
 
Before this started, here is what I knew about New Castle - it is almost on the state line with Ohio, it has struggled economically due to most manufacturing jobs leaving and it is the hometown of ex-Pirates manager Chuck Tanner.  That's about it.  Oh, and a few years ago, someone told me that they call themselves the "Hot Dog Capital of the World".  Now, I don't know exactly where the hot dog capital of the world is, but I'm fairly certain it isn't in New Castle.  So, I drove up, tried one place, didn't care for it and never went back.
 
On a Saturday morning this Spring, I woke up with no idea what to do for the day.  Remembering their self-claimed hot dog crown, I decided to go back up and check out some of the other hot dog joints.  While doing some quick research, I found quite a few other really interesting restaurants that were receiving great reviews.  The one that jumped out was an Italian place with the unusual name Ladies of the Dukes.  When I found out that they are only open on Sundays, that sealed it, I had to go!
 
Here is the background story:  50+ years ago, the local Italian Club in New Castle, a.k.a. The Dukes, invited their wives to be a part of the club.  It didn't take the men long to realize that they preferred to play cards and drink beer without their wives around, so they kicked the women right back out.  The women decided to start their own club, The Ladies of the Dukes.  What did these ladies do best?  Cook Italian food!  They started small, cooking for each other, having a few fundraisers, before starting to offer the food every Sunday.  Back then, they would do all the cooking on a Sunday morning, since they were doing it on a small scale.  They were an immediate hit, so they bought a building that once held a bar/restaurant, turning it into their new home.  Even with keeping the Sunday only tradition, they were so successful that they paid off the building in just a few years, even expanding it several times.
 
According to their web site, they open at 11:30AM.  Arriving at twenty after, I was surprised to see that the parking lot was already full and the door had an open sign.  Luckily, I did arrive early because there were only a few open seats left.  By the time I left, the after church crowd had arrived and there was a long line well out the door.  Just as I hoped, my waitress was a little old Italian woman, who was incredibly charming and fussed over me the entire meal. 
 
The menu
 
is only two pages long. 


Noticing that they have both spaghetti and homemade spaghetti, I asked the waitress, "Is there really people who would order the store bought spaghetti?"  She said that some of the senior citizens find the homemade spaghetti to be too thick a noodle and they prefer the store bought version.  Anyway, there was no doubt that the thing to order here has to be the homemade platter, where you get the made-in-house spaghetti, ravioli and cavatelli.
 
First thing out was the homemade wedding soup. 

Heavy on the greens, lots of little meatballs and not overly salted this was an outstanding version of this soup, which is the unofficial soup of Western PA.
 
In the online reviews for LOTDs, they say the salad that comes with your meal should be skipped, since it is just uninteresting iceberg lettuce,

with a little bit of carrots, olives and tomato.  There were a couple of bottles of salad dressing on the table,

but with a large plate of food coming, I ignored this boring salad.  Big mistake and more on this later.  There is also cheap, store bought bread

on the table and this also got ignored.
 
The homemade platter

is a massive plate of food!  You get two hockey puck sized, cheese filled raviolis. 

Those thick spaghetti noodles really do soak up the sauce, as do the spongy cavatelli.  Oh that sauce!  It is rich, tangy, slightly sweet and like everything else on the plate, unmistakably homemade.  Lastly, the meatballs aren't particularly big, but are so tightly packed, they don't need to be.  I loved everything and finished my plate, drawing praise from the waitress.
 
As usual, my camera drew attention and when the waitress found out I wasn't from New Castle (trust me, this is a place where locals only eat), she was as interested in me as I was in finding out more about the place.  As it turns out, her daughter is the manager and she stopped out to say hello.  This allowed me to ask a few questions.  Apparently, the ladies get together during the week to do the cooking, with Monday being for meatballs, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being devoted to making the homemade pastas and Fridays and Saturdays for making that sauce.  How cool is that?
 
Since there is nothing hip or trendy about this food, the majority of the diners were older.  And everybody knew each other.  I lost count at how many people walking in the door received hugs from waitresses and other diners.  No doubt that many of these people come here every single Sunday.  I also loved that the waitresses would put bibs on the customers so they wouldn't get any sauce on their Sunday best.  I did see one man who took his nice shirt off and was now wearing a bib over his undershirt!
 
On the way out, two different tables stopped me to ask some questions.  Because of the camera, I was expecting people to ask if I was a food writer or something like that.  Instead, both tables asked if I was from New Castle.  When I told them I lived 45 minutes away, they assumed I must have moved away from town.  When I told them it was my first ever visit to LOTDs, they were so happy and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed it, as if they were the owners.
 
Ladies of the Dukes
1114 N. Croton Avenue
New Castle, PA
724-658-9258
 
Despite how much I loved the experience at Ladies of the Dukes, it took months to get back.  Mariton and I drove up for lunch yesterday and we had an even better time.....
post edited by buffetbuster - 2013/11/20 16:57:09
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    Pancho
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 18:31:22 (permalink)
    Sounds like a delightful place. Great review, but what's up with the salad? You said "more on that later". Did you clean your plate? Oh yeah, congrats on your promotion!
    #2
    pnwchef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 18:39:05 (permalink)
    This place is a treasure, it's nice to see places like this still exist.......I think they should take one day for dessert......
    #3
    buffetbuster
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:09:54 (permalink)
    Pancho-
    Thanks!  As it turns out the salad dressings are also homemade, so I should have eaten that salad afterall.  More on this in my next segment.
     
    pnwchef-
    And I kicking myself for not asking about dessert on that first visit, because they have homemade pies, too!
    #4
    joerogo
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:10:02 (permalink)
    Noodles???  You get a BIG promotion and you are going to call your macaroni......noodles???  
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    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:17:12 (permalink)
    That looks like the places I remember from New Haven -- especially Leon's when it was located in the Hill section.
    #6
    buffetbuster
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:19:11 (permalink)
    Joe-
    If you are going to accuse me of not being Italian, guilty as charged!  Is calling spaghetti a noodle wrong?
    #7
    mlm
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:21:09 (permalink)
    OOOOOOOOOOOh, that plate of pasta! I started to drool as soon as I saw it. What a restaurant, what food, what a response from clients and staff, what food, what a terrific report, WHAT FOOD!!!
    Honestly, buffetbuster, I must tell you, even though I enjoy the effort everyone puts into their reports, yours were the ones which hooked me and are among the few I read and reread. Sure wish you could tell me of unique food in my town. This is a moderate sized university town and while there is practically every chain imaginable, many wirtth decent food, special roadfood is scarce on the ground. I know about the barbeque in Lockhart and Luling and Palmer's and Grin's are fine but that's about all I know of. So I read and eat vicariously and save on calories, lol. So aren't you going to tell us about the salad or the bread? What? No dessert? No PIE!!!!!????? Just kidding. What promotion!? Congratulations!
    #8
    joerogo
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:24:33 (permalink)
    buffetbuster 
    Joe
    If you are going to accuse me of not being Italian, guilty as charged!  Is calling spaghetti a noodle wrong?

     
    Minchia!!!
    #9
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:27:56 (permalink)
    Oh, oh!
    #10
    myterry2
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:30:05 (permalink)
    As usual...another fine report.   You can tell looking at these wonderful pictures it's not Olive Garden.
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    mlm
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:34:48 (permalink)
    I always feel unfashionable when I call pasta, "macaroni". What the heck, it's the word I was raised with and it's all the same to the stomach. To me, it's kind of like 'calamari' and 'squid'. If we called squid, 'squid', would it move as fast? Somehow I doubt it. 
    #12
    mlm
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 19:36:58 (permalink)
    I would never make it as a PR director, would I!
    #13
    Foodbme
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/11 23:13:09 (permalink)
    It's places like that that make me miss Western PA!
    A special Culture!
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    buffetbuster
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 06:01:05 (permalink)
    It had occurred to me to write about Ladies of the Dukes, but I also wondered if the food was really that good or was it a case of being so charmed by the staff and atmosphere.  So I went back on Sunday, this time taking my girlfriend Mariton to see what she thinks. 
     
    Somehow, no outside photos were taken of the place during the previous visit.  When we arrived at 11:05AM, there was only a few other cars in the lot.  There are two separate entrances,

    one for the restaurant and one for take-out only, which opens earlier at 10:00.   The sign on the restaurant door said open, but was locked.  So, I walked across the lot to get a front view photo,

    while Mariton ran for the car, since it was a very, cold blustery day.  
     
    A woman pulled into the lot, backed up to the take-out door and popped her trunk.  I asked if she needed help carrying anything in, which she gladly accepted.  What was in the trunk?  Yup, it's pies!  Beautiful looking homemade pies!  My first instinct while holding a coconut cream pie was to take off running, but by this time she had already seen my face!  Her name was Julie and she is the dessert maker here at Ladies of the Dukes and as it turns out, also the hostess.  Once the door was unlocked and we walked, Julie greeted us with, "You look familiar!"  She also asked if either one of us was a veteran, since they were giving away free desserts to veterans

    due to the holiday.  Very nice!
     
    On this morning, the restaurant wasn't nearly as crowded, with their still being open tables as late as noon.  Maybe the cold weather was keeping people away.  Eventually, the after church crowd filled up the place.  This time, we had a very attractive waitress our age, who was just as outgoing and warm she took great care of us.  I did snap this photo

    of my previous waitress putting a bib on a woman.
     
    Since we now had two eaters, the idea was to try different things.  Mariton ordered that wonderful wedding soup, while I got the chicken pastina soup. 

    There weren't that many chunks of chicken or vegetables in the soup, but the broth had a strong chicken flavor.  We both think that most soups are over salted and thankfully, both of their soups are light on the salt.
     
    The salads came out (you can get apple sauce instead) and I asked the waitress about the dressings on the table.  She told us one was Italian, the other French, both being homemade.  This perked me up and made me much more interested.  And she also said they have a few other salad dressings to offer.  She showed us that the table next us had the Catalina French and they also make a homemade ranch dressing, which they keep in the frig and bring out on request.  I asked for the Catalina French, Mariton the ranch and we now had all four on our table.  Yeah, I know it is just salad dressings, but they were all thick, creamy and made this drab iceberg salad into something very enjoyable.
     
    We discussed getting different entrees, like trying the chicken parm, but since it was her first time here, we both ended up with the homemade platter.  She let out an audible gasp when she saw the size of this plate of food.  And she swooned over how good the food was.  We both agreed that the cavatelli was clearly the best on the plate.  Neither one of us came close to finishing our entire entrees and we ended up taking half of each home.  After all, there is dessert to be attended to!
     
    They did also offer lemon meringue pie, a dream cake and a few other items, but after seeing the coconut cream pie earlier, this had to be the one.  And it was a thing of beauty! 

    As good as the dense filling was, the airy meringue with flecks of toasted coconut on top was the star.  This was an outstanding slice of pie.  And we made sure to let Julie know that on the way out the door.
     
    One of the advantages of dining with someone else is that there is another set of eyes.  Mariton noticed a table near us brought Tupperware containers, which they gave to their waitress.  She took it into the kitchen to fill them up with that great sauce.  When I mentioned to our waitress what we had just seen, she told us it wasn't uncommon to see people bring in pots, that way they could put them directly on the stove when they got home!  Mariton and I decided next time we come here, we are bringing our own pot!
     
    As I was paying at the register, she also noticed that they have a plaque dedicated to the original ladies of Ladies of the Dukes

    Apparently, Alice is the last one left and despite being in her 90's, continues to come in to help out in the kitchen.  
     
    If you are ever anywhere near New Castle, PA on a Sunday, this place comes highly recommended.  Even if heavy sauced Italian comfort food isn't your thing, I can't imagine anyone walking out of this place without a big smile on their face, just knowing places like Ladies of the Dukes still exist.  
    post edited by buffetbuster - 2013/11/12 07:07:47
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    leethebard
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 07:35:16 (permalink)
    The "Pasta" looked average...can't speak,of course, for the taste, but....the bread wasn't real Italian,I looks like that American bread passing as Italian...and those meatballs are anemic in size. And the presentation is very American....TOO much sauce...in Italy they'd tell you that much sauce overwhelms the pasta....quality pasta has great taste,and to drown it in "gravy" is frowned upon. I agree. To this Italian, it looks like many restaurants trying to be Italian...While I never eat Spaghetti out,I know a good plate by sight. This is just one Italian's opinion. If you enjoyed it,that's what counts!!! And please, Spaghetti,or pasta, never noodles. Without tasting it,to me it looks like an American version of Italian food.
    post edited by leethebard - 2013/11/12 07:40:04
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    buffetbuster
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 07:48:40 (permalink)
    Lee-
    Thanks so much for your honest opinion.  This is one of the reasons I hesitated in writing about the place is that there is no doubt that this is Americanized Italian food.  And the bread is a weak spot for sure, which is a little surprising since everything else is homemade.  Oh, and thanks for the clarification on the noodles.
     
    Still, there is so much to like about this restaurant, especially the back story. 
    post edited by buffetbuster - 2013/11/12 09:19:29
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    pnwchef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 09:09:03 (permalink)
    BB, In your report it shows how proud LOTD are about their sauce. I bet the towns people love it, even ask for more, they bring their own pots. It looks like they already toss two of the noodles in sauce then plate it. They then cover the whole thing in sauce. I would ask the waitress not to cover the plate with sauce, ask for a side of sauce, so you can portion your own as needed. If the food in a restaurant isn't the way you like it, then, order it the way you do like it. I never got mad at special requests in any of my food services, It's up to me to see that my customers are satisfied.
       BB, I would have to say the pie did it for me, I would order a smaller plate of food, maybe have two slices of pie. Nothing like the looks of a homemade pie, it has love written all over it.............this place is still a gem in my opinion.......Thanks for the report, it shows that a good roadfood place doesn't always have to be all about the food..............pnwc
     

     
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    Sundancer7
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 09:21:42 (permalink)
    BB:  I am a sauce type of guy and l Like losta sauce.  Mamaw Smith and I enjoy Louis on Broadway which in my opinion has by far the best sauce in Knoxville.  More meat, less tomato, slightly salty and not very sweet.  I always order extra sauce as I am not Italian but a true southern Knoxvillian/  Everybody is different and I get that.  I guess the father south you get, the preference is much different.
     
    I enjoyed your write and although I probably will never get to New Castle, the pics was great.
    http://www.theoriginallouis.com/menu.shtml
     
    Paul E. Smith
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    MetroplexJim
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 09:35:51 (permalink)
    buffetbuster

    Oh, and a few years ago, someone told me that they call themselves the "Hot Dog Capital of the World".  Now, I don't know exactly where the hot dog capital of the world is, but I'm fairly certain it isn't in New Castle.  So, I drove up, tried one place, didn't care for it and never went back.


     
    Did you go to their original (since 1923) location on Kennedy Square or their rather antiseptic free-standing "new" location up on Wilmington Road (Rt. 18)?  Even though the product is probably the same, the 'ambience' of the original adds to the experience. 
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    lleechef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 11:53:46 (permalink)
    bb
    Thanks for the great report and pictures!!  That is a lot too much pasta and sauce for me........at home we only had a little sauce on top, with more on the side.  But such a lovely find in New Castle!  And the pie looks divine.  I'm surprised she let you carry it in!
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    lleechef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 11:53:46 (permalink)
    bb
    Thanks for the great report and pictures!!  That is a lot too much pasta and sauce for me........at home we only had a little sauce on top, with more on the side.  But such a lovely find in New Castle!  And the pie looks divine.  I'm surprised she let you carry it in!
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    MetroplexJim
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 11:56:20 (permalink)
    We moved to New Wilmington, PA in 1962; New Castle was the nearest 'big town' - only 6 miles away.
     
    By 1962 New Castle was fading from a magnificent past.  To give you an idea, compare this facility with the one we have in Dallas.
     
    It remains a wonderful place to live; here is what $150,000 will buy one today in its finest neighborhood.
     
    I love her still, but sadly this says it all. 
     
     
     
     
     
     
    #23
    lleechef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 12:11:17 (permalink)
    I forgot all about  the Scottish Rite being in NC.......my father was a Mason and used to go up there for special events.
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    lleechef
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 12:18:22 (permalink)
    I know I never went all the way from New Wilmington to NC for a hot dog.
    post edited by lleechef - 2013/11/12 12:21:02
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    leethebard
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 12:22:58 (permalink)
    buffetbuster

    Lee-
    Thanks so much for your honest opinion.  This is one of the reasons I hesitated in writing about the place is that there is no doubt that this is Americanized Italian food.  And the bread is a weak spot for sure, which is a little surprising since everything else is homemade.  Oh, and thanks for the clarification on the noodles.

    Still, there is so much to like about this restaurant, especially the back story. 

    Yes,I read their story...interesting...and the home made pasta is a plus on their side. Again, congrats on your appointment. You are,indeed, the best reviewer around. Enjoy all your reports.
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    mlm
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 12:57:58 (permalink)
    Still looks to me like a wonderful, heartwarming place. I swear, if I there, I'd be likely to show up once a week just for the company even if the food was only average. I suspect that having a mostly local clientele, those fine ladies have learned what most of the customers care about and, therefore, put their time, effort, and funds where they do the most good. Salad and bread may not be eaten much so they save a little there while they focus on homemade sauce, pasta, dressings and desserts. I think it's very nice that they provide a choice of storebought pasta and homemade. These ladies sound like they would be more than happy to individualize your plate, i.e. put the sauce on the side especially if you are prepared and tell them. Who knows they may even come up with a fancier off-menu salad for you! Don't sneer at 'bought' bread, they may have an excellent source. If not, you can use it as a mop for that good sauce.
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    JRPfeff
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 13:41:20 (permalink)
    mlm - I was thinking the same thing about mopping the sauce with the bread.
     
    bb - Did you witness the regulars doing any mopping?
    #28
    buffetbuster
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 13:54:20 (permalink)
    JRPfeff-
    No, but I witnessed Mariton doing some mopping!
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    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:New Castle, PA Roadfood 2013/11/12 13:57:17 (permalink)
    Mopping's a waste of time and energy.  Just hold the plate up to your mouth and tip your head back.
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