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
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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