Bright colors, zesty food at sister restaurants

July 06, 2008|By By OMNI VORE

My spouse noticed Il Castello II on a Sunday drive along U.S. 40 west to Clear Spring. The restaurant was set amid farmland, surrounded by a parking lot. It looked somewhat like a barn with one side painted orange.

"I wonder what it's like?" he said. "I know there is another Il Castello at State Line, Pa., on Route 11."

So I arranged to meet my friend at Il Castello II for lunch at noon. While I waited, I looked around. The walls were freshly painted like a Mondrian painting. Solid swatches of yellow like sunshine and red like fire were intersected with strong black lines. In each square hung a small work of abstract art.

There were eight booths around the perimeter of the room and three tables in the center of the room. Large windows dominated the three sides and I gazed at farmland to my right and left and a busy U.S. 40 directly in front. A tidy flower garden separated the parking lot from the highway.


There was a steady flow of customers. Workmen from Pennsylvania ordered pizza; an older couple enjoyed subs; a mother ran in to pick up an order; a party composed of daughter, mother and grandmother ordered the chicken fajitas.

The floor boasted new tiles. The kitchen area was blocked off from the dining area by a stone divider. The kitchen looked immaculate, very clean. To the rear, a walk-in refrigerator was visible. Pizza ovens and a grill told the kind of food prepared here. Indeed, after a study of the menu, I thought that Il Castello II had three identities: Italian, Tex-Mex and American Café.

Our server was swift, competent and pleasant. My friend ordered Italian eggplant Parmesan. Her meal came with a salad, garlic bread, and spaghetti.

"The salad is delicious," she said. "But, of course, it has everything I like: red onions, olives, cheese, lettuce, raspberry vinaigrette dressing."

She detected a roasted tomato flavor in the sauce on the spaghetti, but found the sauce "a little soupy." The eggplant was a hit.

"The eggplant Parmesan is delicious, though heavily breaded," she said. "The melted mozzarella cheese on top is really good."

My steak fajita arrived, steaming, on an iron skillet, sitting on a wooden trivet. The onion and pepper slices were grilled with the crunch intact, just right. The meat was excellent. There were no spices or herbs that I could discern. If you like lightly seasoned Tex-Mex, this is for you.

My meal was served with a salad, grated cheese, a container of sour cream and a small plastic cup of mild salsa. The fajitas were served with three flour tortillas in an aluminum foil packet. The tortillas were fresh and delicious.

Portions were generous. We each took leftovers home.

My favorite part of a meal is dessert, and I love to read the dessert portion of the menu. I read and imagined fried ice cream, cannoli, cinnamon sticks with icing, cheesecake and tiramisu. I ordered the cannoli. It arrived drizzled with chocolate sauce. Cost was $2.99.

The restaurant was quiet most of the time we were there. It was easy to have a conversation. Occasionally a cell phone rang out. And Mexican mariachi music issued from the kitchen where the cook was busy and, indeed, looked like a happy man.

Il Castello II takes cash and two credit cards, MasterCard and Visa, but no personal checks. Our meal for two, including tip and tax was $25.32.

When I got home, I told my spouse, "The food was great. I think we should check out Il Castello."

So we did. At 6 p.m. on a Friday night, Il Castello was very busy. The color scheme was the same as Il Castello II - orange outside, yellow and red inside. The menu was the same.

The waitresses were beautiful young women. My spouse asked our waitress, "What is the difference between stromboli and calzone?"

"I get that question all the time," she said. She pulled up a chair, sat down and explained. "Stromboli has mozzarella cheese inside with sauce on the inside and on top. Calzone has mozzarella and ricotta cheeses with no sauce. You can get it with sausage. Both are baked."

"I'll take the calzone," said my cheese-loving spouse. It was served with salsa on the side. "This would be a good choice for someone who likes white pizza," he said.

The pizza that I ordered was good. I tasted the basil and oregano in the sweet tomato sauce. The crust was made of soft wheat and it was not greasy.

If you want bountiful food for a reasonable price at a convenient location, Il Castello I and Il Castello II are ideal choices.

Il Castello & Il Castello II

3 stars (out of 5)

Food: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Ambience: 2 1/2 stars

Value: 4 stars

Address: Il Castello II, 15616 National Pike, Hagerstown; Il Castello, 15731 Pennsylvania Ave., State Line, Pa.

Hours: Open from noon to 9 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Phone: 301-582-4727; 717-597-1819

Style: Tex-Mex and Italian

Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelancer who reviews restaurants anonymously.

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