Castle has returned, with dishes fit for royalty

Review

April 05, 2001|By Ruth P. Hakulin | Ruth P. Hakulin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cristoforo's Castle

Where: 3720 Potee St., Brooklyn; 410-355-8300

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Entree prices: $6.95-$18.95

Credit cards: All major cards

Rating: *** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

The "Castle" is back!

For eight years, I've driven past the curious-looking restaurant at 3720 Potee St. twice daily - on my way to and from work. It's a block north of the Anne Arundel County line.

During this time, the place has been under three owners and gone through many renovations, but never lost its charm. It reopened in February with the new name Cristoforo's Castle.

The exterior resembles a small castle, complete with drawbridge over what could have been a moat but is now filled with shrubs and flowers. The same multicolored brick of the exterior greets and surrounds you inside.

All this started when Pat and Don Crocetti decided to build the castle in South Baltimore, where they had lived for many years before moving to Pasadena. They opened as Castello di Abruzzo in 1975.

The restaurant was so popular that it usually had a line waiting for tables. The Crocettis operated the business until the early 1990s, when they stepped down because of health concerns.

Under a different owner, from 1993 to 1996, the castle was operated as Castello's Pasta and Seafood Grill.

The son of Pat and Don, Christopher Carmen Crocetti Sr., who helped in early stages of the castle's construction, decided to purchase and reopen it about two years ago. Because the building had sat idle for nearly four years, extensive restoration was necessary. It took Chris and his son, Chris Jr., more than a year and a half, and the results are wonderful.

When you walk into the dim but invitingly lighted room, you'll find a decor with a Middle Age castle feel - and a section with a wall resembling the outside of a small white-stucco cottage in a villa, complete with a terra cotta roof and wine barrels, giving a look of an Italian courtyard.

And there's a full suit of armor for some adventuresome knight.

The floor is made of brick-shaped, rugged stone tile, and the center of the room has tables that can seat an intimate party of two to a grouping of 10 or more.

Seating capacity is close to 200.

The food is great. It's like being in Little Italy, only better: You don't have the hassle of parking, waiting in line for a table or rushed service when you finally get a seat.

Part of the reason the food is so good is head chef Ronald Pate and prep cook Betty Carneal, both of whom worked for Pat and Don and have come back to work for Chris.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, another father-son team, Marco di Simone Sr. and Jr., provide music - the elder di Simone playing mandolin and his son accompanying on various instruments while they stroll through the restaurant.

The other night, my husband and I had a wonderful meal there - the only annoyance being cigarette smoke wafting over from the bar area. (I returned for lunch there yesterday and found steps had been taken to address the problem.)

Our dinner started with a loaf of freshly baked bread, then cups of cream of crab soup that were tasty and thick with chunks of crab.

We had appetizers of "poco crab balls" (2-inch diameter) and clams in the shell with provolone cheese and tomato sauce. They were so good that my husband said he could have eaten many more.

For an entree, I had shrimp Patriciana, a wonderfully flavorful dish of linguini in a butter, garlic and wine sauce, and topped with shrimp. (It is named for Pat Crocetti.)

My husband enjoyed veal saltimbocca. It's a lump of crab meat wrapped in veal, ham and cheese, and covered with gravy.

Both dinners included huge salads and a side dish, and we finished with a freshly made cannoli and a serving of Italian ice.

The menu has a wide variety, from full-course meals to quick sandwiches or salads. Main entrees feature pasta, chicken, veal and seafood dishes, all done with an Italian flair and priced from $6.95 for eggplant parmigiana to $18.95 for seafood fra Diavolo.

Our feast ran a little over $60, including a glass of wine, plus tax and tip.

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