Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
March 8, 2016
Over the years “home-style” Italian restaurants have served as the backbone of the area’s dining industry. These Mom and Pop establishments are rooted in the area’s immigrant past each bringing their owners’ family heritage from different parts of Italy to the restaurant dinner plate. The names of the dishes on the restaurant menus may look the same creating a broad category of “American” Italian cuisine…but they are all different from mild to spicy to texture to sophistication depending on from which part of Italy the owner’s family hails. It also has made, until recently, the Mahoning Valley a difficult market to break into for national chain Italian restaurants and pizza shops. Here are two of my favorites. Both are family run in the classic style of family owned Italian restaurants.
LAROCCA’S / Poland: This family owned gem of an Italian restaurant is our ultimate go-to place when we want great homemade Italian food. It has been around since 1991 when some sisters got together and decided to do the restaurant thing. I have yet to have a bad meal here. The heart of its menu is an outstanding hearty red sauce reflecting my Dad’s family’s style of cooking. That shouldn’t surprise me as my Dad’s family is from the Abruzzo region of Italy as are the owners. Its pasta is homemade.
Knockout dishes…I mean wowzer dishes…include its Lasagne and Eggplant Parmesan. The homemade Cavatelli strikes a happy medium between what my mother used to call “lead sinkers” (would be with you for a while) and light and airy facsimiles (what’s the point). They are just right. The red clam sauce is a signature dish. And the veal dishes use real veal…none of that chopped stuff. If you go for nothing else, go for the homemade bread from which you can make a meal by itself. Broccoli and beans are also another favorite.
Its location is somewhat out of the way for much of Mahoning County on the edge of civilization on Clingan Road at Route 224…but there is method to its madness. While it is a challenging drive to get to from Canfield not by distance but by traffic lights and traffic, it is perfectly located for the strong Italian enclaves in Struthers, Lowellville, Hillsville and New Castle. And its food reflects those areas.
The restaurant itself is modern and comfortable. Tables are a little close together, but who cares when you are feasting on some of the best Italian food in the Valley. We have had some great conversations with strangers which has made for a fun evening. It does offer beer and wine...which is a plus. It also offers outstanding pizza and sandwiches. Last, but not least, its Cannoli and Tiramisu are made on premises…a perfect ending to a perfect meal!!! One criticism….get a website.
6505 Clingan Rd.
Poland, OH 44514
SONI'S / New Castle: New Castle Italians are different than Youngstown Italians. I learned that a long time ago when an employee of ours originally from New Castle passed away. We went to the funeral and they were different than the locals I am used to. Italy is a big country and those from different areas there settled in different areas here. New Castle is considered to have one of the highest concentrations of ethnic Italians in the nation with many coming from Calabria and Sicily along with other regions including Compania and Abbruzi (the ethnic region of many Youngstown Italians). But “Viva La Difference” when it comes to ethnic heritage because the food will always be good. New Castle has its share of family owned Italian restaurants.
One of my favorites is Soni’s owned by the Sansone family. The family has been in the Italian food business for many years owning another restaurant in downtown New Castle previous to this one. It is located on Route 18 going north from New Castle at the outskirts of the city.
On the downside, it doesn’t have a liquor license but you can bring your own wine in with a cork charge. On the upside, it has a hell of business. Go there on a Saturday night and you will see people’s leaving with stacks of pizza boxes. The times I have visited Soni’s it has been busy both in the middle of the afternoon and evening.
Their menu is extensive and the food is very good. How can you go wrong with a fish sandwich named the Codfather? It comes with fries slathered in this barbeque sauce. Not a place to be counting calories. I have ordered it there twice!!
But its forte is its spaghetti sauce...rich with just enough spicy. On my last visit I ordered veal parm…and you could have fed three people. Some of the local reviews have complained about the service, but I haven’t seen it. The times I have been there the service has been outstanding and friendly.
I haven’t tried the pizza, but will on the next visit. Get there at the right time they have wonderful homemade desserts.
This is standard Italian fare that is good and plentiful. One of the quirks in New Castle is the availability of Chicken Pastina Soup. I have had it at three New Castle restaurants. That is a soup I grew up with and have yet to see it here in the Valley. Soni’s is as good as any…add some pepper to give it some zip.
Worth the drive if you are looking for a place to go on a beautiful afternoon.
3208 Wilmington Rd.
New Castle, Pa 16105
By: Mark G. Mangie
Italian Shortcakes: LaRocca's / Soni's