Yesterday, mid afternoon, I went to a local Italian restaurant in Keyser, West Virginia to pick up a carryout order of Ravioli Parmagiana. Now, you have to understand that Keyser is definitely not a center for great eating. There is one pretty mediocre, small Chinese buffet,
a decent Mexican restaurant,
an Irish pub type restaurant,
an old, established main street type diner style restaurant with booth and counter service,
a hot dog joint,
a hamburger joint (and by joint I mean a place that probably qualifies as a dive), a small Pizza Hut,
a couple other pizza places (Dominos and Foxes Pizza), a 50's style drive-in/eat-in (it's only and eat-in now since the drive-in part has gone to seed) about three or four of the standard, major fast food franchises,
a couple Subways, a very typical Denny's,
the "Mountaineer All Star Cafe" - a sports bar with a restaurant side
and one "upscale" (I put the word in quotation marks for a reason) restaurant B&B, the Candlewyck.
So, as you can see, if you are accustomed to the culinary delights of the big city, Keyser is definitely not the place to come. Now, Castiglia's Italian Restaurant
is one of three such restaurants using that name in this region (within about 100 miles). The first is in Winchester, Virginia where I made my home for 27 years. The second is in Front Royal, Virginia, about 25 miles south of Winchester and a small city of about 10,000 to 12,000. The third is located here in Keyser, West Virginia, an incorporated city of about 6,000 or less. Castiglia's (pronounced Casteeya's - the Italian pronunciation as noted on their menu and as they answer the phone) is not, to the best of my knowledge a small local chain. Rather, as far as I can tell, they are affiliated by family heritage and independently owned and operated. Each of the restaurants is set up and operated similar to each other. I believe the model being the Winchester restaurant. They share similar menus and probably the same recipes. The food is very good for a small town Italian restaurant.
As an interesting side note, when I first moved to Winchester in 1984, there was only one real Italian restaurant in town and it was only open part time and I never had the opportunity to try it before they unfortunately went out of business. There were, however, two pizza places that were owned and operated by two Sicilian gentlemen. Anthony's Pizza owned by Carlo Spinelli, an Italian immigrant. Carlo's father, Anthony started the business when he emigrated from Italy bringing his family to Winchester. The other fellow's name was Donato, (his first name escapes me). They both knew how to make GREAT pizza and also prepared other delicious Italian dishes mainly for carry out consumption. That was it for authentic Italian food in Winchester in the mid 1980's! In 2013 Donato is still there with a regular Italian restaurant, but Carlo Spinelli sold his "Anthony's Pizza" to other family members who moved to Winchester from New Jersey and New York. There are currently about 24 or 25 Italian restaurants and pizza places including chain restaurants like The Olive Garden and Carrabbas in Winchester.
Back to Keyser
The small town along the Potomac River separating West Virginia from the western panhandle of Maryland, as you can well imagine, is not a terribly sophisticated place. There is a small two-year college (affiliated with West Virginia University) in town, with some reasonably well-educated faculty and administration staff, the local school system with a faculty and administration of college graduates and a small, modern hospital with a small medical community. Keyser is also the county seat so there is a small community of lawyers. For the most part, the rest of the population have made their living in agriculture, working at a local paper mill or in the coal mines. While, the majority of the local folks are wonderful, family oriented, simple people with little need for sophistication, there is certainly a reasonable part of the population who would be best described as "rednecks."
So, with this description, and please, do not interpret this as a put down of these small town folks. Frankly, having grown up in the New York City metro area (a great place to be from, by the way), I could never move back to that kind of lifestyle or population. There is nothing wrong with my home area or the people who live there. I have simply spent most of the past 46 years living in small towns and in a more rural environment and find I'm most comfortable here. I delight in listening to these folks chatting. There is some great homespun wisdom. I find, more often than not, that these simple country folks are far wiser and display more basic commonsense than I credit our Congress, Supreme Court, the President of the U.S. and all the supposedly intelligent, wise and more sophisticated people who work for and run our federal government. It would be my guess that most of the folks in this region (mainly from Scotch, Irish and German ancestry, from what I can tell) have never delighted in the taste of Thai, Korean, French, Greek, Armenian, Turkish, other Middle Eastern, Spanish (as opposed to Mexican), Indian, Ethiopian and the large variety of other world cuisines available in most major cities in the U.S.
But, judging by the volume of business that Castiglia's does in Keyser, the local folks absolutely enjoy, nay, make that - love decent Italian food. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming that Castiglia's is the best Italian food I've eaten. Even though I see myself myself ever living back in northern New Jersey, my taste buds were treated to some of the greatest Italian (as well as other cultures) food in the U.S. But, Castiglia's does an excellent job at approaching the quality of the Italian food of my youth.
Additionally, Italian's are not typically stingy when it comes to food. When you order a full size, single serving of spaghetti and meatballs, for example, at Castiglia's you get enough to serve three people for minimally two full meals. The meal includes a large salad, a nice large piece of Italian bread, five large meatballs and overall, the spaghetti and meatballs (without the salad and bread) weighs about four to four and a half pounds, on average. Yes! I've weighed it. All this very good Italian food for, get this, under $10.00 an order.
Only in America . . .
While I was waiting for my carryout order to be filled (you call in your order in advance , but they fill it fresh and hot when you arrive), the young woman at the cash register was taking an order from another patron. The young woman taking the order was either a senior at the local high school or a student at the two-year college. She was courteous, attentive, quick and cute as could be. But . . . Only in America, and though not limited to rural America, will you hear this.
Patron, "This food is so good, I'll bet you have people eat here several times a week." The young woman responded, "Yes! Actually, there are some people I've seen here at least four days a week. I love the food here, but I don't think I could eat it everyday." I had to laugh to myself, thinking, young lady, if you lived in Italy, you'd be eating this food seven days a week, every meal, and you'd enjoy it.
It just struck me funny as I, this nomadic person who has crossed this great continent on the ground and in the air and have sampled all kinds of food while enjoying meeting all kinds of people in most of the major cities, many of the middle size cities and lots of small towns, listened to this dialogue. It just reminded me how diverse this country is. It is a melting pot of cultures, ideas, cuisines and philosophies, all of which we take for granted. Perhaps, this young woman hasn't had a chance to sample the wonderful cornucopia of diverse tastes and smells that we Americans are so fortunate and blessed to have as part of our American culture and society.
Perhaps, growing up where I did, by her age I had more exposure to all this variety than she has had. And, probably, most of the people in this rural small town have still not experienced so much of what is great about America. I surely hope that she will have the opportunity (as I wish for everyone) to explore this country and meet the wonderful, diverse people who make up the unique American society. And, of course, I most certainly want her to taste and smell all the foods that have been brought here from around the world.
We have many serious problems in this country. But, personally, I don't believe the people are the real problem. I believe they are the solution. It's interference, stupidity, incompetence and arrogance on the part of our government, mainly the federal government and to a lesser extent the state governments. The only time I have a problem getting to know other people of other cultures and creating friendships and bonds is when wedges are driven between all of us with things like political correctness. I believe most of the people who came here during the first 200+ years or those who are coming here now simply want to be Americans.
I don't like segregating people with descriptive labels like African American, or Italian American, or Indian American or Native American. With this in mind, I'd be an Irish, English, German, Ukrainian, Cherokee, Mohawk American. Much to many people's disappointment, I'm sure, I simply think of myself as just an AMERICAN. I was born here and raised here. I may have ancestors who immigrated here and contributed to my blood heritage, but I wasn't born in any of those places or brought up in those cultures. And everyone I know whether black, white, yellow, red or any other skin color or from any other ancestral nationality or ethnic background, if born here or naturalized as a citizen, is an American, plain and simple.
That young woman at Castiglia's doesn't have to eat Italian food seven days a week, but she can if she chooses to. She can have Chinese or Indian or Mexican or Cuban or Korean or Vietnamese or any other kind of food as much or as little as she chooses whenever she chooses because . . . She Can! Because she is an American . . . PERIOD!