Castello in Niantic, Connecticut, is off the beaten path not far from Rocky Neck State Park.
Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
Set on a knoll just off West Main Street close to Rocky Neck State Park, Castello is “Niantic’s newest Italian restaurant.” It is one of those little gems waiting to be discovered as word-of-mouth spreads.
Stanley Martone checks on Stonington Scallops in the kitchen.
Opened a year ago, Castello is owned by an ambitious young man Stanley Martone, his father Dino Martone and his aunt Marianeve Picone. At 25, Stanley Martone, a graduate of Quinnipiac University, has his bachelors and masters degrees. Out of college, Stanley Martone landed a position with the prestigious Deloitte accounting firm. But the restaurant business is in his blood – from his days as a boy helping his godfather at his banquet hall to being part of his family’s original Castello restaurant- translated it means castle – in Meriden.
“It’s been an awesome adventure this past year,” Martone said during a recent interview at Castello of Niantic.
Martone has hired a young kitchen staff. If people are willing to work hard he says, “I don’t mind training.” In fact, one applicant arrived with no experience but had walked to the interview which prompted Martone to give him a chance. A good move, Martone adds, because he has turned out to be a dedicated worker, always asking questions and interested in learning as much as he can.
For Martone good business is about treating his employees and customers with respect, something he learned from his parents – Italian immigrants. Martone said he pays his employees more than minimum wage, recently set up a 401(k) plan for them, plans to give additional time off for each year of employment, and is working on instituting a benefits plan.
“In a small business it can be hard to keep employees,” he explained, noting he wants to make it appealing for good workers to stay at Castello of Niantic.
When it comes to customers, Martone said his family wants feedback. He considers Castello of Niantic a work in progress.
“I read all the comments, ” he said, “I want to learn and grow.”
Another chef is a great source of pride to Martone, his 18-year-old brother Nick Martone who is a state wrestling champion out of Platt High School and works at the Niantic restaurant part-time. Read a terrific piece about Nick in the Record Journal …
The family expanded their restaurant business from Meriden after becoming familiar with Niantic thanks to a cottage Martone’s parents have at Black Point. Catering is a big part of Castello; and they have an online ordering option. Stanley Martone is active in the advertising and marketing aspects, and recently participated in East Lyme Day where he handed out free appetizer cards. In addition, last autumn he initiated what he calls a “No Peeking” give-away, whereby customers received a “No-Peeking” card for a free menu item if they returned during the typically slower restaurant months of January and February. The catch – the card could only be turned in for a free give-away without having been peeked at, ahead of time. He expects to bring “no-peeking” back this coming autumn.
On the menu at Castello of Niantic is an array of traditional Italian entree’s, appetizers, grinders, New Haven -style thin crust pizza and calzones. Some items give a nod to the nearby Connecticut shore, such as Stonington Scallops – pan seared, topped with crispy bacon, asparagus, and creamy sundried tomato risotto, or Crescent Beach Calamari – lightly fried rings and tentacles mixed with red onions, cherry peppers and served with Castello homemade marinara sauce. The restaurant offers soups, including Pasta e Fagioli and Shrimp & Corn Chowder, and salads, those focused on greens and more unusual ones like Caprese – homemade mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and roasted peppers dressed with basil, or Strawberry & Spinach or Crispy Sausage & Burrata.
One of the most popular dishes is one Martone named himself – Torre Pendente di Melanzane – meaning Leaning Tower of Eggplant.
Baked Macaroni with Bacon.
Hot Lobster Roll
Shrimp & Corn Chowder
Wow! Check out the size of this House Salad.
And there are daily specials to try! On this day two specials were selected – Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon and a Hot Lobster Roll, with a side salad substituted for French Fries. Picked from the regular menu were Shrimp & Corn Chowder with a House Salad (served very large.) Everything got great reviews. As well, Castello of Niantic offers desserts and a Kid’s Menu.
From customer to friend, Dan Nolan says he appreciates the restaurant’s commitment to charitable endeavors close to his heart.
The latter is no surprise because this is a place all about creating a welcoming family atmosphere and making new friends, said Martone. Some “thirteen to fourteen” family members help out at the restaurant. They include Nick, sister Michelle and her husband David, Martone’s dad and aunt, and his mother Rosa who decorated Castello of Niantic. Martone counts among his new friends, Dan Nolan, with whom he became acquainted first as a satisfied customer. (Now a friend, I first became acquainted with Dan Nolan as a newspaper reporter.)
“I heard about Castello from a mutual friend,” said Nolan.
He noted he was impressed too with Castello’s willingness to assist with fundraising for a charitable cause close to Nolan’s heart, Lea’s Foundation for Leukemia Research, Inc.
It is that kind of positive word-of-mouth that has been increasing the customer base and promises to make Castello one of Niantic’s destination restaurants.
Castello of Niantic, 11 East Pattagansett Road, Niantic, CT 860-451-8880