Phantom Diner

Rillo's – The Phantom Diner, September 2010

Written by The Phantom Diner | Aug 19, 2010 3:53 PM

Rillo's in Carlisle, a Central PA Italian-American landmark, is celebrating 50 years. Any restaurant around that long must be doing something right.

Even though the Rillo family no longer owns the place, the menu, service and atmosphere cultivated for a generation are lovingly maintained. If you haven't been there in 20 years, you won't notice much difference. If you've never been, it's worth going.

Rillo's was bought in 2007 by owners of the popular Market Cross Pub in downtown Carlisle, favorably reviewed by your Phantom in 1996 and willingly revisited since. I'm told original Rillo's recipes, most importantly for meatballs, were passed along with the deed.

I'm also told the Rillo family matriarch, who opened the place with her husband back in 1960, lives nearby and still stops in a few times each week.

I like it here. It has a throwback feel — not a bad thing. It has a not-so-urban setting with a big parking lot, and it seems there's always some special function going on.

But once you're greeted by the extra-friendly staff and you sink into one of the many deep booths lining the main dining room and hear Sinatra over the sound system and get a generous, well-made cocktail or a generously poured glass of wine, you feel like Sinatra must have felt at his favorite Italian Manhattan restaurant, Patsy's on West 56th Street.

Rillo's has the feel of a 1960s dress-up place without the snootiness or the dress code. The atmosphere's relaxed. Everyone, from what I could tell, is treated like a regular. Our server was especially warm and attentive.

Regular prices are, well, pricey, but portions are huge. Plus, Rillo's offers low-cost all-you-can-eat pasta nights and discounted food and drink for all aged 55 and older on "Baby Boomer" nights.

Check the website (rillos.net) for special events.

Also, if you play the menu right, you can get plenty of good food without leaving any arms or legs behind.

My table had cocktails, appetizer, salads and pasta dishes, coffee and a double espresso (all of which left us way too full to even think about the homemade tiramisu or crème brûlée) for around $100 a couple. Given the quality and the quantity, I call this fair pricing.

The menu is large and includes options such as "shared foods" — nice if you're with a group and want something to pick at during cocktails. Among shared offerings are smoked salmon and trout with horseradish, red onion, capers and toast points ($11); crab al forno, baked lump crab spread made with multiple cheeses served with toast points ($13.50); and Rillo's own pizza with minced tomato, red onion, basil, garlic and two cheeses ($13).

Appetizers range from just $3 for a cup of seafood bisque (if ordered with an entree) to $18 for "seafood marinette" — blackened shrimp, scallops and crab in a ginger, citrus, tomato and lemon butter sauce ($14 without the crab).

There's sausage and peppers, gnocchi, antipasto, fried ravioli and more. And there are specials. I shared a special appetizer of portabella mushroom with huge chunks of crabmeat in a wine, rosemary and lemon butter sauce with Gorgonzola cheese ($8). It was fabulous, and plenty of food for two.

Salads are $4 to $5 with an entree or $8 to $9 à la carte. There's a Roquefort salad, a Caesar, a house salad and an excellent arugula salad with red onion, garlic and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

You can build your own pasta entree from seven kinds of pasta, with traditional or marinara sauce, and meatballs or sausage, fried peppers or mushrooms. There are pasta "dishes of the house" from $16 for fried ravioli in a house-made cream sauce to $28 for lobster and shrimp Diablo.

The latter delighted a dining partner who raved about the amount of broiled lobster and shrimp served in the spicy sauce over linguine. The dish was a big hit.

I opted for a "trip around the kitchen," a sampling of lasagna, ravioli, gnocchi, spaghetti and a (wonderful) meatball with marinara sauce (you can also get it with traditional sauce) for $22. I know the price seems steep for pasta without seafood, but the portion is enough to provide two full meals. I took more than half home. Loved it twice.

(Rillo's allows entrees to be split for a $7 share fee that includes an additional side salad or soup. I think half of this excellent dish would satisfy most appetites.)

Other pasta dishes are "Daddy's Combo" — lasagna and fettuccine broccoli Alfredo with chicken Parmesan for $20; layered lasagna with meatballs and meat sauce, $16.25; fettuccine with lump crabmeat, artichoke hearts and shrimp, $26; and more.

The numerous chicken, veal, pork, steak, eggplant and combo entrees are mostly priced in the $20s. Big spenders can splurge on filet and shrimp scampi for $37 or broiled crab cakes with a filet for $40.

There's a kids' menu and (oddly, to me) a "seniors' menu" (four entrees, $15 each; one is calves' liver). But I figure anybody around 50 years knows what works.

Rillo's serves good food. A lot of it is rich. And some diners might want sauces on the side. But my experience there was good, and I hope Rillo's is around for many years to come.

RILLO'S

60 Pine St., Carlisle; on-site parking; full bar; takes major cards; kids' menu; seniors' menu; open for dinner every day but Monday; reservations suggested; 717-243-6141; rillos.net

Published in Phantom Diner

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