We're fortunate in Bakersfield to have some locally owned restaurants doing so well that they're expanding all over town: Que Pasa, Tony's Pizza, La Mina and now Cataldo's Pizzeria, which has opened its fifth Kern County location in what used to be the Stockdale Highway restaurant Plumberry's.
Cataldo's started on Roberts Lane in Oildale by offering a different product, a New York-style pizza that wouldn't immediately make any former resident of the Big Apple spit on the ground in disgust and start a row. Cataldo's makes their own dough and uses brick ovens rather than the conveyor-belt ovens that are so common in chains. Though the menu warns the food may take some time, there was a large crew bustling about in the kitchen, and the wait for our food wasn't out of the ordinary.
In our experience, for straight consistency, the Oildale Cataldo's has always been the star, but this new location became popular immediately. It could be because pizza parlors are neighborhood draws and the closest ones to this location are far away (Steve's to the north, Tony's to the northeast and Frugatti's to the east). On the Friday night we first visited, it was difficult to find a seat at the long picnic table benches (more on those later). The place was overrun with families kicking back for the weekend, and the delivery drivers were quite busy as well. At least a half dozen people were in the kitchen making the pizzas. There were five flat screens on the wall tuned to sports, but people were here for family time and, presumably, the inexpensive beer (judging by the number of pitchers I saw). Specialty pints were only $2.79 and not only do they have Firestone Double Barrel Ale but Goose Island, described as "Chicago's Craft Beer." Its 312, an "urban wheat ale," is on tap and those who like lighter beers will enjoy it.
The menu is familiar, with the six specialty pizzas named after the different New York boroughs, a few pastas, calzones, side orders that include chicken and logs and four salads. There were bottles of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil at the counter with plastic cups for customers who want to create a bread dip or salad dressing. That's a nice, authentic Italian touch.
Start with the salads: They're amazing and large -- three or four people can enjoy them. We ordered the Cataldo's salad ($5.15) and it was presented in a big metal bowl that got my companion making immediate references to the "Big Salad" episode of Seinfeld. It featured romaine lettuce, mozzarella and feta cheese, very few black olives (I'd prefer more), red onions, tomatoes and whole pepperoncini. We got it with their house creamy Italian on the side, and two of us couldn't finish it. My companion noted how fresh all the vegetables in the bowl were, so that wasn't just menu hype.
We also ordered one of the specialty pizzas, a 14-inch Cajun shrimp ($19.99), made with tomatoes, green and red peppers, red onions and about 30 medium shrimp seasoned with file powder and other Cajun seasonings. This brought back memories of the amazing seafood pizza that Plumberry's used to serve -- I had a neighbor who just had to order it regularly -- but my companion noted that the Plumberry's product didn't really hold up well as leftovers. The shrimp pizza did when we warmed it up the next day, and this was definitely a charmer, so perfect was the proportion of peppers and shrimp.
We also sampled a four-piece "chicken & logs" ($7.50). The poultry was brought to the table seconds after coming out of the deep fryer, based on how hot it was. A simple product, but tempting even to my non-fried chicken-loving companion. The logs were long square fingers, slightly crispy and soft and starchy inside.
On another visit we ordered a 14-inch meatball and sun-dried tomato ($16.99), and found it to be absolutely amazing. The meatballs were crumbly and very garlicky, and the sun-dried tomatoes added an acidic punch that brought the whole creation together.
The wine they offer is worth discussing, as in my sheltered life I hadn't seen it before.
My companion wanted a chardonnay, and it was served in its own glass. The product is called Copa Di Vino ($4.50), and the wine is in the glass already, with foil to peel off on top and a plastic cap to keep you from spilling it on the way to your table. They had two reds (cabernet and merlot) and two whites (pinot grigio and chardonnay). I can see the advantages to this rather than box wines.
A word on the atmosphere: Noisy I don't mind so much, considering this is a family restaurant. I wasn't even fazed by the inconsolable wailing child behind me who sounded like someone who'd missed a nap. But the main dining room has the picnic tables and metal frame chairs packed in so tightly that it's difficult to get to the counter or bathroom if you need to leave before your final departure. The best seats are in the three booths in a side room to the left of the cash registers as you enter. Unless you have a big enough party to occupy a whole table, you'll be eating family style with some new best friends on both sides of you.
Very New Yorkish.