Restaurant Review: Pizza Castle

Some Things Are Too Good To Change, Including Pizza Castle

Hosho McCreesh
5 min read
Back to ... the Future?
(Eric Williams Photography)
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Nostalgia is a tricky thing. It’s like a memory with an Instagram filter slapped on it. It imbues sights, sounds and even tastes with a certain ethereal poignancy and over time, we convince ourselves that things will never be that good again. So with all this firmly in mind, I decided to drop back in on Pizza Castle, a high school staple of mine, to see what, if anything, had changed. And I felt a sense of relief as I pushed through the door and found the familiar bank of video games and the arched, faux-red brick order window just as I’d left it. The space was still directly out of central casting for a young couple’s first date kind of pizza joint, even if the years had added a fair amount of patina.

That relief soon evaporated when, on a handwritten sign, I found information announcing an imminent move—just across the street—into a newly built space that, at least from the road, didn’t seem to have much in common with the spot I’d known for years. I felt pangs of fear, of the loss of yet another location that had once provided both comfort and sustenance nestled deeply in the recesses of my mind! But it also allowed for an intriguing and fairly unique proposition: a before-and-after comparative analysis.

It’s happened to me before of course, as it has (or will happen) to everyone eventually. You push through an old, familiar door and everything is wrong, all wrong … and that’s only if there’s still the old door to push through. Jack’s, the Fat Chance, Paul’s Monterrey Inn, Noda’s in Rio Rancho—these are just a few of the painful memories of long-gone places where I wiled away many an indelible hour. But Pizza Castle seemed to be doing just fine, so we stepped up to order our before-the-move meal.

First was the lunch special, served as straight cheese though you can add toppings ($6.80), and if the ambiance is straight out of central casting, then the slice at Pizza Castle is a terrific Albuquerque approximation of the world-famous, giant New York slice. It’s an airy, flour-salty dough, rolled out thin to crust up perfectly in the stone oven, yet still thick enough to stay sturdy as you fold it in half to bite off the point. It comes with a small but decent house salad. The slices were light on the toppings, which felt a touch different from years past. The chicken wings (eight for $7.99, 12 for $10) were exactly as you’d expect. They’re fried up and tossed in sauce, with ranch and bleu cheese dressing to dip into, a couple celery sticks—solid, though nothing daring or unexpected. I’m waiting for some enterprising young chef to abandon the frying vat for baked wing recipes—even though they take longer. Until then, we’ll have to get by with what we’ve got. Last was the meatball sub (6-inch $6.75/10-inch $8.75) which, again, was exactly what you’d expect it to be. A light hoagie roll with just the right toast on it, with soft, warm, spongy insides to soak up the rich marinara sauce. If I am splitting hairs, the meatballs were missing an herbaceous or even spicy note to really ramp up the flavor, but the sandwich as is certainly passes muster. All in all, our before-the-move meal was very much like the meals of yesteryear. But how would they handle the move?

The polished glass of an open, if slightly unfinished, retail space welcomed me back—one so new that not all the pictures and paraphernalia had been hung yet. There were a few folks picking up to-go orders and eager to discuss the new digs, and while the counter was now miles long, with no arches—there was an intentional nod to Pizza Castle’s roots with another faux-brick treatment on it—kudos!

And the prices, despite it being the norm when moves or changes happen—didn’t change by a cent, as far as I could tell. Kudos again. We started with the cheese bread ($3.25), which was garlicky, toasty with a melt of cheese on top and marinara to dunk in. For lunch proper, it had to be the lunch special again, if only to serve as our scientific control group, just to make sure that nothing systemic had gone wrong in the move. And dare I even say it, the larger new space made it seem like the slices were bigger, too. Perhaps that’s just a trick of future-nostalgia, but the toppings did remain lighter than I remember. The spicy combo sandwich plus bacon ($9.99/ $.85) was another expectation set and met, though the bacon was in crumbles rather than strips—clearly intended for pizza not sandwiches. For dessert, it was the chocolate cannoli, on special for $3.99. They weren’t bad, but I doubt they’d ever set the world on fire. It could be that they were more American sweet than European sweet, and I prefer the latter.

The new location adds a drive-through, a lot less grime and a little less character. Most of the video games were gone (maybe they’ll move them back?) and that patina of decades has been swapped for a cleaner industrial space. And while the nostalgic high school kid in me feels like some of the charm is gone forever, the grown-up in me is definitely happier for the much cleaner overall feel. Who knows … only time will tell if, in a few decades, maybe that ol’ high school date spot feel will be back.
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