Downtown is changing fast. Thank goodness Anthony's stays the same.

The Real Thing 

Downtown is changing fast. Thank goodness Anthony's stays the same.

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The dipping sauce for both was the slightly sweet "red sauce" — great-grandmother Angelina's sugo recipe — that's the signature sauce for most of the pasta dishes at Anthony's. Sophisticated palates might find it too sugary or too bland, but it was a joyful nostalgic experience for me. Not because my own Sicilian nonna made a similar sauce (hers wasn't sweet but potent with garlic), but my favorite childhood restaurant in Indianapolis did. That particular joint, long closed, also served the same kind of soggy iceberg-lettuce salad, drenched in a vinegary dressing, that Anthony's offers up with dinners. I'm almost ashamed to confess how much I love that salad.

I have eaten more elegant interpretations of veal scalloppine in my day, but Anthony's is the most rustic, emotionally satisfying version, the pounded veal medallions thickly blanketed with a smoky, garlicky marinara. Patrick couldn't decide between eggplant parmesan or the steak Modiga until the waiter told him he could have the beef with a side of eggplant. The filet arrived on a sizzling platter, all bubbly with molten mozzarella cheese. "It's like the very best Philly steak sandwich I've ever had," Patrick said, "but without the bread and with a lot of white wine. And real lemon juice! I just bit into a lemon seed."

Carol Ann ignored my protestations that Anthony's variation on fettuccine puttanesca wasn't traditional enough (the "whore's pasta" is usually made with black olives, anchovies, capers and red peppers), although she was thrilled that Anthony's heaps its sluttish dish with lots of shrimp, clams and chunks of crabmeat. It's imitation crabmeat, but Carol Ann didn't mind, and our waiter told me that most of their customers prefer it. "Real crabmeat is kind of boring," he said.

Well, it is a little more savory than the sweet, succulent artificial crab that is also generously laden on several other dishes, including the addictively good fried artichoke hearts that I ate on my second visit, this time with my friend Jeanne and her two teenage daughters (who thought the faux crab was, like, the bomb). Anthony's isn't haute cuisine, for God's sake. It's a cozy, unassuming dining room with uncloaked tables, plastic tumblers, fake plants and pink light bulbs. You want fancy? Go to Jasper's or Lidia's. You want big slabs of cheesy lasagna or fettuccine swimming in thick cream sauce with peas? Go to Anthony's.

I'm not sure how to describe the dish called bruzzalini, an Anthony's specialty made with ground sausage rolled around a hard-boiled egg and inspired, perhaps, by the hard-to-find (in Kansas City, anyway) rolled-meat delicacy braciola. It's a tasty, mildly seasoned creation, and it's pretty damned good with a hunk of Roma bread. Like an Italian meatloaf, but better.

The Spino family still makes some of the desserts offered here, including the cannoli, the cheesecake, and a thickly iced layer cake. The tiramisu is from a big food-service vendor, but it's pretty decent. One night, the featured pastry was a big slab of Boston cream pie, which the two teenagers had never seen before in any restaurant. They turned up their noses at the idea of spumoni (the waiter was insulted — and rightly so), but they polished off the custard-filled cake faster than you could say porcellini piccoli.

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