Anthony’s Coal Fired
Numerous locations @ acfp.com
Chain restaurants most often offer predictable, mediocre, safe food that neither excites nor offends yet appeals to large numbers of diners. There is a sameness to their game plans and that’s probably why they rarely are reviewed.
Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza originated in South Florida in 2002. It’s owned by Long Island native Anthony Bruno and football great Dan Marino. There are 43 of them nationwide, 6 of which are on Long Island in Woodbury, Great Neck, Commack, Carle Place, Wantagh and Bohemia. Considering the long lines that regularly appear at all of them, especially for weekend dinners, additional locations will no doubt be added.
Obviously, pizza is the name of the game at Anthony’s (though there are lesser alternatives) and the establishment pulls no punches. They proclaim “warning, our pizza is well done” and they mean it. Authentic Italian ovens set at 800 degrees churn out crisp, thin pies. The crust is often charred along its rim. As a result every slice is sturdy, even stiff, not limp. Top of the line ingredients are apparent in both their traditional pies (small $12.99, large $15.99) and specialty numbers ($16.99 to $19.99 and $18.99 to $21.99). All of them spend only four minutes in the oven and feature fresh dough that’s made and stretched daily.
Snappy, prompt, almost instant service by an upbeat waitstaff is the hallmark at all Anthony’s locations, as are the pictures of pop culture heroes that dot the walls (Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marlon Brando, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn). Obviously Anthony’s bare tables, multiple televisions tuned to sporting events, beer blackboard and enormous portions of Italian soul food create a relaxing, casual, everyman atmosphere.
While pizza is deservedly the headliner here, it’s not the only option. About a third of the dinner menu is devoted to salads, coal oven sandwiches and Italian soul food served family-style for sharing. Although these alternatives don’t rank with the pizzas, there are nevertheless a number of worthwhile choices.
The coal-oven roasted chicken wings swimming in caramelized onions and accompanied by focaccia are meaty, tangy treats that can be a shared as an appetizer for a whole table or ordered as an entrée (10 for $10.99, 20 for $18.99). Other entrées that deserve consideration are the jumbo meatballs slowly cooked in a hearty tomato sauce (2 for $5.99, 4 for $10.99) and the sausage-studded broccoli rabe—bitter Italian greens sautéed in garlic and olive oil with plenty of those Italian sausages ($11.90). The thinly sliced eggplant Marino is a “nothing special” dish duplicated (often better) throughout the Island ($10.99). But the excellent oven roasted pork ribs with vinegar peppers and focaccia are a hot, sit-up-and-take-notice dish dominated by very spicy vinegar peppers though its garlic, rosemary and white wine are less apparent running mates (6 ribs $11.99, 12 ribs $18.99).
There’s only one dessert at Anthony’s and it’s a dilly: New York- cheesecake from Michael’s Bakery in Brooklyn ($5). It’s creamy, rich and every bit as sumptuous as its better-known Brooklyn counterpart.
Unpretentious, inexpensive, creative and unusual are the terms that best describe Plancha Tapas & Wine Bar in Garden City. Unpretentious because it’s a narrow 49-foot storefront that’s rustic and homey. Inexpensive because most of the tapas are in the $6 to $9 bracket; sprawling, abundant wood boards for sharing go for $27 and bottles of wine cost as little as $16 (the well thought out multi-page wine list here is impressive).
The tapas, which can be consumed as a whole meal or a prelude to one, range from simple—like warm olives and Marcona almonds ($5 each)—to more creative and unusual items like roasted Brussels sprouts topped with chestnut purée, shaved Piave cheese and black pepper honey ($8). A Spanish Cobb salad is also interesting and featured arugula, Spanish goat cheese, Serrano ham, avocado, an eight-minute egg and Marcona almonds ($12).
Speaking of Marcona almonds, Plancha’s co-owner Joshua Kobrin (who didn’t know I was a critic) offered me some of them and a few olives as I sat at the long bar waiting for a table (that’s not unusual, it’s a small place). The almonds were fried and enhanced with sea salt, while the warm olives were plump, meaty Sicilian imports. Those excellent ingredients and Kobrin’s generosity and concern made a positive impression that remained throughout the evening. The restaurant’s upbeat spirit and the quality and diversity of the food kept the momentum going.
Don’t pass up those bountiful sharing boards—I’d suggest the Spanish one. It’s loaded with enough goodies for a table of hearty eaters. Meat, cheese and fruit lovers will find their favorites: Silver dollar-sized spicy chorizo, slender Serrano ham slices and cured pork loin should satisfy the carnivores, while the cheeses from the Iberian Peninsula—Manchego, Cana de Cabra and Campo de Montalban—were noteworthy for their exquisite freshness. Add those olives and almonds, the sweetest little grapes, quince paste, dried cherries and apricots and slabs of rough hewn peasant bread from Cardinali Bakery (Carle Place) drizzled with olive oil and sea salt and you have a feast for four. (Take the menu’s suggestion and have a harmonious Fino Sherry to accompany the plate.)
When the tasting plate is finished, move on to the varied tapas. We ordered six, four of which were winners, thanks to the advice of a waitstaff that displayed enthusiasm, generous conviviality and detailed knowledge about every dish and every ingredient. The pork belly bocadillo (braised pork belly) came on a gutsy roll accompanied by Kimchi, limes, cilantro and sesame mayo ($8). This was the numero uno tapas choice. Close behind it was the Cabra bake, bubbly goat cheese atop roasted mushrooms, endives and charred grapes ($9); and Cebada in a velvety truffle and Madeira wine sauce with roasted mushrooms ($7). Flavor permeated both dishes with the Cabra bake generating sweet undertones. Seared foie gras with balsamic onions and caramelized bananas combined two dissimilar ingredients, yet their individual tastes registered ($16). Less successful was the Burrata dominated by fresh, creamy mozzarella that provided scant taste ($14) and a monster split marrow bone that harbored little marrow ($8).
The two tiny desserts were served in coffee cups and were mediocre. The black cherry panna cotta sounded more exciting than it tasted ($5) and the chocolate fondue with sea salt and Nutella ($5) was ordinary.
Photo by Pam Deutchman / thefphoto.com