Two years ago Antonio’s Pizza and Pasta in Porter’s Neck underwent a change in management, and I failed to notice. I made up for it by making a few trips there over the last couple weeks to see what I’d been missing.
At first glance, I noticed the decor seemed darker, more subdued. Black paint and checkered table cloths muted the natural light a bit, but the room still was quite welcoming. But my assessment could have been skewed by the smell of garlic and sausage cooking. Who’s to say for sure?
I opened with the pasta arrabbiata with a bit of grilled chicken added. I chose the linguine with the dish. Really, I find a “choose your own” item more of personal taste, with only some objective differences. For instance, penne isn’t great for bolognese, and I don’t recommend angel hair Alfredo. The tomatoes tasted pleasantly acidic, and the pasta came passably al dente. However, the real showcase was in the spice: The red chili peppers packed potency—bordering on omnipotent. Two sugar-filled sodas managed to counteract it. That’s not to say I didn’t like the dish; I liked it a great deal. I suggest diners go in with their eyes—er, palate wide-open. There’s exactly one dish on Antonio’s menu classified as spicy and it’s the pasta arrabbiata.
The sausage used in the arrabbiata is made onsite in small batches every couple of days. (Side note: It’s a pet peeve of mine to call such items “homemade.” Unless the chef sleeps on a hammock in the kitchen then the restaurant is no one’s home, and items made on the premises should not be called homemade.) The sausage came with a grittier texture than most mass-produced stuff, but I found it substantially more flavorful. While I’m not overly fond of fennel, the porcine flavor proved rich and loveable.
Normally, I don’t review take out, but Antonio’s advertises both takeout and delivery, so in my mind, it’s fair game. My homeward bound selections comprised mozzarella incarozza and a chicken parmesan. The incarozza is fried cheese, but don’t confuse this with the frozen variety in the local grocery store. Nicely seasoned—if perhaps a bit salty—the batter glistened in a beautiful golden hue. The fresh mozzarella had an oily texture that marked quality cheese. Those whose notion of fried mozzarella usually includes ordering them with the word “sticks” should give Antonio’s a try.
Now, the chicken parmesan wasn’t as wonderful. Though fried perfectly and as moist as any chicken dish could hope to be, the seasoning just didn’t bowl over my taste buds. It didn’t taste layere or bold enough. The sparse melted cheese came as an afterthought rather than a primary ingredient. Though not a bad meal by any means, the chicken parm just didn’t stand memorably against Antonio’s other offerings.
Like an Italian spot, stromboli beckons customers to create their own. I went with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato and bacon. The mozzarella tasted just as good as in the incarozza, but the oil did not blend well with the sun-dried tomato. Since I chose the ingredients, I can’t fault the chef. Give the stromboli a try, but don’t make my mistake.
The daily lunch special, The Bacon Lover, wooed with its savory flair. Stacks of bacon and pancetta more than two inches thick came sandwiched with lettuce, tomato, dijon mustard, and gouda. Anyone passingly familiar with food would expect a grease pile from that description. While a few drops fell to the plate, I couldn’t believe how strikingly clean it tasted. Sure, it was salty, but with that much ham it was to be expected. The mustard and cheese nicely mitigated it, though, making it surprisingly well-balanced. I don’t know how often this special makes it out onto the floor, but it’s worth a phone call to find out.
Even better than the sandwich were Antonio’s fresh potato chips. More thinly sliced than most restaurant chips, they’re fried brown not golden, so they’re very crispy and better than any out of a bag. I particularly commend the gentle application of salt: It enhanced the flavor without drawing focus away from the potato. These chips are a great example of how much better fresh food can be. Antonio’s deserves a lot of credit for putting in that extra effort. It’s easy to buy chips by the case, and when you factor in labor, I suspect making them onsite probably costs a bit more. But the results speak for themselves.
Antonio’s Pizza and Pasta offers a pleasant family dining experience for pretty reasonable prices. I have a list of items yet to sample, which I hope to get to over the coming months. I hope to see you there.
Antonio’s Pizza and Pasta
8211 Market St. (Porter’s Neck)
5120 S College Rd #122
Sun. – Thurs., 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Fri. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.