When your heart is set on pizza, nothing else will do the trick. You take that first satisfying bite, sinking your teeth into a not-too-crunchy crust and the well-seasoned tomato sauce that’s sliding out from under a blanket of deliciously melted mozzarella. Culinary speaking, it’s almost a mystical experience.
And when you want to ascend to that kind of pizza enlightenment later at night, you’re often out of luck in Naples. Anthony’s Trattoria, one of Bonita historic restaurants, is where we go when another pizza restaurant always saves the day. The family-run trattoria has become one of my favorite dining options in Bonita, not only because their kitchen closes at 10 p.m., but also because their food always tastes good — even to my spoiled Italian palate.
Anthony’s opened in the strip mall next door to Iguana Mia eight years ago, the one on the corner of Bonita Beach Road and U.S. 41. The old restaurant looked ... well, out of date: The peach faux painted walls and décor leftover from the ’80s didn’t make for a very vital dining room. When Noodles went out of business three years ago, Anthony’s owner Luigi Longobardo snatched up the beautiful, airy establishment with high ceilings and dark wooded booths.
New location, same great food. Open for lunch on weekdays and for dinner every day, Anthony’s offers traditionally executed Italian dishes and pizza, with a few American-Italian favorites to round up the menu. The headwaiter, Ray, who is attentive and never shy about sharing his preferences, tells us all about the pasta dishes, describing the sauces and fillings with an enthusiasm for food that’s endearing and contagious. If bruschetta ($6.95) sounds like old news to you, try the hot bocconcini peppers ($8.95): fresh mozzarella balls are wrapped in Prosciutto, then stuffed in small hot peppers and served with a tomato, garlic and fresh basil concoction. The soft mozzarella, salty Prosciutto and spicy peppers combine well with the garlicky bruschetta-like topping of tomatoes and basil. It’s an explosion of flavors that are 100-percent Italian.
The pasta selections are also very appetizing and sometimes it’s hard to decide what to order: from linguini with white clam sauce ($14.95) to lasagne (also $14.95), the generous pasta dishes are more than enough for dinner and plenty of leftovers. The spaghetti aglio e olio ($11.95) is a simple dish of peasant origins: the al dente spaghetti are sautéed in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, lots of garlic and crushed red pepper.
If that sounds a little too simple, then the spaghetti alla puttanesca ($13.95) will speak to your spicier side. Anchovies, capers and olives are sautéed in a savory tomato sauce and tossed over spaghetti. Don’t let the anchovies scare you: I’m not a fan of the fishy things myself, but when combined with good marinara sauce and imported olives and capers, their saltiness adds that certain something to the dish that makes it one of the finest pastas in the Italian tradition.
For those who are watching their carb intake, Anthony’s menu also features plenty of chicken, seafood and veal selections. The chicken Sorrento ($15.95) is a great option for a hot summer night. The tender breast is topped with beefsteak tomatoes, eggplant and fresh mozzarella in a sherry wine sauce. Moist and tasty, this colorful chicken dish captures the freshness of a Neapolitan dinner served al fresco on its namesake’s gulf.
If you decide to go for pizza, keep in mind that it will take a while to get it. Which might sound like a drag, but it’s actually a good thing. All of Anthony’s pizzas are made to order so expect to wait at least 20 minutes, the time the pizzaiolo needs to roll out the dough, cover it with sauce, cheese and the toppings of your choice, and bake the pie in the scorching hot oven. The traditional pizzas might sound a little too plain to most Americans, but they are delicious in their simplicity. Small enough to be ordered by one person, they embody the flavors I grew up with in Italy and never fail to make me a little homesick. The rucola and prosciutto ($12.95) is a delight of tomato sauce, mozzarella, arugula and imported Parma Prosciutto. The two key ingredients are added on top of the pizza once it’s cooked, creating a refreshing contrast of temperatures and textures. Also amazing and quintessentially Italian is the tonno e cipolla pie ($9.95), a classic cheese pizza topped with julienned onions, black olives and Sicilian tuna in olive oil.
Anthony’s also makes classic American pizzas: a 14-inch ($11) or a 16-inch ($13) that can be topped with more than 15 items, from pepperoni to spinach, and from chicken to anchovies. Most toppings run $1.95, except for the imported Italian cold cuts such as prosciutto and pancetta that are $2.95.
Whether you decide to try the Italian or the American variety, you won’t be disappointed. The crust is always excellent, everything about it done just right, from the thickness to the crunchiness. A pizza that is too thin tends to get overcooked and brittle; one that is too thick usually becomes spongy and wet. Anthony’s crust is right in the middle, where it should be. The sauce is also outstanding, the pizzaiolo is clearly not afraid to offend the sensibilities of those obsessed with low-sodium diets: He seasons the tomato sauce with just enough salt and herbs to make it savory and tasty. The third and last key ingredient, the cheese, is one of the best mozzarella cheeses I’ve had on a pizza in the United States.
Every time I dine at Anthony’s, I always leave with a full stomach, a smile on my face and only one big regret: I was always too stuffed to try their cannoli and their tiramisu, two of my all time favorite desserts.
If you go
28340 Trail’s Edge Blvd., Bonita Springs
Hours: Lunch is served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner served 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays.
Cuisine: Classic Italian and pizza
Service: Eager to please
Atmosphere: Warm yellow walls, vintage wine and spirits posters and wooden booths create a nice, down-to-earth atmosphere.
Noise and light levels: Pleasantly bright and busy, Anthony’s dining room is big enough to accommodate a large party and a couple on their first date without either party feeling out of place.
Prices: Appetizers are all under $10; entrees (including pasta dishes) range from $12.95 to $22.95; pizzas are $8.95 and up
Value: Good. All the portions are big enough to share or to bring home as leftovers.
Recommended dishes: Hot bocconcini peppers ($8.95), baked ziti ($12.95) and pizza.
Verdict: There might be a overabundance of Italian restaurants in town, but for an authentic white, red and green dinner, Anthony’s Trattoria is one of the best options.