Restaurant review: Antone's
You might not know it, but Columbus owes Youngstown. Like for Jim Tressel, who came from Youngstown State to help deliver the Buckeyes their first national championship in decades; even Tress' "caveman offense" detractors can't deny his program is gloriously successful.
Then there's that other iconic Y-town Jim - James Traficant. With his hysterical rants -and hysterical hair- he's provided us with countless hours of political entertainment.
Thirdly, Youngstown - which is equidistant from Pittsburgh and Cleveland -lies along a major faultline of the Rust Belt. This means that even in a stinky economy, Columbus, by comparison, looks like an especially glamorous place to live.
Now we can add hog-out boot-country comfort cuisine to this impressive list of indebtedness. That's because a long-beloved (since 1961) Y-town restaurant family has recently unleashed a sibling onto the Columbus dining scene. This Youngstown-bred mini-chain of eateries is legendary for pleasure-center-saturating grub and a casually unsubtle approach to mealtime. Welcome to the oddball Antone's.
I love oddball, and Antone's clearly qualifies. It has waiters, daily specials, real plates and cutlery, but is fitted with a drive-thru and looks like a dreary fast-food outlet. In fact, if a close Y-town friend hadn't recommended it, I doubt I'd ever have considered eating there - let alone writing about it.
But as I sat at Antone's unlovely tables plowing through mountain after mountain of eminently satisfying Italian-American chow, I realized that Antone's high quality, great value and amusing nomenclature dictated I share with deal-seeking readers this cheese-loving dinky palace of homemade pasta, sauces and meats.
Just look at the "famous" - and mammoth - salad that bears Antone's name ($5.50, $2 for a small or "monkey"). As much mozzarella and romano cheese as fresh and crunchy iceberg lettuce, it's showered with chunks of good chopped salami, tuna fish and a very nice house Italian dressing. Is it retro, ridiculous and over the top? Yes. Is it fun to eat? Yes!
If the fry-happy Sampler Platter appetizer ($8) is offered, get it. The thing is crammed with a crackly golden-brown battered and fried, plus-sized hunk of "homemade" cheese; tempura-like fried zucchini strips; Antone's winningly bitter and rich "Italian Fried Greens" (romano-sprinkled kale and lettuces sauteed in oil with garlic) and old-school cheesy garlic bread.
Entree-wise, Antone's large menu teeters toward items featuring its homemade pastas, meatballs and sausages along with top-notch homey rich and tangy red sauces. Oh yeah, with lots of cheese. I mostly liked all of the iterations of these things I tried, but instead of describing each, I'll let one emblematic dish do the talking: "The Kitchen Sink" ($9).
I guess I'll start at the top. Imposingly piled into a bowl holding more food than four people ought to eat was pleasurably textured Antone's-made pasta (like cavatelli) heavily doused in that excellent red sauce and hit hard with cheese.
As you work your fork through that, you'll discover sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions, slices of hot homemade fennel-seeded sausage and a pliant, cheesy and first-rate homemade meatball. But keep digging, scout, because hidden underneath that tonnage is a giant raft of Antone's fried cheese. Quick, somebody call "Man vs. Food."
For something less outrageous, I recommend the surprisingly good Chicken Francaise ($9). Two plump pieces of eggy-battered and pan-fried boneless chicken breast arrived supple and fork-tender and drenched in a lush lemony butter sauce. It came with good, if clashing, spaghetti in red sauce. Still, I've had worse versions of that kind of chicken in much fancier restaurants.
Obviously Antone's is as far from fancy as it is from serious or restrained. It's probably what was considered superior Italian food in America when the first Antone's opened in the 1960s. And for that cheap blast-of-the-past goodness, I thank Youngstown profusely.
8325 N. High St., Worthington
Price: $ (Up to $10 per person)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 12-10 p.m. Saturday, 12-8 p.m. Sunday
For a complete guide to local restaurants, click to ColumbusDiningGuide.com