Several guys at the office know that I review pizza, and right around payday they start suggesting that we make another group lunch trip. I give them credit for being willing to keep trying new places; many people don’t have any sense of culinary adventure, preferring to go with what they know. Anthony’s Pasta Bar was my suggestion, largely because I had a $10 gift certificate (I’m also a Cheap Geek), and because the sign outside advertises “Brick Oven Pizza.” I was a little cautious about trying pizza at a restaurant without “pizza” in the name, but it worked out just fine.
Anthony’s Pasta Bar is located on Hanover Square, just one block east of Clinton Square, and across the square from Niko’s and Bull & Bear Pub. It’s a relatively small storefront, simply decorated with a counter at one end (sort of a bar, but no bottles or glasses are visible), booths along the walls, and tables down the middle. The ceiling appears to be an original, old, stamped tin ceiling. I think it could best be described as a small Italian Bistro, with a rather large and varied menu of soup, salad, panini, pasta and pizza. Beer and wine is also served.
Our group was, of course, all about the pizza. It comes in one size only: 10″ personal. We decided to order four different versions and share them. Our server delivered the order to the kitchen, then returned to inform us that they were “out of dough – only 1 left!” It seemed a bit odd, to say the least, since it was lunchtime. We quickly made alternate selections, but then our server returned yet again to inform us that “we found the dough!” So, it was back to the original plan. How do you lose your dough? Our server explained that the kitchen was being remodeled, the coolers were being moved, and the cooler with the dough was not where it usually is, so they temporarily lost track of it.
Approximately 15 minutes later, all four pizzas arrived. Now before I comment on the pizza, I have to confess that some of my usual geeky observations were not made due to lack of time. Think about it: you are with three other hungry guys who aren’t going to be writing a review. He who hesitates goes hungry! It was all I could do to hold them off long enough to get pictures! I didn’t pull out the tape measure, but I believe the plates were about 11″ to 12″ diameter. Each pizza ended up in a somewhat oval shape, so I guess you could say that they “averaged” 10″. They were cross-cut (not “triangles”), which the Pizza Geek and coworkers normally don’t like. However, on pizza this size, it really didn’t matter.
My first bite was from the Margherita pizza. Briefly, for those who are not familiar, Margherita pizza uses three main items: 1) tomato – either slices, chunks, or sauce; 2) cheese – often fresh mozzarella, but sometimes regular shredded mozzarella (and possibly blended with other cheeses); 3) basil. The point of those ingredients is that the colors match the Italian flag. This Margherita featured thick tomato slices, a good covering of cheese, basil, and garlic olive oil. You could say that it was much like a garlic pizza, with tomato slices added. The fresh basil appeared to have been applied before baking (many restaurants add it AFTER baking.) The taste didn’t seem to be affected though; it was a wonderful, hot, fresh blend of all the component flavors. Garlic flavor was VERY strong, which I rate as a plus.
Next, I tried the sausage, peppers and onions. If our server mentioned where the sausage comes from, I missed it, but I do remember her saying that “Anthony refuses to use Gianelli sausage.” It was somewhat spicy, but not overpowering, and I think it had a finer texture than Gianelli. Red onions were used, which I think is best for pizza because of flavor and color. Peppers were sweet red peppers that carried a little vinegar taste; fresh peppers would have been better, but it was still OK. Overall, this pizza was also a delight for the senses, with a fabulous blend of flavors.
The third pizza was listed on the menu as the “Tutto” (which basically means “everything”): pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers and onions. It was pretty similar to the pizza in the previous paragraph, so everything I said about that one applies, with the addition of pepperoni and fresh mushrooms (duh). Once again, the flavors blended perfectly. I think this was my favorite of all the pizzas we sampled.
Finally, the chicken wing pizza, described on the menu as “chicken tenders in a medium hot sauce with mozzarella.” The “chicken tenders” were actually rather small slivers of chicken. There was a nice quantity of chicken wing sauce, medium hot as advertised, and it was fully covered by mozzarella. I’ve never had chicken wing pizza before, and don’t have anything to compare it to, but I really enjoyed it. One of my coworkers HAS had it elsewhere, and he said this was the best one he’s ever had. I don’t know that I’d want a whole meal of it, though; this strikes me more as an appetizer for a group. The menu lists six other pizza variations, and you can also design your own.
The crust for each of these pizzas was from the same dough. It was a generally thin crust that was somewhat thicker and poofier at the edge. Interior structure was very good, with evidence of a good rise and careful handling (which preserves the CO2 bubbles that grow during the rise). It seemed to be a little less gluteny and softer than the average pizza dough, meaning that it was less chewy and more “delicate” in texture, with a nice bread-like quality. With regard to the bread-like quality, our server did say that the same dough is used for their dinner rolls. My only real criticism of the dough is that it could have been baked just a little longer; it was still rather white on top. Some parts of the rim did have some crispiness, and the bottom of the crust that was in contact with the stone was generally well-browned. We all did enjoy the crust, as evidenced by the fact that not one “pizza bone” (uneaten pizza crust) remained.
I have to confess that I really didn’t notice the sauce. My usual practice is to pull back the cheese and carefully inspect and taste the sauce. If I had done that this time, that one slice is probably all I would have gotten! I’m not saying my coworkers are pigs or eat fast, but this was exceptionally good pizza and nobody was going to wait for me to do the usual routine. Suffice to say that it must have been good, because you quickly notice if there isn’t enough, or if it’s bland or aggressively bad in some way. The cheese was excellent: melted, soft, mild, and not oily or salty.
Each pizza we sampled was very delicious, with well-balanced flavor; the ingredients worked perfectly together. At an average of 10″ diameter, I think this is primarily an “eat-in” pizza, not something you’d normally think of picking up or having delivered for a meal, although you certainly could. Delivery from the entire menu is offered, and catering services are available. One good way to understand the personality of Anthony’s is to consider that this is the type of place you could take a date. At the same time, you can stop in for a casual lunch, either alone, or with friends or coworkers. This is a welcome change from the majority of pizza places that are just a “hole-in-the-wall” which manufactures pizza.
With a little better browning of the crust’s rim, and fresh peppers, this pizza could genuinely earn a perfect 5 slice rating. The “flaws” I’ve listed would normally knock it down to 4.5 or even 4.0, but in the end, it is the way your mouth and brain responds when you’re eating it that matters most. So, comparing it to my other top pizzas in the Syracuse area, I feel comfortable giving it a rating of 4.75 out of 5 slices. Congratulations Anthony – it was great pizza, and the Pizza Geek highly recommends it!
Summary – Pros: fresh, complex flavor. Cons: crust slightly underdone, vinegary peppers.
What do YOU think? Have you made the trip downtown to Anthony’s Pasta Bar? Click the comment link below and tell us how it was!
Note: Starting with this review, I’m changing from “Value” to “Bang/Buck” in the ratings below. The intention is to consider the taste and quality against the price, and evaluate if you’re getting your money’s worth.
Anthony’s Pasta Bar, 126 E. Genesee St., Syracuse – 422-4669