Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza, Tampa, Fla.
One of the first rules of running a restaurant is to stick to what you’re good at doing. Very few places can successfully pull off more than one kind of cuisine, and when they can, it’s usually ridiculously priced. When you add too much variety, what happens is you can dilute the quality of your menu, taking away from the things you do really well. Not everyone has to go the route of Louis’ Lunch or Five Guys and keep a bare-bones menu, but both places’ successful business models are built on identifying what they do well and sticking with it.
That’s what you’ll find at Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza, a Florida-based restaurant that actually started with an idea of a Brooklyn native. Anthony Bruno grew up eating pizza in Brooklyn, and after watching his father run a successful restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (which remains open today, Runway 84), he decided that he could also make a restaurant succeed. He decided that his specialty would be pizza, as he wanted to share the taste he grew up on with Floridians.
To that end came Anthony’s simplistic menu. You’re not going to find a slew of toppings available or pasta options at Anthony’s. Instead, your main choices are either pizza, sandwiches or chicken wings. Bruno’s father might have been able to pull off an expanded menu at Runway 84, but Bruno himself decided that the best course of action would be to emphasize quality.
As a result, all of Anthony’s restaurants are owned by the company rather than franchised, and Bruno constantly stresses the importance of consistency with Anthony’s pizzas. Hey, if I had the quality product that he had up for sale, I’d be concerned about being consistent myself.
This product is definitely worth having high standards, because Anthony’s pizzas are pretty unlike most other places. Coal-burning pizza tends to be found mostly in the Northeast, in the form of either New Haven, Conn.,’s style of apizza or in New York’s famous coal-burning ovens, going back to the Brooklyn connection that started all of this. While many pizza places use either an electric or a wood-burning oven to cook their pizzas, Anthony’s gets its coal-ovens up to 800 degrees to make your pizza.
This has two effects on it. First, it drastically cuts down on your waiting time. As anyone who has gone out for pizza knows, one of the most difficult parts is the wait for the pizza to be done after you order, which can be as much as 45 minutes in some locations. At Anthony’s, the waiting is not nearly as long. New York pizza is much thinner than Chicago’s deep dish, which cuts down on the time between those two. Plus, the 800-degree oven means that in just about five minutes, your pizza will be fully cooked. This does not mean you’ll have it four minutes after you order, but you won’t be spending a half-hour waiting either.
The wait is negated, however, by Anthony’s outstanding chicken wings. This is one of the few things that Anthony’s does besides pizza, and they do it very well. These wings are not breaded, they’re roasted in the coal ovens and cooked with caramelized onions. The wings are seasoned to perfection and are just delicious. The onions add an extra dimension of flavor, and of course, Amy chose to just take my word for it given her dislike of onions in many forms. But these things were great, sweet and soft.
On the pizza front, Anthony’s pizza is all about the char. Like Bob and Timmy’s, the bottom of your pizza is going to get burned by the charcoal. It’s just the way it is when you cook dough in that style, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all, because the smoky flavoring it adds is subtle, not overwhelming. It’s the pizza itself that shines, as Anthony’s focuses on both authentic Italian-style pizzas and a small number of specialty pies that put their own spin on the classic comfort food.
The specialty pies include creations such as the roasted cauliflower, topped with mozzarella and romano cheese and bread crumbs, and the Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage pizza. Oddly, some of Anthony’s toppings are only available on the specialty pies. For instance, you can order the Arugula Pie, but arugula is not one of the toppings Anthony’s has on its list. Perhaps they simply don’t see the point, because you can add whatever you want to a specialty pie from the toppings they do have.
That was what Amy and I opted for, getting the white pizza with mushrooms added to it. Anthony’s white pizza includes ricotta along with the mozzarella and romano, which is more often associated with lasagna than pizza but adds an interesting taste and texture to it. Plus, more cheese on something is almost never a bad thing.
That was the case here. The three cheeses work in perfect harmony together with both each other and the charred dough. The pizza is on the greasy side (after all, this is a place based on the New York style), but the taste is worth it and the grease can always be wiped off. The mushrooms are cooked to perfection, and this pizza has all the parts that make pizza great. Of course, that’s because I’m partial to mushrooms, but that’s the beauty of pizza, you can try about six million combinations on the dough.
Amy’s friends Matt and Poly opted for a meatball pizza with ricotta and mushrooms, and this was also an excellent pizza. I’ve never been a huge fan of meat on pizza (and Amy, of course, won’t touch it at all), but this actually worked very well. You have five elements in this pie with the tomato sauce, ricotta, mushrooms, cheese and meatballs, and the combination is pretty awesome. Neither the sauce nor the cheese is overwhelming, nor does the coal mark interfere with the taste.
However, Anthony’s doesn’t stop at pizza. Being from New York, cheesecake is also something they do well, and as one would expect with a New York influence, this cheesecake is smooth and creamy. With a hint of citrus, a graham cracker crust and a dusting of cinnamon, this was outstanding. As good as I am at making cheesecakes, I couldn’t match this quality.
Quality over quantity is a big thing for many restaurants, and that’s been Anthony’s recipe for success. Even with several locations open now in the U.S., they haven’t forgotten where they came from, and that’s what makes them worth the visit.
Time to go: Lunch or dinner. This is more upscale, so I recommend a dinner plan.
Wait during my visit: None, the restaurant had plenty of spots open.
Location: Anthony’s is throughout Florida and the Northeast. Ours was at 1901 South Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Fla.
Parking: There’s plenty here.
Cost: These pies are not cheap. A large specialty pie can cost $20 before adding toppings. The taste is worth the price.
Seating arrangement: Tables and chairs.
Specialty items: Coal-fired pizza