Patrons are settling in at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza
Since opening this past November, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza at Settler's Ridge has kindled quite a following. Founded by Anthony Bruno in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the franchise has locations throughout Florida, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Robinson site is a first for the Pittsburgh area, although a second location is in the works in Miracle Mile Shopping Center in Monroeville.
Bruno's classic Italian philosophy of cooking with simple ingredients earned him the admiration of Pittsburgh son and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, when the Hall of Famer was a patron in Florida. Marino helped convince Bruno that the cozy sports bar and family establishment would be a good fit in sports-loving Allegheny County. The two scouted locations, eventually deciding on the expanding Settler's Ridge.
What sets the establishment apart is its use of pure coal to cook the food.
"I didn't know much about coal before this, but we use so little," general manager John Mowod says. "We put a little in twice a day, and it stays lit all day."
Instead of using the region's softer bituminous coal, Anthony's utilizes the much harder anthracite variety, which comes from abandoned mines, in an attempt to preserve the environment. Chunks of glittery anthracite are clustered around the restaurant for diners to examine or even take home.
Pies take only about four minutes to cook in the stove that stays between 800 and 900 degrees. The ventilation system for the ovens is out front, and there is no smoke.
"The response has been incredible -- people can't get enough," Mowod says.
The light from the oven is reflected beautifully on floor-to-ceiling windows and glossy cherry-finished tables. Flat-screen televisions and sports photos line the neutral gold walls. Patrons step in from the cold to be greeted by the aromatic rush of fresh herbs.
A large assortment of wines line the back wall above the bar, waiting to be enjoyed.
The menu, like the entrees, is simple. There are wings, traditional pies, available with nine toppings, specialty pies offering more quirky toppings, salads, coal-oven sandwiches and Italian soul-food dishes.
A neighboring table is presented with a heaping platter of crispy wings and our server, noticing our longing, explains how the fresh meat marinates for 24 hours in a sea of garlic, herbs, olive oil and lemon juice before coming to life over the coals.
We ordered a small batch of the Coal Oven Roasted Chicken Wings ($8.95). Bathed in sweet caramelized onions and served with a jutting hunk of focaccia bread, they were every bit the treat we were promised. The notion of an accompanying dipping sauce would have destroyed the delicate hints of fresh parsley and juicy tartness woven into their crispy coatings.
What seem to be some unique specialty-pizza offerings are traditional Italian favorites.
"My mom and Anthony's mom would make this fried cauliflower dish when we were growing up. We like to make cauliflower pizzas, and give them away for people to try," Mowod says.
I was game, but couldn't convince my husband to try it just, yet. We'll save that one for next time.
Instead, we did a half Meatballs & Ricotta and half Eggplant Marino small pizza ($16.50). The meatballs, in micro nickel-size form, were deftly seasoned and placed in a pretty swirl of crushed, plum-tomato sauce and dollops of ricotta. The coal-fired crust was thin, crispy and remarkably pure. As a couple who normally enjoys smoky wood-oven pizza, we were pleasantly surprised. The eggplant pizza featured the same sweet, plum-tomato sauce and impossibly thin eggplant slivers, fresh basil and grated Romano cheese.
One of the "Italian soul-food" offerings, the Pork Ribs With Vinegar Peppers ($9.95), was equally pleasing. The six ribs, rubbed with garlic and rosemary, and cooked with white wine, were slathered with vinegar-soaked red and jalapeno peppers. The earthy tenderness of the meat was tempered perfectly with the spicy peppers.
For dessert, we got a large slice of New York Style Cheesecake ($4.75), speckled simply with cinnamon. We loved the combination, but would like to see one or two more desserts on the menu.
One caution on leftovers: Put any pizza in a different storage container when you get home. The plastic-foam container softened the crispy crust a bit too much by the next day.