BY EUGENE MAR
When people think of Italian food in Boston, they automatically think of the North End and little else. Thanks to 3L Sarah Hsia’s recommendation, now I know of a worthy southern Italian trattoria outside of the North End that serves up many family favorites at very reasonable prices. Antonio’s has a very unassuming exterior, but the salmon-toned interior — featuring a few prints of Michelangelo and da Vinci on the walls — gives the place a soft feel. The constant bustle punctuates the smoke- and steam-filled air at the restaurant as the kitchen works up a storm to prepare the house favorites, and judging by the many happy faces around the restaurant, I knew Antonio’s wouldn’t disappoint.
The menu is notable for its symmetry and features multiple variations on the rustic Italian dishes. There are about 12 appetizers on the menu, ranging from eggplant sautéed with garlic and olive oil to artichokes margherita cooked to a tender softness in a white wine sauce. I ventured to try the stuffed clams, which were filled with breadcrumbs, parsley, tomato and a hint of lemon juice. The clam meat retained great moisture and the dish overall was quite tasty but beware of an unlucky sand grain or two. The soup section is comprised of tortellini and pasta fagioli. However, if you’re interested in pasta, I would suggest skipping right to the pasta section where you can choose to have linguini, ziti or homemade fusili paired with a sauce of your choice — marinara, pesto, garlic and oil, carbonara or meatballs. The portions will not disappoint the hungry.
The entrée section features a variety of veal, chicken and seafood dishes. Both the veal and chicken can be prepared according to your culinary preference — pasta and broccoli, parmigiana, marsala, piccata, baciolitine (wrapped with ricotta cheese, baked under a layer of mozzarella, and served with a marinara sauce) and allo Antonio. Seafood dishes include grilled swordfish, cioppino and shrimp prepared with pasta and broccoli in a white wine sauce. Among the house favorites, lobster raviolis and pork chops served with vinegar peppers and potatoes appear to be most popular. In addition, there are daily specials, which are often even more exciting than the regular menu. All the non-pasta entrée orders are accompanied by a bowl of pasta served with simple tomato sauce.
My dining companions ordered the haddock and shrimp special from the daily specials and shrimps with broccoli served over angel hair ($2 extra for the angel hair). The haddock and shrimp arrived in a hearty brown sauce accented with tomatoes and mushrooms and proved to be the favorite dish of the night. The angel hair with shrimp and broccoli was served with a white wine sauce and was very light in comparison to the veal parmigiana I ordered. The veal was lightly fried with a layer of cheese and served with a hearty tomato sauce. The meat was juicy and flavorful, but the cheese wrapping could have been slightly crispier.
Do save room for Antonio’s dessert offerings, featuring tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. It’s nearly impossible to turn down the cannolis, and the tiramisu makes a strong case as well. The tiramisu was a bit sloppy but that’s because it’s been infused with a good amount of alcohol.
The service can be a bit slow during the peak hours, but the waiters are always willing to answer any questions you may have about the menu. Antonio’s is a tiny place that’s packed to the brim by 6:30 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, so get ready to be snug and cozy with your neighbors in the waiting area. Try calling ahead, as they will put your name on the reservation/waiting list. At times, the smoke and steam in the dining room got a bit thick, leading one dining companion to joke that this would be a good date spot in case things were going poorly — you’d barely be able to see your companion anyways. All joking aside, Antonio’s serves up fine traditional southern Italian cooking at reasonably cheap prices in hungry-man portions.
Antonio’s Cucina Italiana
286 Cambridge Street
(two blocks from Charles/MGH T stop)
Boston (617) 367-3310