Our search for the perfect pizza has taken us far and wide -- from the Piazza Navona in Italy to Toronto to Chicago to Los Angeles to Boston to Manhattan to Brooklyn to South Philadelphia and throughout South Jersey and even to New Orleans and Georgia and Virginia and South Carolina.
And these are just a few of the locales (far-flung and closer to home, city and country) where we've tested the local pies.
And those of you who read this blog know of our favorites (and not-so-favorites) as they have been mentioned here again and again.
When it comes to pizza, we're very discriminating, very particular and usually very skeptical.
But when the folks at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza invited us to their new eatery on Concord Pike (Route 202) just past the Pennsylvania border in Wilmington, we figured "Hey, why not?"
Of course, I must admit I was especially intrigued. Yes, I have a fondness for Ant'nees since Anthony is my middle name and St. Anthony is my patron saint.
So, on one of the hottest days of the year we ventured out and we found the vibe at Anthony's to be refreshingly cool, dark and inviting with a well-stocked bar, rich woods, comfortable cafe-style chairs and booths, New York and Philly inspired black and white photos and a very friendly staff.
Icy cold beer was promptly served in large frosty mugs and that led us to Anthony's traditional Italian salad: fresh, fragrant, crisp and light. Very encouraging.
We then moved on to Anthony's coal oven roasted chicken wings with carmelized onions and foccacia bread. No gooey sauce here. Just the real stuff with a zingy peppered kick. Great!
We also tasted Anthony's pork ribs with vinegar peppers. These ribs are also roasted in the coal oven and are seasoned with garlic, rosemary, spicy vinegar peppers and white wine. They are tender, meaty and very tasty.
Surprisingly good, and there's a reason why.
Get this: nothing is fried at Anthony's. Nothing.
But I know that you really want the lowdown on the pizza, right?
Well, we tried the fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato and basil pizza and the traditional red sauce and cheese pie. These are our standard pies for evaluating pizza. They are our base points.
Here's what we liked: At Anthony's the pies are truly Italian-style. This means that they are thin-crusted and cooked well. We didn't have to tell out waiter "well done." He knew. He understood, because Anthony's doesn't cook it any other way.
Anthony's 800 degree anthracite coal-burning oven actually cooks the pizza in four minutes. But this doesn't look or taste like any "quick cooked" pizza you've ever eaten. No way!
The fresh aroma of the pie is intoxicating and the slightly burnt edges of the crust tell you this pizza is truly ready to eat -- ready to be savored with love and satisfaction.
And here's what we loved about the pie:
1) No discernible oily mess. So many pies arrive drenched in oil. It's gotten so bad that we sometimes have to "blot" the top of the pie with a napkin to soak up some of the excess oil. And, under the crust we often find a pool of oil as well. Not so at Anthony's. Here, you can forget about the oil and simply savor the wonderfully fresh ingredients. No residue.
2) The savory, crispy crust. This crackling crust doesn't wimp out; it doesn't give up. With its dark edges and crunchy texture it keeps you returning, bite after bite.
3) The "oneness" of the pie. Incredibly, the cheese, the tomato and the other pie ingredients never separated from the pie. It didn't matter whether we sliced the pie with a knife and fork or bit through it with voracious gulps, the pie held together. What a joy!
Anthony's founder, Anthony Bruno says he set out to create an authentic Italian eatery with a simple menu and a fanatical dedication to freshness, quality and high standards. "We've introduced the 'old world' art of making pizza in a coal-fired oven and we're happy to report that our customers can't get enough of it," Bruno proudly explains.
Anthony must be doing something right. Starting in South Florida in 2002, Anthony's now has 23 restaurants in four states. The Wilmington outlet and a restaurant in Horsham, PA. are the first to open in the Philadelphia region. Another is expected to open soon in Wayne, PA.
As additional restaurants open, Anthony will be monitoring product quality to ensure that every pizza has the same great taste as the first ones in his original Fort Lauderdale restaurant.
We've gotta believe him.
This pizza is about as good as it gets. Bellissimo!
BTW: In addition to Wayne, Anthony's future locations include Carle Place, NY, Edison, NJ, Kendall, FL, Ramsey, NJ and White Plains, NY.