Natural high

Pizza without beer? Lasagna without wine? It's unthinkable according to Anthony Marku's standards, but then he's a native of Italy and the owner of Thornton Park's newest restaurant, Anthony's Pizza Cafe.

Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

Even without beer and wine, Anthony's is positioned to become a fixture in the Thornton Park enclave.

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