Don Antonio Makes a Damn Fine Panini
The other week, we noted the exciting opening of Don Antonio Neapolitan pizza in Hells Kitchen. Why is it exciting? Because there’s some serious culinary chops behind the restaurant, including Kesté’s Roberto Caporuscio and his mentor Antonio Starita. According to Serious Eats, Mr. Starita is also the vice president of the Naples-based Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, the organization that trains and certifies pizza makers (Mr. Starita is also a partner at Don Antonio). Impressively pedigree’d pizza in Midtown? And several menu items under $10? Don’t walk, run, to get your lunch at Don Antonio.
The interior is slick, and during dinner time, the atmosphere boisterous to the point of being ear-splitting. But most interestingly, the restaurant is a confluence of the old and the new. Despite its old school Italian roots, including an imported Acunto oven in the back, the wait staff use iPads instead of paper pads, and there is an enormous flat screen TV in the rear of the restaurant, that proudly streams video of the kitchen line staff hard at work.
Despite the fancy touches, there are still a few decent, cheap lunch options if you order carefully. All of the panini, which are only served at lunch, are priced at $9 or $10. And there’s even a few pizza options, including the marinara starita (marinara sauce, oregano, fresh garlic, pecorino romano, basil, extra virgin olive oil – $10) and the Mast’nicola (pecorino romano, basil, lardo(!) – $9). And despite being $12, montanara starita (fried pizza) looks pretty awesome as well.
I tried the pagnotello (sausage, italian rapini, smoked buffalo mozzarella, pecorino romano and extra virgin olive oil – $9) on my visit. Expecting a bland, flattened panini with pre-marked grill lines that you get at your average deli, I was astonished when I saw Don Antonio’s version. Theirs is baked to order in the Acunto, giving the dough puffiness with a bit of char and a pleasant chew. I loved the combination of bitter greens, countered with a bit of salt from the sausage, the creaminess and smokiness of the mozzarella, rounded out by a more-ish touch of olive oil. Aside from the outstanding flavors, this monster sized sandwich was more than filling, as I was only able to eat 2/3 at lunch (the other third made a nice snack later in the afternoon).
Don Antonio is a pleasant surprise, and I finished my meal with slight befuddlement – has Midtown finally found a pizzeria that can rival the great Neapolitan pies in the village? The answer might not be a flat out yes (during a dinner visit, the pies didn’t come close to stacking up to Motorino), but for the Midtown luncher, it doesn’t get better than this.
The + (What somebody who likes this would say)
- Finally! Authentic Neapolitan pizza in Midtown!
- Plenty of seating makes this a good place to bring co-workers for lunch
- I like watching the kitchen cook my food
- The paninis are more than generous in size, and damn tasty
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The pizzas are expensive!
- When the place is busy, the food comes out excruciatingly slow
- The iPad, kitchen-cam thing is kind of a gimmick
Don Antonio , 309 West 50th St (between 8th and 9th Ave); 646-719-1043