We stood in the hallway entrance of Anthony's Runway 84, all of us fuming over what had just happened. My wife was applying lip gloss in the bathroom and rehearsing how she would tell off the maître d'. My aunt and uncle figured we ought to just drop it, but I couldn't let this stand. I didn't catch the host's name, so we'll call him the Consigliere. He greeted me with his hand out as I got ready to unload on him.
We should've figured our night would get to this point. Our capo, a jittery waiter named Guido, let us know early on with not-so-subtle hints that our field trip here would be a short one.
Anthony's has been around only since 1981, but its feel is decidedly old Fort Lauderdale, as in, the retirement community for New York wannabe wiseguys in need of a decent meatball. Owner Anthony Bruno is probably better-known now for his chain of pizza joints, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, where burning-hot ovens make fantastic well-done pies (read an article on the pizza joint on page 28). At Anthony's Runway 84, the walls of the hallway entrance are filled with years of semicelebrities appearing to leisurely enjoy their meal.
For us, Guido breezed through the specials and then rebuffed our attempt to order appetizers first. "I gotta get the whole order," he said in an accent that sounded a bit Italian, a little Brooklyn. When asked why, he offered: "The chef — if you put in the order in two, you will be here all night."
I asked if that meant we ought to rush. "Nobody's gonna rush you," Guido said, as if the Godfather himself had given us a pass.
He at least took our drink order first, a $36 bottle of Chianti from a relatively reasonable wine list. The temporary break from Guido gave us time to look around and wonder if the regulars were following this same no-appetizers-first rule. And there were certainly many regulars. They packed the bar off to the State Road 84 side of the dining room, back behind the full-sized replica of an airplane fuselage. A cartoony cutout of a plane completed the runway theme on the opposite side, and in between, tables were packed with diners and plates big enough to be considered elsewhere as family-sized servings.
Guido hung around as we considered our order, standing just off to the side near an empty table. He loomed stalker-like, close enough that he could probably hear our conversations. He dropped in every couple of minutes to see if we had decided.
Before we ordered, my uncle pointed to a nearby table where a woman had begun on what looked like perhaps a week's worth of food. "What is that mound of stuff?" he asked. We scanned the menu and figured it had to be the $29 "Italian Sunday feast," which typified a menu that features all the standard Marsalas and Parmesans.
My uncle and I had agreed to an arrangement that wouldn't break my expense account — he'd pay for the wine and I'd pick up the meal. When my uncle asked Guido about the separation, he wasn't going for it. "No, I will bring one check, and you will divide it," he declared. It seemed the Don had spoken.
We ordered — everything at once — and within minutes came hot, crusty Italian bread with Parmesan dipping sauce and simple house salads with a salami-slice decoration and garlicky dressing. A minute later came mussels marinara, which comes with the meals and, apparently, a bit of sand mixed in with a red sauce too sour for mussels.
For the appetizers, we ordered a special of grilled shrimp accompanied by a simple dice of tomatoes and garlic. The prawn-sized shrimp were perfectly cooked but effortless, flavored only from the grill. At $10 each shrimp, they were entirely too expensive. That's especially true compared to our second starter, a $10 plate the menu describes this way: "It's All About the Meatballs." It came with two soft meatballs almost as mild as the creamed ricotta that came on the side.
"My pet peeve," said my uncle, who had flown into town minutes earlier, "is when you've just taken a bite and then they come over and ask how it is. So far, our guy has passed the test."
As we ate, Guido maintained his spot nearby at the empty table, as if he were ready to take a bullet if an assassin approached. Luckily, I had sat with my back to the wall.
He left his watchman spot minutes later, returning with my Italian Sunday Feast, which was indeed a mound of food. It featured the same meatball from the appetizer, a rather chewy bracciola, a link of mild Italian sausage, and the star of the plate — a pork rib made tender from a day hanging out in gravy. That sauce, however, offered little more than the flavor of tomato paste on my rigatoni, which got a garnish of the creamy ricotta. The plate was enough for three meals, but I was glad we hadn't asked Guido about sharing — I'm just not sure what the Family would think.