Su-Th (11AM-10PM), Fr-Sa (11AM-11PM)
(215) 428-3999 Website Google Maps
Gravitas: Decor: Cost: Proximity:
Cafe Antonio is really two restaurants. Step left when you walk inside, and you’ll be taken to a charming (if a little chintzy) old-style red-sauce Italian restaurant with formal service. Step right, and you’ll enter a plain and unembellished pizza parlor, where you order at the counter. Depending on which side you choose, you’ll either be dining in faux-Tuscan delight, or in American standard.
Here’s the trick, while you can order the full menu in the pizza side (including all the Italian specialties, as well as pizzas, a pretty good Trenton-style tomato pie, and a variety of subs), you are faced with a restricted menu in the restaurant side. Try to order a tomato pie while dining at your white linen tablecloth and you will politely be refused–on this side it is traditional Italian only (no pizzas, no subs).
This caused a bit of confusion on my first visit. You see, I’d heard the Trenton-style tomato pies at this Morrisville cafe were surprisingly credible (and in fact, they were). So I crossed the Calhoun Street Bridge into Pennsylvania (Cafe Antonio is directly across the river, next to the bridge) with some guests, hoping to have a nice meal with a bit of tomato pie as an appetizer. But I chose the wrong side, so no tomato pie for me! Fortunately, I was forced to sample more of the (delicious) restaurant menu–and returned back again for the pie later on. It was a happy problem to have.
Cafe Antonio is a very good Italian restaurant. We had a spectacular order of broccoli rabe with white beans, which was served with an unctuous garlic and olive oil sauce. We sampled a variety of their Italian specialties, including a lasagna, their gnocchi alla nonna (gnocchi in a sun-dried tomato pesto cream sauce, baked with mozzarella), and linguini with clam-sauce. Many of their pastas are made in house, and all were perfectly cooked. The flavorings were excellent, and the sauces well-made. It is BYOB, which is a bargain, but the entree prices at dinner currently hover between $15-$20, which means there are less expensive Italian places around–even if they aren’t quite as good. Prices are significantly lower for lunch. The service was great, except for the tomato pie snafu.
On my second visit, we tried the tomato pie. Based on the ingredients alone, this ought to have been among of the better Trenton-style tomato pies in the area. The tomatoes were chunky and seasoned with herbs and salt (a break from tradition, which calls for plain canned crushed tomatoes on a Trenton-style tomato pie). The mozzarella was among the best quality we’ve had on a pie. The mushrooms were clearly fresh, and had a nice meaty bite and chew. The dough was decently flavored. But great ingredients alone don’t make a perfect pie. Here, the sins were in the ratio and the cooking. The mozzarella was superb, but there was far too much of it–creating a goopy, oleaginous topping that was out of balance with the bread. The crust itself lacked a good char on the undercarriage–perhaps it needed another minute in the oven to create the browning that we crave. Minor sins indeed, but enough that if we are going to go across the bridge to Pennsylvania for tomato pie, we’ll stick with La Villa, just a few blocks away. If you ordered them “well done” and “with only a bit of mozzarella” I bet you could get a terrific tomato pie at Cafe Antonio, but I prefer not to have to customize my order.
But if you’re looking for a good Italian joint, particularly one that is a bargain for lunch, this is the place to go. And if you’re looking for white tablecloth dining with traditional Italian fare, we recommend Cafe Antonio wholeheartedly. Just make sure to make a left when you walk in the door.