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Natural high

Pizza without beer? Lasagna without wine? Itís unthinkable according to Anthony Markuís standards, but then heís a native of Italy and the owner of Thornton Parkís newest restaurant, Anthonyís Pizza Cafe.

Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that heís 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 Dexterís, Chez Jose Mexican and Burtonís Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthonyís, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

Even so, only one month after opening, Anthonyís is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop thatís 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 donít come here if youíre trying to save calories – thereís 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 itís 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 restaurantsí 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, Anthonyís is positioned to become a fixture in the Thornton Park enclave.

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