Its food and service make Anthony J’s a star
“We need to add this place to our repertoire,” my husband remarked as we were paying our bill at Anthony J’s on a recent visit.
What he meant was that he really liked the food and service and wants to eat there again.
Tucked away on Holmes Street just steps from the Mystic Liberty Flagpole, Anthony J’s is a local institution. Skip Torraca has run the place for decades, and well-respected chef Bob Sader has been supervising the kitchen for at least a half-dozen years now.
On the Thursday evening that we went, our waitress, when asked for recommendations, told us everything is made fresh and it would be hard to go wrong regardless of what we ordered.
We started with the “L” Salad ($14) from the day’s specials menu, and it was a big hit. Shredded iceberg, with a variety of slivered Italian meats, poached garlic, diced tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, aged provolone, parmesan, and radishes dressed with a red wine vinaigrette was very, very good. It was a hearty portion, and we could have eaten more.
Equally as impressive were the Veal Meatballs ($16), which, although billed as a starter, could have been a meal. Nestled in a bowl with San Marzano sauce were four good-sized melt-in-your-mouth tender meatballs. We shared the salad and the meatballs and debated which we would order again if we could only have one and finally decided we would have to have them both again.
The warm, house-made focaccia served with garlic oil with chunks of tomato in it was a terrific accompaniment to the meatballs and salad.
We know from prior visits that the Hot Rocks menu is very popular at Anthony J’s, but we agreed that when eating out we’d rather have the chef prepare our food.
With the rocks — described as stones imported from Italy heated to 650 degrees and brought to your table — you cook your own protein. The menu offered a Seafood Scampi ($28), Steak Teriyaki ($24), or Spiced Chicken ($22) on the rocks, and we listened to the sizzle of steak cooking at the table beside us as the customers there prepared their dinners.
We went traditional, ordering Veal Parmesan ($28) from the regular menu and the Pork Chop ($28) from the day’s specials.
The pork chop was the standout. It was prepared perfectly — Panko-crusted and pan fried and cooked medium, as requested — and served with double vegetables. The dish typically comes with mashed potatoes, but we asked for something green to be substituted instead and got a delicious arugula salad on top of the chop that was resting on a bed of cooked asparagus. I don’t want to use the word perfectly a second time — but, well, the asparagus was perfectly cooked. Not too hard and not too soft, but firm, and, well, here I go again, perfectly seasoned and flavorful.
The Veal Parmesan was not nearly as good. It was tasty enough and pretty much what you would expect, but it couldn’t stand up to the pork chop. The veal was nestled on a bed of green and white fettuccini with San Marzano sauce on both the pasta and the protein, and it was just too much red sauce. The veal was kind of swimming in it. We had been tempted to order the Yellowtail Flounder ($28) from the day’s specials but were foiled by the Veal Meatballs, convinced we needed more veal.
Our waitress couldn’t have been more helpful and attentive and, in talking to us, said she’d been at Anthony J’s a dozen years. That says something about a place.
Tourists definitely find their way into the downtown Mystic restaurant, but for decades, a contingent of local, loyal followers have filled the bar and dining room. Known as AJ’s by the regulars, the establishment bills itself as “an intimate Italian bistro offering a jazzy international ambience,” and well, yes, it does kind of feel like that. Depending on where you sit, it can be dark inside, with some brick and stone walls, but there’s another space, with good-sized windows looking out over Holmes Street. And in season, there are bistro tables along the sidewalk, and customers happily fill them.
We were too full for dessert on our recent visit, but we momentarily considered the Chocolate Bag for Two ($18), just because it sounded so decadent. It’s a chocolate shell, filled with dense pound cake and seasonal berries, soaked in blackberry brandy and topped with ice cream and rolled cookies. Holy moly.
Lunch is also good at AJ’s, and I can attest to having had several of the salads, the soups, and the Broccoli Rabe with Sausage ($14), and they all exceeded expectations. One day when we went, they had a special salad piled high with Romaine, cucumbers, red onion, kalamata olives, and feta cheese, and we topped it with grilled chicken. It was light and filling at the same time, and worth ordering again.
There are multiple dining options in and around Mystic, and Anthony J’s certainly should be high on your list.
6 Holmes St., Mystic
Atmosphere: The dining area adjacent to the bar is a little cave-like, but there's more seating in an adjacent room with windows looking out on Holmes Street.
Hours: Open at 11 a.m. seven days a week serving lunch and dinner.
Service: We have always had good to exceptional service.
Prices: There is a wide range, with most lunch and dinner dishes moderately priced.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: There are no steps to enter the restaurant.