Anthony Manicone, chef and owner of Anthony’s Pasta Bar and the Elbow Room Tavern
Native of Rome, Italy
On how Anthony’s Pasta Bar and the Elbow Room Tavern came to be
I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole career and have run nightclubs and restaurants around Syracuse. When I opened Anthony’s Pasta Bar three and a half years ago I had decided to downsize to a smaller spot where I could be more hands on. I’d had other restaurants where there were a lot of chefs and line cooks, but I felt the quality control would be better in a smaller place. When the restaurant started, it was more casual, but slowly I began to add to the menu. I didn’t want the restaurant to be cookie-cutter. I didn’t believe in the concept of food sitting in trays and felt quality was more important than how fast the food could come out.
The food here is made to order, it’s not pre-prepared. We have to be fast in getting it out to the customers, so we need to know the dishes inside and out to prepare them. As I began to change the food in the restaurant, I felt I had to modernize the décor in the restaurant, too. Previously, the restaurant had more of a takeout feel. The restaurant now has two dining rooms and we went from being able to seat around 40 to being able to seat over 90, as well as host private events. With the Elbow Room Tavern, I wanted to add to the Hanover Square area. The Elbow Room Tavern is a fun bar that you can feel comfortable in. We have 25 beers on tap, as well as a full menu.
On how Anthony’s Pasta Bar does Italian food
Our menu went from being more mainstream to having more of a mix of classic and contemporary Italian dishes on it. I would get bored making the same thing. Sometimes if people ask for a specific dish that isn’t on the menu I’ll make it for them. My die-hard clientele feel comfortable asking me to make them something on the spot. I put some mainstream dishes on my menu with the hope that once someone comes in to try something they’re used to, the next time they might try something more contemporary. Dishes like eggplant parmesan or chicken parmesan are more touristy dishes and aren’t really what’s served in Italy. Those dishes are really Italian American rather than Italian. Authentic Roman food contains a lot of ingredients that are indigenous to the region, like meats and artichokes. So while my menu might have some Italian American dishes to get people in the door, it also contains more authentic Italian dishes that people can branch out to. I change the menu about four to five times a year to give people variety. It’s taken me years of trial and error and tweaking to create dishes.
My family cooks a lot so I get a lot of my ideas from them. My mom gets this Italian cooking magazine called Sale e Pepe, which means Salt and Pepper in Italian, and I’ll look at that to get ideas. I’ve taken some of my mom’s dishes and put a twist on them. My mom is a traditionalist, but she’ll tell me she likes my changes. I get a lot of my ingredients from Samir’s Imports and Lombardi’s on the Northside. A dish tastes different based on where the ingredients come from. A lot of my family still lives in Italy, so when my mom visits them, she brings this one type of mushroom back in her suitcase because the dishes have a different flavor when they’re prepared with ones right from Italy. I was seven when we moved to Syracuse from Italy and when I was little, I wanted to eat American food like everyone else, instead of the authentic Italian meals we used to eat. But now I realize how lucky I was to be eating fresh mozzarella and prosciutto and things like that.
On Dining Week at Anthony’s Pasta Bar
I like to give a lot of options on our Dining Week menu because I feel people are more apt to come in here if they see all the things we can do.
I use it as a marketing tool. Dining Week is always a big draw for suburban visitors. We see a lot of couples coming in from the suburbs that could potentially become regular customers from Dining Week. These types of events make my business grow because people might not have had another chance to try my food, but when they do they could come back. People over time can become more than customers and can actually become friends which is why I think the restaurant industry is a great one to be in if you enjoy interacting with people.
Anthony’s Pasta Bar and Elbow Room Tavern are two of the 25 restaurants participating in the 2012 edition of AmeriCU Dining Week(s). Visit the restaurants at 122 & 126 East Genesee Streets, call 422-4669 for information or reservations or visit www.anthonyspastabar.com.