I recently found myself in downtown Portland tending to some business when a very specific alarm went off. Of course I mean the one in my belly with its repeated and frankly shrill “feed me” tone. With no snooze alarm available, I assessed the situation and visualized all of the lunch spots that were within walking distance of where I was while also honing in on what I was in the mood for.
All the pieces fell into place at once as I picked up my pace and made a beeline for Anthony’s Italian Kitchen. It had been years since my last visit, probably not since the good old days of Videoport. Plus, there’s something about Anthony’s that makes me nostalgic about when I first moved to Portland in 1994. So much has changed, so many businesses have come and gone. My beloved ’90s Portland is all but unrecognizable, but there are still a few remnants of those days, and one of them is Anthony’s Italian Kitchen.
Owner Anthony Barrasso opened the joint in 1992. On the day of my visit a few weeks ago, he was celebrating his 78th birthday. Through the years, I’ve spoken to Barrasso on the phone about his event listings and such for MaineToday, but we’ve never officially met. So, after he handed me my change, I identified myself, and he lit up with a huge smile, then told me it was his birthday, and we shared a fun moment.
But it was also getting to be the lunch rush, so I found a seat in the dining area, and a few minutes later, my Tony Soprano sandwich arrived. The glorious creation was made with Genoa salami, prosciutto, capicola, imported provolone, tomato, onion, roasted red peppers, olive oil and oregano, all served on an 8-inch Piantedosi Italian roll ($8.50). I was going to buy a bag of Baked Lays as well, but Barrasso essentially chip-shamed me by asking why I would pay for those chips when a small bag of regular chips come with every sandwich.
I ordered the Tony Soprano because every ingredient spoke my language. But it wasn’t lost on me that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of “The Sopranos” on HBO. It’s also been nearly six years since the show’s star, James Gandolfini, died of a heart attack. The character of Tony Soprano was a complicated one – an absolute monster but also a wounded human. I loved and hated him equally. However, there was no gray area when it came to the sandwich named after him. The Tony Soprano was a mouth-watering, magnificently orchestrated creation.
When I ordered, I asked Anthony to have the sandwich cut in half, though I don’t know why I always do that because I can’t remember a single time in the past decade I haven’t eaten a sandwich – no matter how massive – in a single sitting. The Tony Soprano certainly wasn’t massive, but it was big enough and certainly a fair deal for the money. While I feasted, I noticed a framed “Sopranos” jacket on the wall along with some other memorabilia from the famous show. I also watched other customers arrive at the counter and often times leave moments later with a hot slice of Anthony’s pizza. As for the menu, it’s what you’d expect: many salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and pizza. But clearly, they’re doing something right at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen because the place is something of an Old Port north star.
When I got up to leave. I stopped to sneak a photo of Barrasso standing behind the counter he’s helmed for nearly 27 years. He saw what I was doing and flashed me a smile, and so I shouted out one more “happy birthday” to him and made my way up the stairs to the outside world feeling wholly satiated.
WHERE: 151 Middle St., Portland
INFO: (207) 774-8668, anthonysitaliankitchen.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WAIT: About five minutes
PARKING: Metered on street, free parking in Pearl Street lot behind building after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Elevator can be accessed through door in the back of the building (Pearl Street parking lot of building).