Hours: Lunch served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner served 4 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday and 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Atmosphere: Sophisticated, clean and pleasantly appointed with white stucco walls and leatherette banquettes.
Price Range: Lunches are $1.70 (flounder sub) to $2.95 (paisano burger); salad bar is $2.25. Dinners begin at $5.25 (manicotti or spaghetti with meatballs) to $14.95 (surf and turf plate). Special low-cost sharing charge and live entertainment Tuesday through Saturday nights.
Credit Cards: Visa, American Express and Master Charge accepted; no checks.
Reservations: Suggested for parties of 10 or more.
Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair although a medium-sized curb must be scaled to and from the parking lot; no high chairs but booster chairs available; busy shopping center parking lot accomodates cars.
Going out is always an event, but if the week has included your son breaking his arm, your daughter cutting teeth and your babysitter taking an extra day off, then a Friday night assumes an almost obsessive importance. At the end of just such a week, our family was developing "cabin fever" and we headed it off by heading out for dinner.
After skillfully traversing the Beltway at rush hour, we sail around to the Rte. 450 exit and into a crowded parking lot at Carrolton Mall. The shopping center is ordinary enough; in fact it seemed an unlikely setting for what we had been assured was a jewel of an Italian restaurant that welcomed casually dressed parents and children.
It wasn't difficult to find Antonio's simple sign over an unimposing door, and we barged into what was a dim but lively room nearly filled with patrons at nicely spaced tables adorned with cloths and candles. We realized we had entered through the back door.
Apparently, it happens all the time. A hostess looked at our baffled faces and came over to steer us to a table. When asked for a high chair, she said the restaurant had none (even though someone there had told us they did when we telephoned earlier). They brought us a booster chair instead.
I began to panic. Any parent knows what a wiggling, chewing, graspinginfant can do to a dinner table unless anchored inside a close-fitting, sturdy high chair. Luckily, we were seated at a corner table that was bordered on one side by a banquette and on another by a wall. When our 8-month-old was put inside the booster chair, a kind of minipen was created in the corner.
Our waitress quickly served us bread sticks and onion dip, and we all began to munch.
True to its name, Antonio's featured Italian dishes that filled half of its approximately 25-item menu. The veal scallopina marsels, $7.25, was strongly recommended by a friend of my husband, but he wanted to sample several dishes and finally settled on Antonio's Italian platter with veal scallopini, lasagna, chicken cacciatora, Italian sausage, meatballs and spaghetti - all for $7.50.
A limited children's menu featured such favorites as hamburgers and fries, $2.50, chicken cacciatora with spaghetti, $4.25, and filet of fish with pototoes, $2.95. But we decided not to order anything special for our son when learned about Antonio's "sharing" policy.
For $1.25 a child receives a plate and flatware to share the dinner of an adult at the table. The policy has two advantages: it's cheap and it helps solve the problem of waste inherent in large, adult-sized servings. The extraplate charge for adults is $1.75.
All entree and sharing-charge prices include soup and salad bar privileges. Minestrong and clam chowder were featured the night we were there. The men in the family tried the chowder, but brought me minestrong so that I could feel some broth to our baby. She ate heartily, but Antonio's minestrong is unlike the light liquid stock that I normally associate with the soup; theirs more closely resembles vegetable stew.
The New England-style chowder was a better blend with its light sauce and abundant clams chopped small enough to facilitate quiet slurping.
The all-you-can-eat bar offered salad fixings that included lettuce, garbanzo beans, bacon chips, vegetables, several dressings and three-bean salad. For $3.25, a person could make a meal from the appetizer bar.
The baby had tired of bread sticks and crackers and was just beginning to eye the tablecloth and candle with renewed interest when her broccoli with cheese sauce arrived; she ate the entire plate, which cost $1.50.
My manicotti was hot and tasty, and the two good-sized noodles were crammed full of cheese. The price was $5.25.
When the Italian platter arrived, however, we could see that it was Antonio's bargain, especially when extra food was piled on for "sharing." The large plate was heaped with the various dishes and although our son quickly staked out a claim on the spaghetti, my husband couldn't finish the other servings. He more than willingly allowed me to sample the chicken (tender and spicy), veal (tasty and thin) and sausage (hot).
Antonio's also offered a number of seafood dishes: broiled rockfish, $7.50, shrimp tempura, $7.95, and steamed lobster, $9.95. The most expensive item on the menu was the lobster tail-filet mignon plate for $14.95.
The gourmet seafood platter with shrimp, crab cake, baby lobster, fish filet and scallops was $9.50, and judging from the large portions on the Italian platter, I would guess that the seafood serving are also quite generous.
By the time we finished our meal, we were satiated, but I ordered coffee, for 45 cents, and cheesecake, with three forks, for 95 cents. Even after he had sampled the dessert, our son thought he could handle more and we tried to order some ice cream for him. Antonio's doesn't serve any, so we promised to seek out a cone stand and called for the check.
The bill was a tidy $20.69 including charges for tax, beverages and a half-litre of rose wine; tip was extra. There was no entertainment charge but Antonio's diners nevertheless were treated to songs by a woman who sang sweetly during the dinner hour.
As we packed ourselves into the car, I thought of what a pleasant diversion the evening had been from the misfortunes of the week. Yet I couldn't help feeling that it would have been even nicer if someone at the restaurant would have given our children just a little special attention.
Although our son was still somewhat embarrassed by his new sling and cast, a friendly comment or some of [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] would have made him feel a little better. And we never tire of hearing how pretty and charming our baby is.
Perhaps such niceties are unnecessary - and indeed may even be unappreciated by some diners - but in my opinion it does a waitress or waiter no harm to "feel out" the customers. Some of them like to be served by gregarious persons and tip more 9646