Some restaurants feel very, very comfortable. The decor is relaxing, the server helpful but not overbearing, the food Sunday-dinner yummy. Anthony's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Manassas is one of those places.
Anthony's extensive menu has everything from traditional Greek and Italian favorites--gyros, souvlaki, moussaka, pastitsio, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, pizza--to hoagies, salads, steaks, burgers and fish. There are mussels in marinara sauce over linguine, chicken in white wine sauce and veal piccata. You can even order an omelet any time of the day--a plus for late-shift workers and lazy weekend mornings.
Experience counts in the restaurant business, and the more than 25 years that owner Tony Yiannarakis has been serving Northern Virginia diners show. Yiannarakis started working as a busboy in 1964, became a partner in a McLean restaurant and then opened Anthony's in Falls Church in 1972. The Manassas location opened four years ago with the same proven menu. It's a family business: He and his wife ask their high school-age daughter and college-age son to help out when it's busy.
The difference between the two restaurants, Yiannarakis says, is that "people in Manassas are more relaxed. In Falls Church, everything is really fast--everybody is going somewhere. They would eat standing up if they could."
Made-to-order baked spaghetti is a house favorite that lures customers back. "This is something we started over 15 years ago," said Yiannarakis, a native of Molaoi, Greece. Cooked pasta is covered with three cheeses--mozzarella, provolone and romano--then popped into an oven. "If a customer wants mushrooms or meatballs or green peppers or onions or sausage, we add that, too." The result? Real comfort food.
You may want to start with an appetizer of stuffed grape leaves ($4.95), a spinach and feta cheese turnover ($2.25) or a tureen of French onion soup ($2.95).
We asked our server, Stelios, to recommend the best dinner special of the night, because in addition to the 60-some sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and steak, veal, chicken or seafood platters, at least six specials were available. We salivated over the veal Marsala and shrimp scampi at a table nearby and couldn't decide. "I think the leg of lamb is really good," Stelios said.
We thanked him: More tender meat in thick, rich brown sauce wasn't possible. Our oversized plate held enough broccoli to feed two hearty appetites. And the oven-roasted potato, basted with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary, was a standout. Furthermore, the chef had transformed the $9.95 meal into art, with fan-shaped potato wedges and ripple-layered lamb slice. We weren't expecting this in a neighborhood restaurant.
Anthony's serves fish every night, but it isn't listed on the regular menu. Just ask: flounder, snapper, tuna--whatever can be bought fresh. My companion ordered a thick grilled fillet of salmon ($9.95), flaky to the fork and served with a lemon rosette. It arrived with steamed vegetables--zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, butter beans--and a generous mound of mildly spicy yellow rice that appeared to have been unmolded from a one-quart pot.
The $9.95 gyro platter, served with a feta cheese-topped Greek salad that in itself would be a hearty meal, was a challenge for my 16-year-old son. He devoured the pita bread and seasoned lamb and took the salad home in a doggy bag.
Wine is inexpensive, priced from $9.95 to $16.95, with mostly Italian selections. Yiannarakis says he used to stock wines in the $30 range, "but they didn't move. We ended up drinking them ourselves." A glass of house Burgundy is $2.75, and chardonnay is $3.25.
We didn't attempt dessert; on another visit, we'll leave room for baklava, bugatsa (custard) ($2.25 each) or rice pudding ($1.75), all made in-house. Parents may consider ordering custard or pudding for children too young for a hot dog, grilled sandwich or lasagna from the children's menu.
The banquet room is booked for holiday parties. Yiannarakis says he welcomes groups celebrating birthdays, wedding rehearsal dinners and business luncheons.
Although the restaurant is divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections, we were seated at the back of the nonsmoking side and noticed the residue of cigarette smoke. If you mind smoke, tell the hostess.
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* Address: Anthony's Restaurant and Sports Bar, 7234 Centreville Rd., Manassas. 703-361-1230, 703-361-1133 or 703-551-COOK (2665); second location, 309 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-532-0100
* Hours: Restaurant, Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; sports bar, Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-midnight. Reservations taken.
* Credit cards: Accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club.
* Prices: Lunch specials are about $4; full dinners, $6.95-$12.95; sandwiches and subs, $2.95-$4.95; salads, $2.75-$6.75; desserts, $2.25 and under. Our bill for three meals came to $42.30 with tip.
* Children's menu: $2.50-$4.95.
* Low-fat selections: Turkey or vegetable subs, fish dinners, Greek salad.
* Health-conscious: Many possibilities.
* Atmosphere: Casual.
* Downside: Mild smoke smell when we dined.
* Upside: Welcoming, neighborly atmosphere.
CAPTION: Anthony's Restaurant and Sports Bar owner Tony Yiannarakis has worked in the restaurant business in Northern Virginia for more than 25 years.
CAPTION: Anthony's serves a generous gyro platter with beef and lamb over pita wedges with Tzazika sauce, accompanied by a Greek salad and french fries. The wine list has mostly Italian selections.