"Thirty-nine!" the counterman shouted. I bounded out of the booth to claim four drinks.
As I sat down, he yelled again: "Thirty-nine!"
Two salads and a basket of garlic bread were ready. I brought them to our table and sat down. "Thirty-nine!"
I sauntered up, chomping bread, and asked, "How many times are you gonna do this?"
"Until you got all your order," he said, pushing a pizza at me while flashing a dazzling smile. Vincenzo DiGiovanni, manager of Tony's New York Pizza, the Italian Ristorante in Manassas Shopping Center, clearly was enjoying his job.
That's the way it goes at Tony's: fast, hot and strictly self-service. "We cook at the moment, not ahead of time," explains Naples-born owner Antonio Agostino. Order a pizza, sandwich or meal at the counter. Pick up your food, straight from the oven. Help yourself to napkins, silverware, Parmesan cheese and peppers, then take a load off.
This system works great, unless you object to fetching your dinner.
Tony's is bustling, a little noisy and a lot of fun. Just watch out for the occasional wandering child as you carry food to your table or booth. Families are welcome, and highchairs are prominent.
We dined on a Tuesday evening, a rare weekday without meetings or school activities. A casual place was mandatory, one where a business suit as well as old jeans would be welcome. Someone wanted pizza. Someone else wanted dinner with all the trimmings. The caveat: It had to be inexpensive.
We'd had Tony's thick, chewy, tomato-laden Sicilian pan pizza before. (Thanks to Barbara K. of Manassas for introducing us several years ago!) Square 16-inch Sicilian pies ($11 to $16.50, depending on the number of toppings) will satisfy a very hungry bunch, guaranteed.
Miguel Ramirel is pizza maker extraordinaire, turning out about a thousand pies a week. Watch him punch and knead and pinch crusts to perfection in the open kitchen. The dough is made fresh daily.
For baking "we use still the old system, gas [fired] with brick," explains D'Agostino, who has owned the restaurant for 20 years. The result: inimitable pizza crusts with just the right amount of chewiness.
Choosing a pizza can be difficult. First, pick a type: Primavera pizza, loaded with cheese, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and onions, or no-tomato white pizza, topped with broccoli, spinach, cheese and garlic, fill the innards nicely and cost from $8.50 to $13.75, depending on size. New York thin-crust pizzas range from a $6 12-inch cheese to a $14.50 Tony's Special, smothered with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. We ordered a basic small pizza, dripping with lots of extra melted cheese.
Sicilian or New York cheese pizza at $1.30 a slice is a quick grab-and-go lunch, one of the best bargains in the area. Or there's double-crust (rustica) pizza at $3 a slice; three-cheese rigatoni pizza, $3.75.
Tony's menu boasts: "Everybody can make pizza and Italian food, but to make it right you've got to be Italian or learn from an Italian." It is made authentically: Much of the pasta, including lasagna noodles, is homemade.
Expect the standard Italian favorites--baked ziti, ravioli with cheese, gnocchi, fettucine Alfredo--but also veals (like piccata, in lemon sauce) and chicken (marsala, parmigiana, cacciatore). Dinners include a salad larger than usual, with nice touches such as marinated mushrooms and razor-thin radishes.
My discerning daughter ordered chicken alla valdostana ($10), a boneless breast wrapped with prosciutto and mozzarella, bathed lightly in homemade tomato sauce and served on a bed of al dente fettucine.
Eight seafood specialties proved too hard to resist--fusilli with crab meat, shrimp in marinara sauce, shrimp scampi. We opted for Linguine alla Mare Chiara ($12.50) with fresh shrimp, clams and squid atop pasta adorned with a thin, spicy marinara sauce. Served on a colorful contemporary-design plate and accompanied by a glass of red wine ($3.50), it was worthy of a four-star restaurant.
There are several inexpensive surprises. We tried a calzone filled with fresh broccoli and spinach and melted cheese. What a meal for $3.75. Plenty of marinara sauce comes for dipping the thick wedges. But the crust hardens as you chat, so dig in while it's hot. Meat lovers can opt for the pepperoni, ham and cheese calzone, also $3.75.
Wish we'd had room for dessert to accompany espresso ($1.45) and capuccino ($2.25). Tiramisu, moist 3-by-3-inch squares of cake with the delicate flavor of mascarpone cheese, is made on the premises ($4.25). There's also ricotta-filled cannoli ($2.50.)
D'Agostino knows his desserts are good: "Some people come here for dessert after they eat elsewhere." It helps that Tony's is open until 11 p.m. every night. "I have a wonderful clientele," he says. "I like them. We know people by name."
Lunchtime can be so busy that it's often hard to find a place to sit. A popular $6 buffet includes chicken with potatoes, chicken with bowtie pasta, pasta salad, bruschetta (crusty bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil) and what D'Agostino claims is the house all-time favorite, warm garlic focaccia. "They go crazy for that one. So do I."
TONY'S NEW YORK PIZZA, THE ITALIAN RISTORANTE
* Address: Tony's New York Pizza, the Italian Ristorante, 9108 Mathis Ave., Manassas. 703-330-8109 or 703-330-8909 (D'Agostino also co-owns Tony's in the Bull Run Shopping Center)
* Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. No reservations taken.
* Credit cards: Accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club. Also accepts some debit cards.
* Prices: Lunch specials under $8, plus a buffet. Sandwiches around $5. Salads, $3 to $5.75. Full dinners, $6.50 to $13.25. Our bill for four meals came to $47.52. No tipping required.
* Children's menu: No, but ask for half portions of spaghetti with topping choice, $3 to $4.25.
* Low-fat selections: Choose a boneless breast of chicken or vegetarian pizza.
* Health-conscious: Vegetarian subs, salads, vegetable pizza.
* Atmosphere: Clean, bright green and white; very casual.
* Downside: Make sure you sit in the no-smoking area if you mind smoke. There are no dividers.
* Upside: Something to please everyone. Selections from pizza to impressive pasta and seafood entrees.
CAPTION: At left, manager Vincenzo DiGiovanni spins dough into a pie. Above, clockwise from top, vegetarian white pizza, bruschetta and antipasto salad are among the many offerings.
CAPTION: John Miller and Valerie Liverman dine amid the Italy-inspired decor at Tony's New York Pizza in Manassas. The restaurant serves pizza as well as a variety of Italian entrees and desserts.