Anthony’s in KC is as Italian as They Come

Anthony’s, the Jewel on Grand, is as Italian as it gets. Anthony “Butch” Spino and his sons, Vito and Anthony III, are alpha males with voices deeper than Brando, hair thicker than Pacino, and swagger more cocky than Travolta’s.

Vita Spino, Michael Todd, and Anthony Spino III are third-generation restauranteurs at Anthony’s.

 

This modern-day rat pack, Vito Spino, Michael Todd, and Anthony Spino III — who now resides in New York but still oversees marketing — keep Anthony’s customers coming back for more. Butch Spino and his wife Teresa leave the kitchen early these days, as they tiptoe into semiretirement after more than four decades of feeding the masses in downtown Kansas City. Butch and Teresa opened Anthony’s in 1978 by converting Butch’s parent’s tiny soup kitchen into a destination dining venue.

Many couples return to the restaurant decade after decade to celebrate annual wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and Valentine’s Day. It’s easy to kindle one’s romance within these four walls, which ooze Italian and ladled-on Frank and Dean until you succumb.

That’s what happened to Anthony III when he met Denise Rehrig, an executive producer at “Good Morning America,” during her family’s holiday dinner at Anthony’s. Anthony and Denise live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and have decided to take sabbaticals from their busy careers to travel the world together for their one-year anniversary. That’s amore.

Vito, Denise, and Anthony Spino celebrate their nuptials along with Denise’s sister, Andrea.

Cigarettes, Martinis, and Plastic Plants

Enter Anthony’s lounge and you can almost see Dean tipping a martini back at the end of the bar. Rat Pack pictures are larger than life, as are the personalities of the family, waitresses, and bartenders. The pink lighting, vintage cigarette machine, nude statuette, Roman busts, Venice wall frescoes, and vintage plastic hanging plants transport you into the ‘60s.

Enjoy a Lemon Drop, Michael’s Manhattan (Maker’s Mark, bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters), Ralph’s Rocket (American Harvest Vodka, OJ, and cranberry juice), or a Major Paige (Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka, club soda) while you wait for your table. Make sure to look at the picture of Pops (Anthony Sr.) behind the bar, smoking his Benson & Hedges Gold cigarette.

Anthony Spino I, or Pops, proudly watches the third generation from the heavens … and from this photo, which hangs in the lounge.

 

If you don’t want to think, order Teresa’s Traditional Lasagna ($10 at lunch). More than 500 hungry corporate professionals devour Teresa’s Traditional every week. You can’t go wrong with the lasagna; it’s meatless but divine. The secret sauce — only Michael and Vito are allowed to prepare the spices each morning — is light, sweet, and airy enough to leave you room for tiramisu, cannolis, or a post-dinner cappuccino.

If you’re feeling adventurous, order the fried catfish or veal parmesan. Customers claim the Alfredo sauce is addicting; others rave that Anthony’s fried chicken served on Sundays beats Stroud’s famous pan-fried chicken hands down.

Get there early for lunch, because the button-back booths and seats fill to capacity (150). Two people can enjoy a meal and drink for less than 25 bucks. That’s amore.

Anthony’s isn’t the only Italian joint in the neighborhood. For a good meal and a stiff drink, there’s the Quaff owned by Joe Bonino, the Caddy Shack owned by Joe Moretina, or City Market Cascone’s owned by George Cascone. When asked which establishment Frank Sinatra would chose if he were in town, Vito replied, “I don’t know about Frank, but Dean would be drinking in our lounge. We’re all about Dean here at Anthony’s.”

“I don’t know about Frank, but Dean would be drinking in our lounge. We’re all about Dean here at Anthony’s.”

The logo for the bar is a Venice gondola, which symbolizes love, romance, and that Anthony’s has survived three-plus decades by running a very tight ship. You’ll also find either Michael Todd, who took over for Anthony III when he moved to New York, or Vito on duty. At no point is the restaurant left unmanned by someone not in the family.

View of 7th and Grand in 1964 before Anthony’s existed. Note the first White Castle hamburger shop in Kansas City, which is now Buffalo Mane Barber Shop.

 

Those family ties are as thick as the charm Michael and Vito serve the ladies, alongside their meal and drinks. These gentlemen make a girl remember what it feels like to be called babe or darling by an Italian Stallion in a crisp white shirt, tie, and vest. Hoo-rah!

The 80-Something Waitress on Wheels

And gentleman, the love flows both ways, thanks to Anthony’s feisty senior wait staff. Flo Pace and Linda Compton have waitressed at Anthony’s for more than 20 years, and Rosemary Bartolomi, now 88, for three decades. Rosemary jokes that she’s the oldest thing in Anthony’s and will serve the last supper here. Michael likes to tell new customers that’s she’s 96, to get a reaction.

Rosemary Bartolomi and Michael Todd serve lots love and sugo at Anothony’s on Grand.

 

Bartolomi began her waitressing career in 1963 at Luciano’s, but has been a staple at Anthony’s since 1979. At the end of her day shift, Bartolomi takes a nap and then heads to what her kids call her second job –- gambling at the boats.

Only two significant things have changed since Butch and his wife Teresa turned their grandparent’s 13-stool soup kitchen into a full-service restaurant and lounge: (1) the walls went from Italian green to Italian red, and (2) an outdoor patio was added after Kansas City’s smoking ban.

With restaurants coming and going in Kansas City like Jersey wives, thank God Anthony’s isn’t budging.

It’s certainly not going to change.

Awards

  • Best Place to Eat Alone (Pitch 2007)
  • Best Artichoke (Pitch 2001)

Celebrities Served

  • Frankie Avalon
  • Johnny Dare (98.9 radio)
  • Aaron Dontez of Tech N9ne
  • Former Kansas City Mayor Sly James

 

 

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