"Secret no more": Tucked away on Wooster and Chesnut, meet Anastasio’s
Ask any long-time New Havener about Wooster Street memories, and undoubtedly there will be stories about Tony & Lucille’s. First dates under hanging plastic grapes, celebrations around wax-dripped Chianti bottles, decades of calzones shared at the corner of Wooster and Chestnut, in a wee building that itself seems to be shaped like a slice of pizza (although that might just be my imagination).
Great stuff. But perhaps there’s no better Wooster Street story than Kevin Anastasio’s.
“I used to go to St. Michael’s grammar school around the corner,” recalls Kevin. “I was the captain of the baseball and basketball teams, and after every game, win or lose, we’d go to Tony & Lucille’s and celebrate.
“I fell in love with that restaurant,” he continues, “and always said I’d like to own it some day.”
Dreams do come true: Three years ago, Kevin and his family — mother Barbara, father Andy, and brother Andy, Jr. — became the proud owners of Anastasio’s, located in the very same spot where young Kevin once carbo-loaded after games.
It’s not the Anastasio’s first venture. The family followed the lead of Andy Jr., who, in 1982, fresh out of high school, bought his first truck. Over the years, the Anastasios grew a major trucking company, then branched out into wood products and construction carting before joining forces with two other partners to open Harborside Bar and Grill in Stratford.
The businesses are still going strong, but Wooster Street always pulled on Kevin’s heartstrings.
“I’m friends with Chet Perrotti, who ran this place as Perotti’s of Wooster Street for awhile,” explains Kevin. “I was here helping him, then when the place became available, I jumped on it.”
The Anastasio family invested $280,000 in renovations, and poured love into the kitchen.
“My grandma Sweets was the love of my life, she taught me how to cook,” says Kevin. “So I took her recipes and my mom’s recipes, all the dishes they used to make. I wanted to keep it old school.”
In order to realize his culinary vision, Kevin hired Luis Perez, a veteran of Gennaro’s Ristorante d’Amalfi and the Amalfi Grill, to serve as chef. “I combined the families recipes and Luis’ knowledge,” he explains.
What’s resulted is a classic “New Haven Italian” kitchen that turns out mouth-watering versions of old favorites like Panne Cotte (outstanding), Broccoli Rabe and Sausage, and Bolognese Rigatoni, alongside original dishes, many named for the one who inspired them, like Salmon alla Andy Jr. (with tomatoes, leeks, scallions, green olives and hearts of palm), the high-flavor Cajun Scallops (blackened, with pesto cream sauce), Cindy’s Potato Gnocchi Arrabiata (with shrimp, fresh tomatoes and light hot cherry peppers) and Calamari and Scallops alla Barbara (with black and green olives, capers, fresh diced tomatoes and a brown Chablis sauce over linguine).
The people are real, and so is the food. At Anastasio’s, diners are greeted with a basket of mini stuffed breads, straight from the oven, a dish of olives, and a smile. The dining room is clean and bright — a bit bright for dates, but great for friends and family — with a view of Saint Mary Magdalene and the society named for her.
“The place looks fancy on the outside, but inside we’re just a family restaurant,” says Kevin. Indeed, folks who travel beyond Pepe’s and Libby’s often find Anastasio’s by accident, and plenty of them come for the pizza. “Our pizza is outstanding,” he says. “People who find us say they’ll never wait in line for pizza again.”
Although I can’t personally vouch for the pizza — I’ll save that for another visit — I will say that Kevin and company have had some fun naming the pies. A pizza called the Alley Cat, for example, features escarole, white beans and pepperoni, while Kevin’s Godfather boasts steak, cheese, onions and wild mushrooms.
Anastasio’s calls itself “The Best Kept Secret on Wooster Street,” and there’s a secret within that secret: a 60-seat patio out back. (The restaurant itself seats 50.) “It’s an urban oasis out there,” says Kevin. “There’s a fire escape, it’s like being in Brooklyn.”
Who needs Brooklyn? I’d say that everything about Anastasio’s is like being in New Haven, from the cooking to the personal service to the buzz of Wooster Street. Next time you want to celebrate the warmth and hospitality of your own city, pay Anastasio’s a visit, and say hello to Kevin for me.
Todd Lyon of New Haven Register
© 2012 Anastasio's Restaurant | A. Anastasio & Company
(203) 776-4825 fax (203) 776-0122 | 127 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT