People: Effie and myself
Feelings: The montanara, a fried Neapolitan pizza invaded New York last year, and its popularity quickly spread throughout the city. With Forcella in Williamsburg, La Montanara in the LES, and the latest addition, Don Antonio in Hell's Kitchen, it is no doubt that the montanara is the new city staple and proudly here to stay.
Americans have had the lifelong love affair with fried food, but the montanara is not quite as deep fried as you would expect. There is no batter involvement. Only the crust is gently fried, creating the similar flavor to Chinese donut, as Effie recalled. As Don Antonio's specialty, "Montanara Starita" ($12, with signature tomato sauce, imported smoked buffalo mozzarella) arrived at our table, I could not believe it was actually fried. When you bite into the pie, however, the new flavor experience awaits you. The ever so slightly sweet fried dough, the smokey cheese, and sweet and tangy sauce all worked together to create this pizza miracle in Midtown. It is not greasy as you would expect-- it is just a simple good pizza with the superb doughy yet crispy texture. My infatuation and love affair of fried pizza had just begun.
Effie's Pizza Fritta ($13, filled with cherry tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, fresh ricotta and salami) was shaped like calzone and lightly fried. This massive doughy dish tasted a bit heavier, considering there is more fried dough involved. It was again simple yet well balanced, perfectly executed with the best ingredients.
$13 for an individual pizza is a bit too much for many of us, but the portion is really large. If you are usually a salad eater for lunch, it may be the best to share a fried pizza and an order of salad with your coworker. It is also a perfect spot for office lunch. And if you don't feel like having uncomfortable conversations with your co workers, there is a widescreen monitor that lets you watch the kitchen where chefs are flying the dough.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is almost painfully Midtown, strictly business casual. During the lunch hour, the guys in their oversized slouchy flock this place--but for that delectable fried dough moment, they all put down their mobile devices and grin. But even for trendy downtown folks, the trip to Don Antonio is worthwhile. Their warm, friendly service makes you feel like you are in Italy.