Restaurant Review: Don Antonio by Starita, New York, New York

Don Antonio by Starita, New York, New York
Don Antonio by Starita, New York, New York

Restaurant: Don Antonio by Starita, New York, New York

Restaurants are not hard to come by in New York City.  Not at all.  It is the birthplace of many a Michelin star restaurant and James Beard Award nominee and/or winner.  It is the land of dreams…and a burgeoning hub of chefs and restauranteurs looking to make a name and a statement.

No, restaurants are not hard to find.

GOOD restaurants, however, can be difficult to find with all the options that greet you on every street, avenue, corner, block, etc.

When I was in The Big Apple for the TCS New York City Marathon at the beginning of November, I already knew I wasn’t going to be there long enough to really explore the vast and diverse food scene.  Not this trip.  What I did know was that I was in town for a marathon, and what that required of this beautiful city was…gluten-free pizza.

The original plan had been to go to this place called Nizza.  It had good reviews on Find Me Gluten Free and wasn’t too far from the hotel where we were staying.  The problem turned out to be that we were only able to get a reservation for 4 p.m.  Granted, I appreciate eating early the night before a race.  The problem was…this was too early.  Heather was meeting up with her cousin at 1 p.m. for lunch…which would mean she wouldn’t even be hungry at this point.  The time couldn’t be adjusted.  Cathy and I tried back at the hotel.  No later reservations until much too late for my liking.

That being said, I had gotten onto Find Me Gluten Free when we were on the shuttle bus coming back from the race expo and found another option.  It was this place called Don Antonio by Starita.  And it has only three locations: New York City, Atlanta (Georgia), and Napoli (Italy).  Cathy gave them a quick call as there was no place to see about reservations.  They informed her that they do not take reservations, but even on a Saturday night, they turn through tables quickly and there is never more than a 45 minute wait.

We took them for their word, and around 6 p.m., began to make the easy walk down to the restaurant.

The place was hopping.  There were people standing out on the damp and windy streets.  I ducked inside to get my name in with the hostess and was told they would call my name when our table was ready…which would be around 45 minutes.  Fair enough.  We were told as much on the phone when we called that afternoon.

The popularity of the place was amazing.  But part of the reason the front of the restaurant, near the bar, was so crowded was there was a party of 14 there for a birthday party.  No joke.  So, they were pretty much what was holding up a lot of the tables and movement of the patrons through for their meals.  We were in no rush…so we just sort of tucked in against the wall inside and people watched.

Due to the longer than normal wait, one of the waitresses came out with a sample pizza for those who were waiting on a table.  I didn’t get to partake, but both Cathy and Heather tried one of the slices.  I could tell from their reactions that we made a good decision to come here instead.

Soon, my name was being shouted over the loud din of the diners and bar…by the guy, we assumed, was the general manager.  We took to calling him the Italian Adam Levine…because he really reminded us of the Maroon 5 singer.  Go figure.  And honestly, he could have called my name out again and I wouldn’t have complained.

But…we were nearing 7 p.m. now and I was starting to get hungry.  After I stepped forward, he guided us toward a table at the top of a couple of stairs, right in the corner.  I took the seat next to the railing, with Cathy taking the bench and Heather taking the seat in the walkway.  We were handed menus and all ordered water for something to drink.

Marathon night.  HYDRATION!

Cathy and I already knew we were doing a gluten-free pizza.  It was just a matter of choosing which one.  Part of the draw of this place, in addition to serving gluten-free pizza, was that there were also vegan options.  And one of them really stood out to me on the menu.  Decision was mine, as it was my pre-race meal.  So…we were now ready.

Don Antonio by Starita's Montanarine Genovese (front) and Montanarine (back)
Don Antonio by Starita’s Montanarine Genovese (front) and Montanarine (back)

Heather ordered the Salciccia e Friarielli ($16.00) which was composed of smoked buffalo mozzarella, Italian rapini, sausage, and extra virgin olive oil.  She paired it with the Montanarine ($1.00), one of Don Antonio’s famous fried dough puffs, topped off with the signature Starita tomato sauce and pecorino romano.

Cathy decided to try one of the dough puffs as well.  She went with the Montanarine Genovese ($2.00), which is a fried dough puff topped with onion, pancetta and pecorino romano.  She called it the best savory doughnut she’s ever had.  LOL!  For the pizza though…I ordered the Gluten Free Marinara ($15.00), which is a simple and basic pizza on the gluten-free crust, that is composed of tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

NO CHEESE!!  No discomfort from dairy.  Happy day.

As Cathy placed the order, she confused our waiter, Antony H, just slightly.  Because the friend dough puff was not gluten-free.  The pizza we were getting was.  So he kept telling her the Genovese was not gluten-free.  And she kept assuring him that it was fine…because she was not gluten-free, I was, and we were splitting the pizza…not the fried dough puff.  I appreciated him making the effort to ensure safe dining.

We were left to socialize for a little while, and soon, both Heather and Cathy were delivered their appetizer dough puffs.  They each took their little ball of Italian friend goodness and took a bite.  Like I said…Cathy called it the best savory doughnut she’s ever had.  I think that’s a high compliment.  Both she and Heather only had good things to say about their choice.

The appetizer plates were cleared away and soon our pizza was being delivered.  Heather’s pizza had this rustic, amazing crust, charred to perfection in the wood-fired oven.  It looked amazing.

Don Antonio by Starita's Gluten Free Pizza Crust
Don Antonio by Starita’s Gluten Free Pizza Crust

When our pizza was set down, I had to look very closely at it…because this was only the second time in the almost four years I’ve been eating gluten-free, where the crust was actually a crust.  No cracker crust here, folks.  This was a true, honest-to-goodness, pizza crust.  The only other time this has happened has been at my local gluten-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café, in Louisville, Kentucky.  Can you imagine my glee to see an actual pizza being placed in front of me!  I snagged one of the four large slices, placed it on my plate, and went to take a bite.

Not only was the crust an actual crust…it was good too.  Not quite “Annie May Amazing”…but right up there.  Probably the second best gluten-free pizza crust I have ever indulged in.  Quite honestly.  I loved that it had this crispy, yet still chewy texture, especially on the ends.  It didn’t get soggy with the pool of amazing marinara sauce poured over the top.  The herbs elevated the flavor.  And the olive oil was the perfect finishing touch.  That marinara sauce, though…that was the star.  Followed by the crust.  I dove into my second, and much larger slice, soon after I devoured the first.  It was not a tiny pie either.  It was substantial.  And it was amazing.  And I was pleasantly stuffed at the end of the dining experience.

I still talk about that pizza.  To this very day.

I have to say, if you find yourself in Manhattan and are looking for exceptional gluten-free pizza (or just pizza in general)…head over to Don Antonio by Starita, on West 50th Street.  You will be so glad you did.  This far exceeded my expectations for sure.  And next time I’m in the city…it will be hard not to go back.  And, who knows, maybe when all is said and done…I will anyway.  Food so good, it is definitely worth the repeat.

Thank you, Don Antonio by Starita.  You’re doing gluten-free justice!

Don Antonio by Starita's Gluten-Free Marinara Pizza
Don Antonio by Starita’s Gluten-Free Marinara Pizza

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