Posted July 16, 2009 in Eats

First off the bat, we need to mention that sampling a lunchtime meal at Antone’s Italian Food in Riverside might involve enjoying your food within arm’s length of a painting of Goodfellas. They’re all here, the trifecta of fiction’s greatest mobsters: Pesci. De Niro. Liotta.


Once you see that on the wall, you know you’ve come to a place where the décor is meant to be fun and lighthearted and not taken super-seriously. Because Antone’s rolls like that. The plastic grapes sprinkled around the dining area. Those bottom-heavy wine bottles that look like their bottoms are wrapped in reed or straw. Plastic chairs straight out of a classroom auditorium.


The true barometer of your dining experience here isn’t to be gauged with color schemes and patrician furnishings, but measured in meatballs. Dripping with sauce. The currency here is garlic bread and Genoa ham—part of the secret to why Antone’s is one of those cozy, no-frills (hey, you order at the counter) mom-and-pop Italian eateries where meat and cheese are king and queen and the spaghetti and pizza are treated like comfort-food royalty.


Bolstered by this back-to-basics approach we dive into Antone’s simple, one-page menu. For our tasting pleasure, we order up a hot grinder, Hot Beef (w/cheese), as well as a classic Pastrami to enjoy something from the cold side of the spectrum. Ya gotta have the meatballs, so we order them as a side.


The Hot Beef is clearly the can’t-go-wrong crowdpleaser. Served with glistening garlic bread (which the staff so enthusiastically recommended they provided it instead of regular bread at no extra charge. That’s how they get ya—first time’s free!), this sandwich had it in spades when it came to ample amounts of beef, rivulets of gravy and the plentiful gobs of melted (but not too melted) cheese. The texture was genius here; the sandwich was juicy and flavorful but so cunningly designed it never became too soggy or saturated, but maintained the right amount of juice-to-meat factor to make this the kind of grinder that gives way gracefully when you bite into it. Hot Beef, you are mighty indeed.


Another one of the selling point about this place is the aforementioned meatballs. This place knows meatballs. The ones we sampled were garlicky enough for the garlic-phile (This writer confesses to being one) but not way-way overboard that it overpowers the more nubile sampler of the stinking rose’s flavors. With a dusting of parmesan cheese, and the sauce and spices marbling the meatballs, to be honest, I  woefully regretted that I hadn’t ordered a Hot Meatball grinder. With cheese no less(!)


On the cold side, the Pastrami was put through the hoops. When it comes to sandwiches, when in doubt stick with the classics. The Club. The Turkey. Roast Beef. Pastrami. The basics. For some reason, this sandwich was just OK. The bread here is baked fresh every day, make no mistake, but as one of the major players of grinder-dom, it seemed pretty middle-of-the-road in this Pastrami; it was rather ordinary, neither too tough, nor too crumbly; not bad, but not stellar (like its Hot Beef sibling).


This wrinkle aside, it’s clear why for over the past 44 years Antone’s has secured a warm place in the hearts of all lovers of Italian grinders and Co. In fact, Antone’s is so functional and perfect in its we-just-do-grinders-pizza-and-spaghetti minimalism that—surprise, surprise—all they do is lunch here, a window of opportunity from 10AM to 3:30PM. And they’re closed on Sundays.


That Goodfellas painting will be waiting for you.


Antone’s Italian Food at 6487 Brockton Ave., Riverside, (951) 682-5900, Mon.-Sat., 10AM-3:30PM. AE, D, MC, V.


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