Fine Food Refuge
DoNorth’s Look into Anthony’s New American Cuisine
Winters in the North Country are a frigid ordeal. Just this year, gusts of winds soared near 40 miles per hour, temperatures dropped well below zero, and snow and salt both crusted the ground up and down Cornelia. During times like these wisdom would advise one to get indoors, stay warm and find something to eat.
On the final Tuesday of February, DoNorth happened into all three on one such winter’s day, in a house just off the busiest street in town. Anthony’s Restaurant and Bistro has stood on the corner of Hammond Lane and Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh for the past 40 years, seating, serving and satisfying an astoundingly loyal customer base.
Nora Montanaro and Ron Davis, retired professors of the local university, return to Anthony’s yearly on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the occasion of their engagement, while dining there many years prior. Montanaro believes Anthony’s is the best restaurant in town, an opinion she does not hold alone.
First-time Anthony’s diner Belinda Merker said Anthony’s had a homely feel. “I would describe it as fine dining mixed with a North Country comfort, the artwork around the restaurant gives it a really warm small-town feeling.”
The restaurant lies in a quaintly designed green farmhouse, whose original construction dates all the way back to the early 1800s. The structure has since been refurbished, but the rustic exterior aesthetic of the building lends a sweet familiarity, breaking the blur of passing fast food chains and big box stores. The first step out of the cold and into Anthony’s, past the foyer, is a choice: left or right.
The right path will put you in the bistro seating section of the restaurant. Situated adjacent to a quaint bar, the bistro section is where customers are seated for lunch when welcomed into Anthony’s, and on this day, the lunch service was feverish.
“We only did dinners before COVID but look at this place. We started opening for lunch because that’s what they (customers) wanted.” said Scott Murray, executive chef and owner of the restaurant. Murray tells DoNorth he has owned Anthony’s for about a decade, but his work as a chef in the kitchen dates back to just three years after its opening in 1980.
The left leads to a sturdy dining room. Exposed brick, white walls and wooden beams are gently lit by a series of candelabras, chandeliers and light fittings, whose luminosity seems to emit warmth akin to that of a fireplace evenly around the room. Although barren in the afternoon, come evening the room is alive with chatter, as diners sit around tables adorned with the very white tablecloths one would expect from an archetypal fine dining establishment. Every so often, a server will approach a table with a plate from the kitchen. Presented on that plate, garnished and gussied up, is a great amount of consideration.
The preparation of a good meal comes from equal parts concern and attention to detail, among other things, and all that effort, often more than a day’s worth, results in the satisfaction of just more than a couple dozen people. Murray bears the responsibility for the satisfaction of the customers that enter Anthony’s, and as such has applied himself to tailoring a menu that his customers love. And it is quite the responsibility to bear.
When Murray started working at Anthony’s in 1983, he had just returned from a couple of years down in San Diego where his love for food blossomed. By the time he returned to his native Plattsburgh, Murray was ready to apply himself to his kitchen dreams, finding employment at the newly opened gourmet Italian restaurant Anthony’s. His affluence and influence grew in the kitchen, heading its staff a year later. Then owners of the restaurant, the Sabellas, wanted out of the business in 2009 and Murray was a worthy successor: “When they wanted to sell, they approached me and offered me the chance to buy (the restaurant),” Murray said.
It was not much of a decision for him.
Anthony’s and Murray have had to endure some trial and error to find the right menu for Plattsburgh, he told DoNorth. Murray was eager to share cutting edge techniques with his customers but did not want to lose the homely and American feel of the restaurant. The restaurant shifted from gourmet Italian to what was then undefined but would later be known as the New American style of cuisine that blends techniques and flavors from the cultures that make up America.
Many years far removed from that decision, Murray stands firm in it. Anthony’s kitchen has thrived cooking with fine-dining techniques and amalgamated flavors made from fresh produce and livestock from around the region. Additionally, to Murray, his counterparts in the kitchen are as important as his ingredients.
“I don’t look for people who will just come and go, I want to hire chefs that want to make a career out of cooking.”
DoNorth got to spend a couple of hours behind the line as Murray and his team of four chefs cooked the service on that Tuesday night. His kitchen had a tight-knit camaraderie to it. His staff was introduced to us as Elena, who took care of sauces and searing; Josh, the man on the grill; Big John ran the pass with Murray, plating and expediting; Scott, who focused on desserts, known well for creative ice-cream flavors; and Deb, Murray’s business partner. Murray placed himself wherever needed in the kitchen, and in the moments he was not, he showed us the minutiae of his profession.
“I love peasant foods, making the most out of neglected cuts of meat,” Murray said, as he detailed one of his specials for the evening, a lamb shank he planned to make fork tender. Murray led DoNorth through the freezer, showing off his 15-day dry-aged prime cuts, from which he cuts his steaks, and back out to the kitchen, where he pointed out the jus and stocks: a pork stock and madeira wine reduction, a veal stock, a rich beef jus with port, each made in-house. The mis-èn-place, or prep work, is shared by the staff because there are no insignificant jobs in the kitchen, according to Murray.
By the time Murray and his team had plated the tender-cooked piece of lamb, DoNorth’s time behind the line drew near to close. Meals had flown out of the kitchen one after another and Deb offered our reporter a keen explanation and the chance to take a picture of each new entrée and starter the staff prepared.
That evening, the tuna tataki, an Asian inspired tuna steak seared, thinly cut and drizzled with a balance of sauces, made its way out of the kitchen. Merker noted that, on the evening she dined at Anthony’s, it was the perfect opening to peak her taste buds preceding her main, a scallop and shrimp ratatouille. Montanaro, on the other hand, has a soft spot for the rich French onion soup, prepared traditionally at Anthony’s with a deeply caramelized buttery taste.
Anthony’s menu is one of favorites, and as long as the customers keep coming back, Murray is determined to continue serving them.
In the house just off the busiest street in town.
Story and photos by Munya Chimanye.