Anthony's Seafood Grill's Mallicious Intent

The locally grown chain heads inland to Alderwood.

Near the midpoint of a conscientious eater's hierarchy of food fantasies, above an extended cherry season and below a ban on bluefin tuna fishing, is the wish for decent mall food. Locavores need to renegotiate cell-phone contracts and buy black T-shirts too, and wouldn't those transactions be so much more bearable if there were something to eat that hadn't spent three months in a deep freezer?

The chain restaurants which cluster around shopping-mall entrances have lately done a fairly good job of rejiggering their menus to accommodate diners whose doctors have instructed them to cut back on salt, slash calories, avoid gluten, or eat more whole grains. But stripping away nutritional bugaboos isn't nearly as daunting an institutional challenge as hopping aboard the local-and-seasonal bandwagon, since most restaurants with a galaxy of locations would have to devise new distribution systems to put just-plucked produce on tables from California to Connecticut. Even chains which pride themselves on freshness, such as Darden's Seasons 52, have a knack for throwing root vegetables, corn, and asparagus onto a single plate and calling it the farmer's special.

But there's hope at Alderwood Mall: Last fall, Anthony's opened its first off-water location in Lynnwood, and it's a template for integrating locally sourced, regionally reflective food into the traditional mall restaurant. Although Anthony's is microscopic by national chain standards—Olive Garden has 30 times as many restaurants worldwide—it shares with the category's biggest players a commitment to consistency, affordability, and family-friendliness. If lingcod and Yakima Valley sémillon can work here, I'd wager similarly geographically specific specialties could work anywhere.

What makes Anthony's Seafood Grill such a compelling model for the mainstreaming of the local-and-seasonal mantra is the restaurant's savvy avoidance of anything which could be construed as daring. Anthony's wants to comfort, not challenge, which is why its customers will never be told the vegetable of the day is Brussels sprouts.

"Brussels sprouts doesn't work at Anthony's," spokeswoman Lane Hoss says. "Pork belly doesn't work at Anthony's. We've played with a lot of things, but we're not your small, little downtown restaurant. We can't go way off."

Yet the restaurant has more in common with celebrated downtown bistros than many eaters realize: The shellfish is sourced from Washington bays. Every soup, sauce, and dessert is made on site, from scratch. There is no centralized kitchen. But there is an in-house seafood company, a 25-person operation located under the Magnolia Bridge. "Their principal job is getting us fresh seafood in season," Hoss says. They're also charged with making the right freezing decisions so the menu remains relatively constant throughout the year.

"This goes back to [founder] Budd Gould," she explains. "In his early restaurant days, he'd be frustrated by the quality of seafood he could get."

 

The groundwork for the Anthony's concept was laid 43 years ago when Gould opened a steakhouse in Bellevue. It was soon followed by Mad Anthony's, a restaurant named for the mercurial Benedict Arnold underling who died of gout in Detroit, a city accustomed to being unfairly maligned.

In 1976, the first waterfront Anthony's HomePort opened in Kirkland. There are now 25 Anthony's locations scattered across the region, and a single franchised outlet at Sea-Tac Airport. The company plays down the breadth of its reach—officials prefer the term "family" to "chain"—but always has an ear cocked for expansion opportunities. "We are blessed with a number of longtime employees who need opportunities, so we have to grow," says Hoss, referring to the five dozen Anthony's staffers with tenures topping 20 years. "Realistically, there's only so much great waterfront."

The company began seriously to consider an inland location after seeing the airport Anthony's succeed. The only water visible from Anthony's Seafood Grill, which opened last October, is a design element: "We gave them a little stream," Hoss says. Stream aside, Anthony's Seafood Grill appears to be the kind of restaurant most shoppers would expect to find if they went looking for somewhere to rest their Macy's bags and creaky feet. The bulk of the carpeted dining room is devoted to padded booths and bare tables set with rolled black napkins and surrounded by straw-colored Windsor chairs. The walls are hung with inoffensive maritime art, including glassy jellyfish forms.

Bowing to its landlocked location, Anthony's Seafood Grill has a few extra land-based dishes on its menu, but it's the rare diner who comes for the basil chicken penne. "They want to see fresh Northwest seafood," Hoss says. And there's plenty to see. Many of the appetizers take a trip through the fry station, including crisp, dime-sized loops of calamari, but freshness is critical to the best items on the starter list. Meaty roasted Penn Cove mussels, popped open wide as catcher's mitts, are sunk in a lemony white-wine sauce strewn with rosemary stalks. It's a dish to make eaters grateful for the attentiveness of the capable servers, who cheerfully keep the focaccia basket filled.

My server seemed slightly agitated only when I expressed interest in the ahi nachos, which he repeatedly stressed weren't exactly nachos. I'm sure he's carried back countless orders from tables sat with diners expecting a mound of chips slathered with cheese. Anthony's means "nacho" in the hors-d'oeuvre sense—the plate is set with four freshly fried taro chips piled with bits of pineapple and diced dawn-pink tuna and squiggled with just enough stinging wasabi aioli to offset the underlying sweetness.

Decades of practice have made Anthony's irrefutable on seafood house staples. Oyster stew, slick with butter, was glutted with flavor and three fat oysters. Steamed clams, aswim in a garlicky, citric broth, were properly paunchy. And fish fried in a sweet-leaning batter was perfectly crisped. These aren't revelations, but traditions upheld.

The only disappointments I encountered at Anthony's came from the salmon side of the menu. Alder-planked silver salmon, dressed with a hefty handful of bay shrimp, was undersalted and mealy. A char-grilled Chinook salmon, which cut a more dashing figure on the plate, was overcooked, although an accompanying pad of sweet corn cake threaded with sage had a homey appeal.

Desserts at Anthony's are outstanding. It's best to dine with however many companions you'll need to justify ordering both the supremely tart blackberry cobbler and the tiny cinnamon-dusted doughnuts accompanied by a mug of chocolate sorbet capped with Bailey's whipped cream. The berries are local, and the sorbet—the only entry on the dessert menu that doesn't originate in Anthony's kitchen—comes from Olympic Mountain in Shelton. But in keeping with its founder's Pacific Northwest brand of modesty, the company doesn't flaunt its sourcing or its regional roots. "I think one of the things people don't know is we're a local company," Hoss says.

For mall shoppers who crowd the dining room at Alderwood Mall, the provenance of the restaurant and its food may not matter: They show up for the predictably good food and excellent service, which ultimately may sell more Skagit strawberries and Willapa Bay oysters than any high-minded philosophy.

Price Guide

Mussels $9.95

Ahi nachos $10.95

Clams and rings $13.95

Chinook salmon $24.95

Cod and chips $13.95

Blackberry cobbler $6

hraskin@seattleweekly.com

 
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