On a Thursday night in early September, we stopped by Anthony's Runway 84 on a whim. How busy is any restaurant on a weeknight in September?
Anthony's was jam-packed. A madhouse. The wait for a table for three was 90 minutes.
So two weeks later — reservation in hand — we returned to find the Thursday throngs once again in full force. The lounge was crawling with cougars and manthers. There were enough cosmetics in use to take down a Mary Kay convention.
This may not be my kind of crowd, but once we got to our table, our waiter treated us like regulars. It's that kind of attitude that keeps a restaurant in business for three decades.
Anthony Bruno, whom we all know from his Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza chain, opened Runway 84 in 1982 with his father, Andy Bruno. Andy Bruno died in 1991, but his son has carried on with a menu filled with such old-school Italian-American treasures as clams oreganata ($9), tripe alla Napolitana ($11) and beef bracciola ($30).
In keeping with the restaurant's name, the interior takes its design cues from aviation. You walk through a fuselagelike hallway — lined with photos of local celebrities — to the host's stand. Booths in the lounge have airplane-style windows. In the main dining room, there's a seemingly life-size trompe l'oeil airplane. That painting, coupled with the unfinished black ceiling, reminded me of a Broadway set.
While Bruno still comes to the restaurant every night, I urge him to sit at one of the worn-out, red swivel chairs for an entire meal. The chairs appeared to be vintage dinettes from the '70s, and let's just say that by the end of our meal, all five of us were delighted to not be sitting on these torturous vinyl seats.
When our meals arrived, it became clear why Runway 84 is so popular. It's called good value. From two doggy bags, we had enough for lunch the next day, and still more leftovers.
The meatballs — called It's All About the Meatballs ($11) — live up to their reputation and name, tender and ground to just the right texture. Fried calamari ($12) were nicely crunchy and virtually oil-free. And I loved the restaurant's version of escarole and beans ($9). It's so popular that you can buy a pot to feed six to eight people for $40.
House specialties tend toward meat, and include a delicious dish called Chicken Al ($26): roasted chicken, garlic, onions, peppers and potatoes over spinach. Chicken Scarparelli ($24) is filled with crispy pieces of chicken, green bell peppers, onions and a slight spicy kick. Veal Milanese Ensalada ($28) is Runway 84's version of the classic. Zuppe dei Pesce ($41) is an easy-to-eat bowl of linguine with lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. The real wonder on the specialties section of the menu, however, is Italian Sunday Feast ($30): meatball, sausage, pork rib, bracciola and rigatoni. The marinara has a wonderful deep-tomato flavor.
We shared just one pasta dish: a special rigatoni with cauliflower ($25) that reminded me of one of my favorite pizzas at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza. The dish included roasted cauliflower with olive oil, garlic, Romano and mozzarella cheese, topped off with bread crumbs. Outstanding.
So much food appears on every plate here that I dare you to have dessert. We didn't have room.
Aside from an interior that needs freshening up, Anthony's Runway 84 is a reliably solid Italian restaurant. It's all the better if you're looking to party in the lounge.
330 State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Booster seats
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary valet