Food & Drink

Apex's New York secret

Those who look for meaning in symbolism will find a wealth of information about Anna's Pizzeria before they set foot inside the place. Above the candy-striped awning, a logo features the restaurant's name in a stylized oval reminiscent of a serving platter sitting on a doily, telling you that you can expect generous portions and old-fashioned hospitality. A sheaf of wheat in the background reveals the restaurant's philosophy about pizza: It's all about the crust.

Just as revealing is what you won't find painted on the storefront (or printed on the menu, for that matter): namely, any reference to New York. Owner Yury Rojas has worked in pizzerias since he was a 13-year-old growing up on Long Island. He opened the first Anna's (named for his aunt, whom he credits for many of his recipes) in 1986, and he still owns two locations in New York. But Rojas says he got tired of seeing "New York this, New York that" touted by Triangle area restaurants, a promise that he found rarely fulfilled since moving to Apex with his wife, Kirstie, and two small children.

The restaurant owner is a fan of the town's historic small-town charm, though, which explains the vintage black and white photos of Salem Street. Those combined with an eclectic assortment of art and folksy bric-a-brac give the compact dining room the inviting feel of a place that has been around for decades.

Rojas may make no explicit claims about his restaurant's New York pedigree, but its brick-oven pizzas deliver the goods. The crust -- thin in the middle, a little thicker at the edge and moderately crisp on the bottom -- is classic New York style. Topping options include the usual suspects, as well as specialty pies such as eggplant, chicken Marsala (yes, on a pizza) and a sublime white pizza featuring ricotta, fresh mozzarella, garlic and fresh basil. Even the excellent margherita, which the menu describes as "Neapolitan style," is more likely to conjure up images of Brooklyn than Naples. Regardless of your choice of toppings, you can get them on a whole pie or by the slice.

The ovens also turn out first-rate individual size pizzas, as well as heartier variations on the pizza theme: rectangular, bready-crusted Sicilian pies, calzones, pizza rolls, and a two-slices-will-fill-you-up stuffed meat pizza.

Anna's also offers a broad sampling of pasta dishes, as well as the familiar veal, chicken, eggplant, seafood and baked dishes of the traditional Italian-American repertoire. If these aren't as consistently rewarding as the pizzas, they nonetheless offer a number of worthy alternatives. Mussels oreganata, a sautéed variation on the classic baked clam dish, makes a fine shareable starter, and the broth begs to be sopped up with the warm garlic knots served gratis at the beginning of the meal. Fried calamari are among the best around, and -- like pretty much everything here -- are served in ample portion.

The cutlets in veal dishes tend to be thicker -- and consequently chewier -- than they should be. Pastas are generally properly cooked, though, and generously sauced. Penne alla Anna's, a house specialty featuring Italian sausage, diced chicken breast, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a vermouth-spiked pink sauce, is every bit as filling as it sounds.

Dessert options include tiramisu, cheesecake and cannoli, the last with a homemade filling. Zeppoli, deep-fried dough balls heavily dusted with powdered sugar, were highly recommended by our waitress but proved to be disappointingly dense. But it's easy to understand how the colorful all-the-way version (with chocolate syrup, strawberry sauce and whipped topping) is a hit with children.

Anna's tiny bar offers a modest selection of wines and bottled beers, and it will serve mixed drinks pending permit approval. The mostly college-age wait staff is by and large attentive and enthusiastic.

Talking to Anna's affable owner, you get the feeling that he and his family have quickly come to think of Apex as home. And, whether Yury Rojas wants to make a big deal of it or not, his restaurant's perennially packed dining room makes it pretty clear that Apex is happy that he brought a little slice of the Big Apple along with him.