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Homegrown: Culinary school grad returns to family restaurant

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Mallory Ivascu, 22, holds an Italian-style Tusconi Sandwich, left, which features a pizza crust; a mushroom and cheese pizza, center; and Tuscany bruchetta. Ivascu has introduced new menu features at her family’s restaurant, Anthony’s, in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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New York-style cheesecake with strawberry topping is on the menu at Anthony’s in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- The change in the menu at Anthony's Pizza in Strasburg can be tasted in the first bite of bruchetta, which at first glance is like dessert for the eyes.

The traditional Italian-style appetizer is not what one might expect from a slice of bread with tomatoes and parmesan cheese on top. For one thing it has fresh parmesan, and the recipe also includes onion, garlic, fresh basil and Anthony's special Balsamic vinaigrette. For another, the hearty serving of toasted bruchetta, practically overflowing the plate at the family-owned restaurant, was inspired by homegrown chef Mallory Ivascu, whose recent culinary training is breathing new life into the small franchise eatery.

After graduating from Johnson & Wales University's College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I., and even spending a semester training in Switzerland, she returned to her family's restaurant to share what she learned. Her goals are to offer something that Strasburg has not seen before and eventually open her own restaurant.

The Tuscany bruchetta the 22-year-old invented is "more what you would find in a fine Italian restaurant," she says.

And Mallory Ivascu knows Italian.

Though she has not yet traveled to Italy during her studies, she has pored over a collection of Italian cookbooks to learn more about the cooking style.

"I have so many cookbooks from Italy," she says.

She changes the recipes to make them her own.

"Just making it yourself and putting the hard work into it is wow," she says, explaining how she makes pizza dough and ravioli herself. She even makes cheese.

"I like to make fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, fresh pasta dough," she says.

"We try to stay local [and use] fresher ingredients," she says. "If I wouldn't eat it, I'm not gonna send it out."

The new additions to the menu "[contain] items that are a cut above," says her father, Gordon, who has owned and run the establishment at 101 Founders Way for two years. "That's kind of the goal," he says -- to offer a higher-end service, especially in this economy.

"We have some items that you can only get here," he says.

Though Anthony's is part of a franchise and each location offers the same basic menu, "we have the freedom to create and add to it," he says.

Good thing, too, because his daughter has a lot of ideas in the works, something that not only caters to her own interests, but also will benefit the restaurant.

Having been interested in food since childhood, she attributes her inherent passion to her win in a battle against cancer.

When she was 21⁄2, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent chemotherapy and radiation, she says.

"It's been in remission for 15 years."

After being intravenously fed for two years, she "wanted to eat all the time." Her parents pushed her to begin making her own food, and she stepped up to the challenge.

Her food experiments began with the addition of spices and cheese to chicken noodle soup. She believes that she was better able to appreciate food by not having been able to eat real food during the first few years of her life.

After spending four years at one of the top culinary schools in the country and even having the chance to study the art of cooking in Europe, she says her favorite place to cook is at home, "'cause you're by yourself, not in a classroom." She enjoyed testing and perfecting each recipe first on her own before having to recreate it for the grade.
"I always liked to do it at home first."

If her customers at Anthony's were asked to grade her additions to the menu, they would likely give her an A.

The new Tusconi Sandwich, which has been featured as a special, now, for several weeks, has become an instant favorite among customers. They order the sandwich to go, and before they have even returned home, they've called the restaurant to order another, her father says.

What makes the sandwich different from Anthony's usual Italian club on pizza crust is the addition of garlic butter. Spread on the sandwich while it is still hot, the butter melts into the bread creating perfection, he says.

He enjoys trying a recipe on the board. If it lasts for awhile, and people start calling in for more, "then I know it's a winner."

Other additions his daughter has made to the menu are the Hawaiian Wrap and the Grilled Chicken Caesar Wrap. She also makes soups from scratch.

"One of the things that makes us better is the little bits and pieces," she says.

The family also plans to promote its catering service, which will allow customers to recommend ideas for their event. Customer participation is important to the restaurant, which also invites children in on weekends to try their hands at making pizza behind the counter during slow times.

"I get a kick out of it," Ivascu says. He also enjoys the small-town effect on the restaurant. "Everybody knows ya," he says, and though his own family has been a big part of the business from the start, including his wife, Nancy, daughters Kristi and Jessica and son, Michael, Ivascu considers the hired staff family as well.

"All of our staff is treated like family," says Mallory Ivascu.

The love for the business shows.

"We're taking our time to do a better service," she says.

The Ivascu family intends to do just that, cruising along to bigger and better things with its middle daughter at the helm.

"Come on in, taste the difference, be a part of the family," she says.



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