A century ago, Carsonia Park was a destination. People flocked by the thousands to take their turns on the rides, catch a show in the ballroom or take a swim at the park in Lower Alsace Township.
Today’s Carsonia Park bares little resemblance to the grand amusement park that once thrived here. Very few reminders of the old park exist. The old Carsonia Inn (now Klinger’s on Carsonia) still stands, and the original swimming pool continues to draw crowds in the summer.
Also surviving is the former beer garden that was added in the 1930s, now known as Anthony’s Trattoria, one of Greater Reading’s favorite Italian restaurants.
Driving down Navella Ave toward the park, the sign for Anthony’s Trattoria stands on the corner. Behind the sign, almost against the house, stand a pair of street lamps that look oddly out of place. These lamps once lined the midway of the park.
Inside, the restaurant is cozy. Lighting is dim, but not dark in the three distinct dining rooms. With a little chill still in the air, it was too cold for Anthony’s to open up the outdoor patio.
Anthony’s menu is really two-in-one. There is the base menu, which includes typical fare for an Italian restaurant: spaghetti, linguini, pizza and seafood entrees, with a few surprises like tuna wasabi and chicken livers wrapped with bacon.
Then there is the daily specials menu, a collection of more than 30 entrees, appetizers and desserts that add depth to Anthony’s offerings like calamari tossed with white wine, olive oil and spaghetti; lasagna Bolognese; and lemon risotto.
I started my meal with a bowl of cream of garlic soup. The garlic was tempered only slightly by a hint of sweetness. Every spoonful was like a bite of a perfectly done piece of garlic bread.
After I finished my soup, our waiter dropped off a bread basket. In addition to the toasted Italian bread (wet with olive oil), there were two zeppolis—small balls that looked like donut holes. Essentially, that’s what these Italian pastries are: fried dough topped in powdered sugar. Served warm, these little bites melt in your mouth.
I stuck to the daily specials menu for my main course, gnocchetti al ragu biaco tartufato, ricotta and potato gnocchi in a creamy veal ragu with peas and Parmigiano, finished in black truffle butter.
I’m not normally a big fan of veal, but it was perfect in this dish. It was cooked tender to the consistency of shredded chicken, but with a much meatier flavor. The homemade gnocchi melted in my mouth in every bite. The cream sauce was very dense and stuck to the pasta to ensure the rich flavors were present in every bite.
Julie followed suit and ordered another one of the daily specials: pasta al Forno alla Napoletana, a crock of baked pasta in San Marzano tomato sauce with sausage, a hard boiled egg, Parmigiano and buffalo mozzarella topped with scamorza cheese.
The sauce was made of crushed tomatoes and basil with a consistency more resembling salsa than the pureed red sauce at other restaurants. The simple sauce was the perfect complement to a complex dish. The fried egg that was waiting to be discovered beneath the blanket of cheese was a welcome addition to the dish, adding an unexpected element to a more traditional pasta.
Anthony’s portion sizes left us full, but not too full that we would pass on a look at the dessert tray. After salivating over the assortment of cake, cannoli and tiramisu, we decided to share a slice of “angel food” cake. While it is true that there was angel food in our slice, it was surrounded by mousse and a layer of chocolate cake, and wrapped in a smooth chocolate shell. Every bite was heavenly.
We went into the meal expecting to pay a premium for our meals. But with a check of $55 for the two of us, it was actually a little less than we had expected.
The amusement park may be gone, but there is still a crowd around Carsonia Park, at least at dinnertime. And it will stay that way as long as Anthony’s Trattoria is around.
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
900 Byram St
Reading, PA 19606