Hot Buttered Rolls Were At Favorite At Anton's
Saturday, August 6, 2022 - by The Quasi Gourmand
As a very young child I was introduced to the delicious cooking of Mr. Sperry Anton. He was of Greek ancestry, hailing from Coney Island, N.Y. He was the brother of another fine chef here, Mr. Joseph Anton of Anton’s Signal Garden at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road in Red Bank.
Mr. Sperry Anton had been the manager of the Palace Ice Cream at 700 Market Street in the Roaring Twenties and I heard many stories about that exciting place from my parents.
In the 1930s, Mr. Anton managed the Luncheonette in the James Building. By the 1940s he was the manager of the Soda Shop in the Provident Life & Accident Insurance Building on Broad Street and then later was employed by the Kerry Restaurant on Broad. I’m not familiar with Kerry’s as I think it was gone by the time I came along.
Sometime after that, Mr. Sperry Anton opened a small eating establishment at 120 W 8th Street close to the Chestnut Street side called the Commodore Tea Room. I don’t know if it had once been a classic tea room like the English Rose, but when I first ate there it wasn’t. The fare would be described as a meat and two with a surprise.
Some of my earliest memories of eating out would be at the Commodore, as my mom called it, after shopping at Miller Brothers or Lovemans. We would pop in for a quick lunch. Entering you went down a narrow hall with booths on the right side. I know the hallway opened to a larger area but we always ate in the booths. I also remember Mrs. Pearl Anton taking our order on a little green pad.
The thing I remember the most is what I called the surprise. It was those magnificent little hot buttered rolls that Mrs. Anton or one of the staff would bring around in a small tin pan throughout the meal. Some might call them Parker House rolls, but they were smaller and folded over. It was difficult not to eat just the rolls, so you were limited to two. You learned quickly the servers would be back with more.
I really liked going to the Commodore because on 8th Street we had to pass the Hobby Shop. With a huge picture window full of model cars and airplanes including a couple of large airplanes suspended from the ceiling, the Hobby Shop was a natural draw for a small boy with Christmas money to spend.
In the early 1960s, the buildings housing the Commodore were cleared to make way for the new modern six-story Pioneer Bank Building which was completed in 1962. Mr. Anton no longer operated the Commodore and for a while I didn’t see him.
Sometime in the mid 1960s, Mr. Anton opened a new restaurant in Fountain Square at 614 Georgia Avenue between the Fountain Square Pharmacy and The Fountain Square Grocery. It had been one of two Fehn’s Restaurants until 1960 when the Fehn family merged their two separate locations and opened a larger restaurant. It actually was on the North Shore of the Tennessee River close to GPS. After Fehn’s, the Georgia Avenue location was briefly occupied by Leo’s Restaurant where I tasted my first Baked Alaska.
When Leo closed, Mr. Anton opened the Southern Restaurant. There was a small steam table with a short tray slide. You could still get a meat and two, but you had two meats and four vegetables from which to choose. Much to my delight, as well as others including customers new to Mr. Anton’s restaurants, those signature hot buttered rolls were back and going fast.
Mr. Anton, himself, was quite a colorful character as he passed the rolls around and, if you ordered coffee, his standard response was, “Coffee, walking out.” He once told me he went to the Farmer’s Market on 11th Street each morning when they opened to purchase the fresh vegetables which he served that day.
Sometime in 1969, Mr. Anton sold the restaurant to Mr. Charles Gabor. Maestro Gabor had been the interim conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra prior to Dr. Richard Cormier taking that position.
The choices for lunch or dinner remained pretty much the same as with Mr. Anton except on Friday nights, Mr. Gabor, who was of Hungarian descent, offered a gourmet dinner. Dining was by reservation with lower lighting and included a professional maitre d’ who happened to be a friend of mine.
I’ve wondered what Mr. Anton did after that but never heard. I know for many years he and his brother delighted many local diners with their culinary delights.
The Quasi Gourmand