PORTLAND – Anthony’s Italian Kitchen is known for its pizza and specialties such as Mile-High Lasagna, made with six kinds of cheese.

It’s also known for the big, friendly Italian guy behind the counter, owner Tony Barrasso.

Now, Barrasso and his restaurant are counting calories and embracing lighter, healthier fare.

The popular lunch and dinner spot in the Old Port is Portland’s first restaurant to voluntarily post calorie counts on its menu as part of the city’s effort to promote healthy eating and reduce obesity and other health problems.

That lasagna, for example, has 1,226 calories — about 61 percent of the suggested daily intake for an average adult.

Along with the calorie counts on its traditional menu, Anthony’s has added a Lighter Side menu. It offers smaller portions, new sandwiches and wraps, and lighter versions of its traditional dishes, such as wheat pasta with mushroom bolognese (322 calories) and chicken cacciatore (580 calories).

“I used to eat way too much pizza here,” said Mayor Nick Mavodones, who came to the restaurant Thursday to try out the new menu and promote the city’s effort, Smart Meals for ME.

He ordered the grilled chicken wrap with spinach, sun-dried tomato, pesto and cucumber — a total of 483 calories. A slice of Anthony’s pizza, by comparison, has 540 to 650 calories, depending on toppings.

“It’s a really good sandwich,” Mavodones said. “I will come back to get it again. I’ve got to give Tony a lot of credit.”

Posting calorie counts is clearly risky for any restaurant, which is why city officials are thrilled that Barrasso chose to do it.

Barrasso clearly isn’t afraid to stick his neck out. In fact, he has posted his own weight on a board inside the restaurant so his regular customers can help keep him on track to get in shape. The 6-foot-2-inch Barrasso has lost 15 pounds since Sept. 1, when he weighed in at 325, he said.

“I’m going to run the Beach to Beacon,” Barrasso pledged, referring to the 6.2-mile road race held in Cape Elizabeth each August. “I’m really putting myself on the spot.”

Barrasso, who is diabetic, said he feels a responsibility to help customers stay healthy. He expects the calorie counts to cost the restaurant some orders of Mile-High Lasagna and Chicken Anthony (2,371 calories). But, he said, his new menu may also attract new customers.

“One lady said to me, ‘That’s the last meatball sandwich I’ll order.’ And I said, ‘Well, turn around. Now I have a lighter menu,” Barrasso said. “Oh, she’ll be back. We don’t lose many here.”

Barrasso said he is experimenting with recipes so he can add dishes to the Lighter Side menu. But he won’t change his standard menu or mess with the old family recipes that his customers have come to know.

“I refuse to. My mother would roll over,” he said.

Katie Derrig of North Yarmouth stopped in at Anthony’s for a slice of pizza Thursday, and said she appreciates the new information and the new choices.

“It would make me come here more,” she said, scanning the Lighter Side. “That’s totally doable.”

City officials hope Barrasso and his restaurant will be a trendsetter.

“It’s an ideal place to go first,” said Joan Ingram, executive director of the city-run Healthy Portland.

The program, created with a $1.8 million federal stimulus grant, promotes healthy eating and physical activity through a variety of efforts, from adding bike lanes to expanding farmers markets. It is paying for the menu labeling initiative.

Restaurant menu labeling has been a national trend. Maine passed a law this year requiring all chain restaurants — those with more than 20 locations — to post calorie information on their menus by Feb. 1, 2011. A similar federal law will take effect soon after that.

Smaller chains and individual restaurants are exempt because the cost of analyzing recipes and reprinting menus can be $4,000 to $8,000 per restaurant.

Healthy Portland will cover those costs for any restaurant owners who volunteer.

Stephanie Agne, a dietitian who is working with the city, analyzed all of Anthony’s recipes and came up with the calorie counts. People tend to overeat because they underestimate the calories. “It’s eye-opening” to see the numbers, she said.

Agne may have been the first person outside the Barrasso family to see the restaurant’s meatball recipe. But she isn’t talking.

“I signed a confidentiality agreement,” she said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]