Cozy up to one of Sandy Springs’ favorite pizza taverns

The ever-popular Ring of Fire is as close to perfection as pizza gets.

STORY: Rebecca Cha
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna

Hearth’s roasted Brussels sprouts are drizzled with a touch of sweet balsamic vinegar.

Hearth Pizza Tavern has a real urban feel, like the buzz of a city subway, complete with the chatter-in-stereo of folks catching up, connecting. Hearth’s food, too, reminds me of my old New York stomping ground, Lombardi’s pizzeria, where, as a single dating lady, my heart was either lit up like dry wood in the fired oven or crushed like San Marzano tomatoes, depending on the day. The only sure thing was that world-class pie would be served. Every time. It was worth whatever ensued, good or bad. Nine hundred miles south and many years later, I found my second favorite pizza place.

Hearth occupies an easily overlooked corner of the Exchange at Hammond, its exterior rather bland and nondescript. Don’t let that fool you. Step inside and feel the love as a couple of young hosts with sparkling smiles welcome you like an old friend. The dining room is dark (more hip than gloomy), long and narrow with a woodsy bar on one side, black booths on the other and communal tables running down the middle. Far in the back glows the orange heat of the pizza oven.

The yummy Tavern chopped salad is packed with a variety of meats, cheeses, veggies and greens.

At the start of my first Hearth meal, my guest and I perused the menu for refreshments. Orpheus’ Transmigration of Souls, a local double IPA with a pleasant, hoppy finish, proved a perfect companion for the chewy, blistered crust, homemade pomodoro sauce and just-melted fior di latte mozzarella on the classic Queen of Sandy Springs pizza. The blood orange Cosmopolitan with Absolut Citron, served in a chilled martini glass garnished with a wisp of orange peel, was a perfect counterpoint to the viscous balsamic syrup drizzled over roasted Brussels sprouts. We followed that up with the Tavern chopped salad, a colorful assembly of mixed lettuces, chicken, salami, pepperoncini, cheeses and hard-boiled egg, all tossed with just the right amount of homemade vinaigrette. At only $11, it was a steal.

Cauliflower is transformed into a favorite starter when tossed with peppers, pine nuts and fresh herbs.

The pleasure of my initial visit was surpassed just a few days later. After greeting familiar faces at adjacent tables, my group joined the feasting masses and tucked into the starter of roasted cauliflower. Trust me, it’s more than just a humble crucifer—its toasted buds are amped up with pickled Fresno peppers, cherry peppers, radicchio, pine nuts and fresh herbs, all tossed in a zesty dressing that permeates one’s nostrils with a biting punch. Our youngest diner ordered the Simply Red, a pizza that transcends its modest name with dough made with local honey and lovingly touched with a little garlic oil, equal amounts cheese blend and homemade sauce, then torched for about three minutes. Alas, she frowned when we offered up the PEI mussels in spicy red sauce, capers and Kalamata olives. True to form, though, she gorged on the accompanying toasted focaccia, leaving the mussels in their ambrosial briny broth for the only too happy- to-oblige grown-ups.

The Cure, a pizza menu “lifer,” is a meat lover’s delight.

It wouldn’t be a true tavern experience without trying a few classics, and so, on our last visit, we opted for a burger. Hearth’s 100 percent Angus chuck medium-rare version oozes fat, salt and flavor in equal measure. It’s a two-handed proposition, like a teen at the wheel, and I urge newbies to pile on extras such as the homemade pickles (the refreshingly crunchy uncooked variety). Add to that a generous mound of piping-hot, hand-cut fries, and the experience rivals any four-star bistro in town. My only quibble is the sesame seed bun. It’s fine, but why not go for something special like a brioche bun for such a lush burger?

Calamari, too, is veteran pub fare, and Hearth’s didn’t disappoint. The crispy rounds were both tender and crunchy, served with an exemplary lemon-coriander aioli and chunky marinara. The chef d’oeuvre was the otherworldly Ring of Fire pizza, consisting of chile oil, three cheeses, chorizo salami, cherry peppers, caramelized onions and roasted cremini mushrooms. Reminiscent of Nice, France’s pissaladière, this pie is a masterpiece. The mushrooms and cheese help mute the heat some, while the salami, peppers and chile oil put your Scoville tolerance to the test.

Save room for the cinnamon sugar doughnuts with chocolate

For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the cinnamon and sugar doughnuts with salted caramel ice cream. Sure, it’s superfluous after such a feast, but after playing with the Ring of Fire, ice cream’s not a bad idea. The golden, sugar-dusted orbs arrive hot from the fryer with not just the ice cream, but also twin ramekins of warm chocolate and addictive mellow marshmallow sauce.

It’s not my intention as a reviewer to rhapsodize endlessly here, but I have to hand it to Hearth. The conviviality and earthy aromas oozing out of every pore of this place have made me a devotee. Sure, there are plenty of other neighborhood joints, but Hearth, like any longstanding favorite, offers something the others frequently don’t: consistency. Computers crash, relationships fail, it rains when it’s supposed to shine. But for a couple of hours over a meal at Hearth, you can count on everything going just as it should.

The 100 percent Angus chuck Tavern burger comes with homemade pickles and bistro-style fries.

HEARTH PIZZA TAVERN

5992 Roswell Rd. N.E.,
Sandy Springs
30328
404.252.5378
hearthpizzatavern.com

Prices: Openers and salads: $6-$12. Burgers and sandwiches: $10-$12. Pizzas: $7-$19. Desserts: $6-$7.

Recommended dishes: Tavern chopped salad, crispy Brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower, the Tavern burger, Ring of Fire pizza, The Cure pizza, PEI mussels in spicy red sauce, cinnamon and sugar doughnuts.

Bottom line: Neighborhood hot spot catering to foodies and families, and serving up cool beers, hip cocktails and top-notch food.