ANTICO PIZZA NAPOLETANA BRINGS A TASTE OF NAPLES TO ATLANTA.
In the right hands, the classic trio of tomatoes, cheese and bread can exceed taste expectations. Such was my recent experience at Antico Pizza Napoletana’s original Westside location.
One bite of the San Gennaro Neapolitan pizza, and I was swooning. The combination of Italian sausage, dolce piccante pepper, bufala (water buffalo milk mozzarella that’s mildly sour with a slightly granular texture) and cipollini (Italian onion) is perfection atop the charred yet chewy crust. Sweet, spicy, savory and salty notes combine in tongue-tingling harmony. Each ingredient is distinct, yet the sum is greater than its parts. No element overpowers. Think you don’t like spicy? These little red peppers may well win you over.
Antico’s straightforward menu presents 11 pizzas (five with red sauce, six white) plus three calzones with marinara on the side. All are large and cooked to well done and slightly charred. No half-toppings or substitutions are permitted.
Margherita D.O.P. leads the list of rosso (red) pizza options. “DOP” stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (protected name of origin), a legal designation certifying that all ingredients are sourced from Italy. Antico’s imported San Marzano tomatoes and bufala sit atop its signature crust made using imported wheat flour and cooked in wood-fired ovens that were shipped from Naples. A sophisticated cheese pizza with a hint of garlic and sprinkled with basil, Margherita D.O.P. features the colors of the Italian flag (red, white and green) while offering a tantalizing combination of sweet, tangy, salty, savory and bitter notes. Though a crowd-pleaser in its original form, it’s the only pizza on the menu that offers modifications. You can add sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, Calabrian peppers and/or artichoke to personalize the classic. Pepperoni adds a salty-spicy zing. But trust the pizzaiolo and try any of the suggested combos.
The specialty of the house is the Sophia pizza; a poster of Italian actress Sophia Loren hangs adjacent to the menu, showcasing its namesake. This white pizza is topped with bufala, petite cipollini onions, roasted mushrooms and white truffle oil. Truffle in any form is a risky ingredient, but here it’s skillfully applied so it adds an attractive and alluring depth of flavor without overpowering the other ingredients.
Lasagna pizza tops red sauce with meatballs, ricotta and romano cheeses. Mild yet satisfying, it marries savory, salty and sour flavors. Bianca pizza features four cheeses: cow’s milk mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino and bufala that are salty and filling. The Vesuvio calzone is stuffed with spicy sopressata, salty prosciutto cotto and spicy hot pepperonata that packs a punch; temper that heat with a hefty pour of the tangy marinara sauce served alongside.
Off-menu items include a pre-packaged salad and imported drinks such as San Pellegrino sparkling water and Peroni beer. You’re welcome to bring a bottle of wine to enjoy alongside your meal with no corkage fee.
Service is efficient, curt. But you’re not coming here to be pampered; you’re coming for pizza. Call ahead and odds are you’ll reach a voicemail box that’s full. If a human happens to pick up, you can get answers to one or maybe two questions before the phone is hung up. Face-to-face interactions with staffers are rushed, understandably, considering the line of people likely waiting behind you. Order and pay at the counter then help yourself to a seat at any of the tables near the pizza ovens and dough room, at a high wooden table or counter near the registers, outside at umbrellaed patio tables, or take your order to go. A bench near the register under a window ledge filled with framed reviews and certificates is available while you wait.
What’s the best pizza? That topic is frequently debated at our house. But can there be one right answer for a food that makes equal sense when shared on a romantic date, with friends on a rowdy sports night and nibbled solo over the kitchen sink? A food that can be enjoyed hot, at room temperature and straight from the fridge, at any time from breakfast to late-night cravings? Pizza done right encourages one greedy bite after another. The best pizzas linger in memory and spark cravings long after that last piece is gone and the box recycled. Antico presents several contenders.
On a recent rainy Saturday, the parking lot and dining room were so crowded we opted for to-go. Surprisingly, the pizzas survived their halfhour drive across town, staying hot in boxes from the restaurant to our kitchen counter with no reheating necessary. On a previous on-site visit, we sampled so much that leftovers were inevitable. We discovered the pizzas and calzone were equally enjoyable the next day; reheat at 350˚F for a few minutes, and they’re almost like fresh. Can’t decide on one thing? Get several with no regrets.
What Giovanni DiPalma opened in 2009 as a pizzeria has grown into a Little Italia hub with Antico’s companion restaurants Gio’s Chicken Italiano & Maccheroni, Bar Amalfi and Caffé Antico Gelateria and Pasticceria. Head here when you crave an authentic Italian experience.
Antico Pizza Napoletana
Prices: Pizza, $19-27; Calzoni, $18-19.
Recommended: San Gennaro, lasagna and Sophia pizzas plus the Vesuvio calzoni.
Bottom line: An award-winning Atlanta pizzeria known for its signature Neapolitan pizzas and casual setting.
STORY: Hope S. Philbrick
PHOTOS: Erik Meadows
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