Forza Storico lights up the Westside
Back in 2019, Forza Storico, the latest enterprise of the Storico empire, took over the former Little Bacch space on the basement level of the Westside Provisions District. The original blueprints were exquisite, an indigo labyrinthine dream detailing the collective vision of its creative team. Just six months after opening, the pandemic hit, shutting down just about every establishment in town. The fact that Forza Storico not only survived but is thriving is a testament to the formidable brand, skillfully engineered by partners Michael Patrick, Pietro Gianni and Stephen Peterson, passionate, jeans and sneakers- sporting guys who could easily be mistaken for a ’90s Calvin Klein billboard. They’ve seriously elevated Atlanta’s Italofare street cred.
“The fact that [none of us] ever owned a restaurant paved the way for a new form of dining which, for sure, has to be composed of great food and alcohol, but also [the ability to] re-invent from scratch whatever doesn’t work, humbly and without complaining,” General Manager Gianni says before hustling off to another 18-hour day in Forza’s ambitious space where every detail—from the open kitchen to the light-strewn courtyard to Tori Alexis’s “SuperPope” murals—has been infused with Storico’s unique brand of whimsy.
The talent and gumption in this operation start with Executive Chef Patrick, whose diverse resume includes traveling through Italy learning from Italian nonnas. Despite the pandemic, he continues to import most ingredients from Italy, keeping Forza’s menu, like Storico Fresco’s, focused and approachable, only here, the food is almost entirely Roman.
We began our first meal with an Eternal City classic: whole fried artichoke. It arrives looking like a gilded flower girl’s bouquet, all crunch, heat and salt. We took turns plucking off crispy petals, cutting the oiliness with a squeeze of lemon. Equally on point was the polpo, octopus slow simmered in aromatics, smoked then grilled. The charred gams are served atop warm cannellini beans and drizzled with an orange Calabrian chili pesto.
You can’t visit Forza without trying the cacio e pepe, housemade tonnarelli noodles tossed in a gamy, salty pecorino and black pepper sauce. The pasta’s bite is arguably on the more extreme side of the al dente spectrum, the flavors are so in-your-face, you can’t stop eating. Using a different flavor profile was the equally decadent chitarra arrabbiata, a piquant tomato ragu dotted with nuggets of pearly mozzarella and tossed with long, thin chitarra pasta. It’s so earthy, so rich, it could almost be classified under carne.
Usually ho-hum in Italian-American restaurants, Forza’s tiramisu is all the dessert was intended to be—an ode to boozy mascarpone and day-old cookies. As my companions effused over their first bite and the pretty wine-glass presentation, I dug my cocoa-dusted fork into the ethereal, café-soaked layers of cookie and cream. Falling short on flavor, however, were the nondescript pistachio and chocolate gelatos, made at Inman Park’s Voga Gelato. We’ve visited the brick-and-mortar shop a dozen times, and flavors have always been distinct; clearly, tonight was an aberration. We vowed to give it another try soon.
Only one word describes our follow-up meal: breathtaking. We began the evening perched at a high bar table overlooking the train tracks, as urban-grit a view as one can get, made even hipper with Bar Manager Jose Pereiro’s cocktails, crafted with all manner of esoteric liqueurs, juices and syrups. The Cosmo di Milano is a pretty-in-pink drink made with Italicus, Dimmi di Milano, Purus vodka and cranberry. The Il Martini is a bracing, Grey Goose vodka-St. George Botanivore gin-Luxardo-Cocchi Americano concoction.
A few sips in, we’re served the mozzarella and prosciutto app and make short shrift of the grilled ciabatta and pristine San Daniele, gossamer slices so paper-thin they practically vaporize on the tongue. But the mozzarella was my Anton Ego flashback moment. Late ’90s, lunchtime in Rome, Nino Buonocore’s “Scrivimi” on the stereo and actor Max Von Sydow at the next table, staring me down with arched brow as I gorge on my first mozzarella di bufala. The quivering globe of milky goodness before me at Forza is better, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.
The question of “more food?” arose. Not because we were sated, but because, really, how can that act be followed? We persevered, opting for the mother of all Roman dishes, saltimbocca. I have no memory of more tender, sublime veal cutlets, here pan-crisped in sage butter served with a side of anchovy butter- seared king trumpet mushrooms. We wrapped up with a head-on branzino, crispy-skinned, rosemary-stuffed and topped with a glistening, mandoline-shaved fennel salad. The fish was light and flaky with few bones to contend with, and, like the veal, was much ameliorated with lemons.
Forza Storico is not perfect (yet). Like Storico Fresco’s opening back in 2016, the acoustics are such that during busiest times, it borders on cacophonous. Also, the chairs are hard and unfriendly, and after an hour, it’s a challenge to find a comfortable position in which to enjoy your dolci e amari.
But these quibbles aside, joyful, genuine Forza Storico is the breath of fresh air Atlantans need to assuage the aftershocks of a most difficult year. The squadra does what they do with unapologetic flourish, passion and focus, and we, as a city of healing food lovers, are the better for it.
1198 Howell Mill Road, #020
Prices: antipasti: $10 – $23; pastas: $16 – $26; salads and veggies: $7 – $10; specials and mains: $19 – $26; desserts: $3 – $9.
Suggested: mozzarella prosciutto, polpo, cacio e pepe, chitarra pasta, saltimbocca, branzino, funghi side, tiramisu; beverages: house cocktails reign, especially the Cosmo di Milano.
Bottom Line: With a vibe both swanky and funky, Forza Storico offers classic Roman dishes for all ages.
PHOTOS: Joann Vitelli
Food, beauty and interiors writer at Simply Buckhead. Linguist, teacher, chef, parent.