I just got back from a 10 day pizzacation in the good old American south. Here’s a round of images from Atlanta, GA.
These are two of the four pies we had at Antico, one of Atlanta’s new hotshot pizzerias. The place is loud a bustling – more an open garage than a restaurant – and everyone seemed to be having a blast. I loved the place. It felt great. You stand in line, order your pizzas and the server hunts you down by calling out your receipt number about five minutes later. Seating is open and communal, so you have to scout your spot once your order is in. It’s pretty intense.
The photo above shows the San Gennaro (sausage, red peppers and onions) and the Bianca (mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino, basil). The place bills itself as “authentic Neapolitan STG” but that’s far from true. Their pizza is more Americanized in that it’s larger and stretched with more aggression. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really dig what they’re doing but it doesn’t conform to STG standards as it so claims. Solid pizza and a really fun experience, just don’t expect a quiet evening of gentle conversation.
Next stop was Mellow Mushroom. I’ve had so many people mention this place to me I just had to check it out. There are a bunch of them scattered around the USA but most are concentrated in the southeast. It’s a real family joint – there was even a family celebrating a kid’s 3rd birthday while we were there!
The pizza was fine but nothing Earth-shattering. The crust is sweet and ripe for ample toppings. We had one that was half Maui Wowie (pesto, pineapple, ham, jerk chicken, banana peppers, Applewood smoked bacon, mozzarella) and half Magical Mystery Tour (pesto, button and Portobello mushrooms, feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach and jalapeños). It’s kind of a mess but absolutely fine for what it was.
The two folks in the photo are Jeff and Kirstin. I met Jeff a few years ago as he was getting ready to open his own pizzeria. If you’re into pizza making, Jeff’s website is the Rosetta Stone.
The big event in Atlanta during my brief visit was finally checking out Jeff’s place – Varasano’s. I would normally go more covert when making a visit like this to get a more honest experience, but Jeff’s a friend and I had no choice but to GO BIG! I invited all Atlanta-based pizza tour alumni and about 15 came out for a tasting with Jeff. He had the kitchen make 14 different pizzas plus three desserts and everything was delicious. I wish I had better pizza photos but the lighting was low and slices were cut small so I’m not going to bother.
This photo shows Jeff presenting the final pizza of the night – a super herby Sicilian – to the crew of ready-to-explode pizza eaters. Varasano’s is located in the ground floor of a fancy apartment building. There’s even valet parking, which creeps me out at a pizzeria. The vibe is totally different from Antico and Mellow Mushroom but I enjoyed the pizza more. Jeff’s crust is just killer. He got his start by experimenting at home with dozens of flours, tomatoes, cheeses and methods. He even went so far as to clip the lock in his electric oven so he could bake pizzas in the high heat of the self-clean cycle. Please don’t try that at home.
One more thing you need to know about Jeff Varasano: he wrote a book about solving the Rubik’s Cube when he was 14 years old. You’re welcome.