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Fritti revisit: Pizza problems?

photo-82The missus and I popped into Fritti recently to sample the Neapolitan-style pizzas now that they’re made in a fancy-schmantzy new oven hand built by an Italian pizza oven god.

Compared to the pizzas I’ve enjoyed before at Fritti, I found the crusts from this oven more charred around the edges and on the bottom, and less prone to the gooey centers that are not uncommon in Neapolitan pizza. The crusts were also, alas, distinctly softer and more pliable. We kept looking in vain for a crisp edge somewhere to give the pizza its all-important texture contrast, but couldn’t find it.

A return visit a week later revealed the same situation. Great salads, great fried mushrooms, good wine and the always-welcome finish of chocolate soup for desserts. But the pizza crusts were indistinguishable in texture from gyro wraps.

I called owner Riccardo Ullio, who said that he personally eats the pizzas four or five times a week and has never had a problem with soft crust. But he did suggest that the dough may possibly have been “blown out” from over-rising. Dough for the lunch pizzas is prepared the night before, and sometimes leftovers will be used for early diners, when it is past its prime fermentation and gluten development.

Because the new oven also retains heat better, the kitchen has needed to adjust the hydration of the dough. I wonder if the extra moisture results in a pizza that is crisp as it leaves the oven but quickly wilts — as we all do — in this early summer heat and humidity.

Ullio consulted his head pizzaiolo, who said the pizzas have been consistently on target, and then suggested that I didn’t understand the kind of crispness they were going for.

“It could be not operator error but user error,” said Ullio. I suppose there might be some kind of special crispness devoid of all resistance, though I have to say I never noted such in Naples.

[UPDATE: Please note Ullio's response below. He says the "user error" comment, which some readers took umbrage with, was about the person manning the oven, not the customer."]

Pizza, like barbecue, can vary a lot from visit to visit. Even the usually reliable Antico Pizza Napoletana let us down the other day with a calzone filled with stiff, unmelted cheese and cold sausage. But that was solved with a quick complaint and fix.

We like Fritti a lot in my family and will keep patronizing the restaurant in hopes that the next pizzas are as good as they used to be.

37 comments Add your comment

Reds

June 16th, 2011
4:13 pm

You’ll keep going to a place that said it was a “user error?” I’d pass on them next time, and take my business somewhere else. Especially if you are on a “let me call the owner” basis with the guy. Soft crust once, I could see, but more than one visit, then it’s a trend. Maybe that’s just me though.

kevin

June 16th, 2011
4:31 pm

Fritti is a generally solid spot. However, there is no place that competes with Antico. Best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy, and it compares to the best I’ve had there. Outstanding!

VickiF

June 16th, 2011
5:22 pm

We love Verasano’s best…and wow, he should have had you back on his dime to have a good pizza. I don’t like that ” user error” thing.

jimmy

June 16th, 2011
5:49 pm

I haven’t been to Naples, but I’ve read that the true Neapolitan pie there tends to have a softer cornicione than the “Neo-Neapolitan” style (Peter Reinhart’s term) popping up during this pizza renaissance.

Even before the oven change I felt like Fritti’s pies have always been a bit softer than Varasano’s, which aims to be quite crisp on the edge.

Lisa

June 16th, 2011
6:27 pm

the pizza we had in Naples was crispy almost burned on the edge but pliable toward the center. I am not a fan of pizza that is like a cracker, crisp all the way to the center. But then I like deep dish from Chicago. I am from Chicago too.

the fish

June 16th, 2011
6:53 pm

Ate at Fritti three nights ago before the Brave game. As usual, I want to like the place more than I do. Pizzas are good, but not great. The dough just doesn’t have that crispy edge that makes a great pizza. The new oven doesn’t seem to have added anything to the final product.
Antico is still top dog; too bad it’s such a pain in the tuchas to deal with the crowds/physical plant/etc…
Just like you, I’ll still go back to Fritti. But also like you, I will never fall in love with the place.

Linda

June 16th, 2011
7:53 pm

Restaurants close all the time based on user error.

Grasshopper

June 16th, 2011
8:29 pm

Such a suck-up review for a restaurant owner that just dissed you.

What does he need to do? Spit in your face?

Mike

June 16th, 2011
10:09 pm

I at at Fritti for the second time last week and thought the pizza was limp and soggy. Definitely nothing special.

ane

June 16th, 2011
11:30 pm

I was really looking forward to trying Fritti, especially since I had read about the new oven. I’ve eaten pizza in Italy but not in Naples, so I can’t compare it to Fritti. The way it looks now, I’ll stick to either New Park Pizza in Queens for Neopolitan and L&B spumoni garden in Brooklyn for Sicilian. Can’t wait to visit again.

Chris

June 17th, 2011
8:55 am

We went to Fritti last Friday for an early dinner and I guess our dough was “blown out” too. It was very soft, with little crispiness at all. Fritti is closer to our home than Varasano’s and Antico, but I think I’d rather drive a bit farther. Ullio can call it “driver error” when I pass on by his restaurant next time.

CafeEJ

June 17th, 2011
9:57 am

Soft dough….hard dough…does not matter to me – I just eat pizza to support heavy drinking.

Candace

June 17th, 2011
10:22 am

We had exactly the same expierience Saturday night, so if it is user error, there are several erroneous users out there.

Sophie's Choice

June 17th, 2011
10:56 am

I’ve really enjoyed the pizzas at Fritti, but haven’t been since the new oven got installed. Your review doesn’t make me too anxious to go back again– especially after that “user error” comment. Mayhap Signore Ullio should just hike his carcass back to Naples if he thinks his American customers are too stupid to appreciate the “real thing”…

John Kessler

June 17th, 2011
11:23 am

The “user error” thing made me prickle for a second, but this guy really believes in his product and is willing to tell anyone — even a restaurant critic — that it’s good. I really wonder if the architecture of Fritti, with its open-to-the-elements dining room, contributes to the extremely flaccid texture of the crust.

Mike

June 17th, 2011
12:04 pm

As someone that has spent extensive time in Naples while based there, I have the flavor, texture and aroma of the pizza etched into my memory. The last thing I would expect a Neapolitan pizza to be described as is “crispy”. The only “crispiness” that should be present is the occasional char. It needs to have a springy texture inside with the char on the outside. I feel that Fritti accomplishes this texture consistently…and even more so since the new oven has come. I agree that it is user error because authentic Neapolitan pizza cannot be described as “crispy” in the least bit. If that is what your personal preference then Neapolitan pizza is not the type of pizza that you should be sampling.

JimmyZ

June 17th, 2011
1:09 pm

John, Howard Hughes really believed in the “spruce goose” too. See how well that went?

It’s one thing to believe in your product. It’s another thing entirely to ignore the people who will be using/consuming said product. The first part is necessary for success, the second is a recipe for failure.

Mario

June 17th, 2011
1:38 pm

If you want Neapolitan pizza, Fritti’s is the true Naples way. If you want pizza cooked the American way, go to the local pizza shop or get a box pizza from the grocer.

Grasshopper

June 17th, 2011
1:51 pm

Who cares if you call it Neapolitan, American or Martian. If it’s limp, it’s limp.

Are the toppings good? No mention of those so far.

riccardo ullio

June 17th, 2011
7:21 pm

John, I would like to clarify what I said to you because I believe I did not make myself clear and have been misquoted. I said that I have been very happy with our pizza dough and the crispness of the pizza. I eat the pizza at least four times per week, so I can speak accurately on its day to day consistency. Not having tried the pizzas you ate, I cannot comment on it . It could be that it was a user error, as in the user of the oven or cook made an error, or that the pizza was made properly and you simply don’t really care for the texture. I did not state or imply that you as the customer made the error. What people like is a personal choice and cannot be classified as right or wrong.
As far as the pizza, our customers like it, our sales are up, and we are busier than ever after 10 years in business in a down economy. Thank you for letting me say my piece.

Edward

June 18th, 2011
11:31 am

If I want bad pizza I can stay at home and pay Pizza Hut $10 to deliver it. If I drive over to Fritti and pay premium money for a pizza, it should be a premium pizza and a “user error” would result in this user sending it back. I don’t have to put up with crappy food, and won’t.

nique

June 18th, 2011
3:05 pm

Fritti is good, but Antico is great.

shoeshoe

June 19th, 2011
11:36 am

I’ve been eating at Fritti since they opened and have always been more than pleased with the food and service. The ananas gorgonzola is amazing!! Perfect texture and taste.

Billy Bob

June 20th, 2011
8:24 am

I like Dominos.

John Kessler

June 20th, 2011
9:11 am

Hey, Riccardo – Thanks for chiming in here. It sounded to me on the phone like you were saying my expectations were off, and you suggested we eat a pizza together to see. As I said on the phone I couldn’t do that, but also (I hope) made it clear that I remain fond of Fritti despite the fact that the pizzas seem to have changed. And as often as I’ve gone to you for your insight into Italian food, you know that I respect the integrity of your product and your commitment to it.
While I make no claims to be any kind of Neapolitan pizza maven (I’m sure I’ve eaten much more pizza in Tuscany and the Veneto than in Naples, truth be told), I do have strong memories of my one trip to Naples many years ago. The pizzas were very charred and blistery, with bright tomato sauce and really wonderful mozzarella. The crusts were tender and puddly in the center, but with crisp char around the edges. I recall ripping pieces of the outer crust off, dipping it in the gooey center, and enjoying the pizzas very much for this contrast in texture.

Allison

June 20th, 2011
1:57 pm

the way you described it sounds great. i am not interested in crunchy pizza.

Bob from Accounttemps

June 20th, 2011
8:47 pm

A “B” at best. I’m not as big a fan of Antico as many others are, but I do get it and think the pizza coupled with the experience of just eating there is terrific. And you are right — the charred crust is the secret to a terrific Neo pizza. Just had it in London, of all places.

Magnolia-Lee

June 21st, 2011
10:22 am

I have heard nothing but raves about Fritti: authentic northern Italian cuisine and a charming & lively ambience. Riccardo is truly a serious restaurateur contender on the ATL food scene.

Maggie

June 21st, 2011
12:23 pm

I went to fritti last night out of curiosity after i read this and also because I hadn’t tried the pizza since the new oven was installed. My girlfriend, mom and myself ordered the Regina and the vegetarian, a pizza that if the crust isn’t top notch won’t support the watery cooked vegetables.
To say my experience was great would be an understatement. From beginning to end, the owner has fritti ironed out and solid. The pizza was fantastic, best I’ve had in Atlanta by far. I must admit I’ve never been to Naples but being a New Yorker, I am not only quick to be critical when the moment calls, but I am well seasoned with respect to pizza and crust.
This pizza crust was perfectly crunchy and soft. I even stopped eating, believing I was done, enjoyed a glass of wine and conversation and went back to the vegetarian pizza and finished it cold.
Delicious.
As for everything else, the costumer service was on point, the salads were perfection and the bill?Let’s just say, I would’ve gladly paid more.
Fritti, I can’t wait to revisit!

deacturman

June 21st, 2011
2:45 pm

I had a similar experience — and terrible service on top of that. Took my family of four for dinner …and waited and waited and waited…while watching several late arrivals not only get — but finish — their pizza. i asked to speak to a manager, who was not apologetic but rude. I sent an email to register my dissatisfaction and got no response. nothing. And, according to opentable, i had eaten their 12 times. Not an apology from the manager — not even a stinkin’ desert. not an email from the company.

well, see ya, Fritti. there’s other pizza to be had in Atlanta — where folks are grateful for loyal customers and treat them with respect

Okay, then...

June 21st, 2011
4:43 pm

Okay, then what did he mean by “operator error”?

[...] click to the blog and stare in horror. Likely because of the noise in the restaurant at the time of our conversation, [...]

Riccardo Ullio

June 21st, 2011
5:42 pm

Hello John, please delete the link before, I don’t really understand how it got there.

We have been investigating your observations, and are learning a few things. More on that later.

Meanwhile, this experience has inspired me to start my own blog. It’s called Una cosa alla volta- a day in the life of a restaurateur.

Let me know what you think

A presto,

Riccardo

Riccardo Ullio

June 21st, 2011
5:43 pm

Jesse

June 22nd, 2011
9:07 am

i love the pizza at Fritti…prolly eat there once a week and always get something different. best pizza in town!

John Kessler

June 23rd, 2011
1:31 pm

Cool, Riccardo, thanks a lot! And I really didn’t mean to misquote you….but….I think you were making the not unreasonable suggestion that my expectations for the crust differed from your (and your pizzaiolo’s) intent. It does happen all the time, particularly in the case of Americans tasting a more traditional style Neapolitan pizza. Alan Richman, Peter Reinhart and others have written quite a bit about this. I was saying that I don’t think you personally would have been happy with the pizzas we were served. And you haven’t responded to my (perhaps erroneous) suggestions that the new hydration of the dough may be a problem and that the humidity and outdoor seating might make the crusts grow soggy as they cooled. I’ll cross post on your blog. Respect, brah…

Riccardo Ullio

June 23rd, 2011
4:01 pm

John, thanks for checking out and commenting on my blog http://unacosaallavolta.wordpress.com/

Here is my response:

I tried a pizza around the same time you did the next day and I was not pleased with the texture either, so you were absolutely right about the less than pleasant texture. I agree that the humidity could cause the pizza to get gummy as it cools, just like fresh baked bread does. Pizza must be eaten quickly after it comes out of the oven, before it cools. In Italy, all talking stops when the pizza comes to the table. However, the humidity is not the only problem. Remember when I told you we were working on the hydration of the dough? The dough we were using was always really good for lunch and late night when I would taste it, but a lesser product at different times. We are working on the issue and will be blogging about it, also in the context of authenticity. Could you send me some info on Alan Richman and Peter Reinheart?

Thank you