The waiter has come to the table, and we both stare intently as I poke a knife through the many unusual things on top of my pizza ($16). Shredded goat meat, blue cheese, papery slivers of potato.
“A ha, here’s one,” I say, pulling out a reddish-brown nubbin. “I know it’s a cranberry.”
The waiter tries to convince me that I’m eating sweet onion, if not suffering from a slight bout of Craisin brain. (It’s been known to happen to parents who spend their best years packing school lunches.) But I persist. So he consults the kitchen and soon doubles back with the news that, yes, unannounced cranberries adorn the goat pizza. “Do you like it?” he asks worriedly.
Actually, I kind of do. After a couple of meals at Double Zero Napoletana, I find that cranberries on pizza seem no stranger than Parmesan on pasta.
This Sandy Springs restaurant is the latest venture from the Castellucci family, who run two branches of Sugo in Roswell and Johns Creek and the Iberian Pig in Decatur. All share a more-is-more attitude in piling on ingredients and garnishes.
At first glance you see a straightforward menu of pizzas, pastas, cured meats and grilled entrees. It’s Italian! But then you start reading. There’s North African spice in the salami, porcini “dirt” on the salad, and drizzles and dollops and pomegranate pips galore. It’s like the kitchen starts with simple tunes but plays them on a pipe organ with every stop pulled. You may never notice the melody but still find pleasure in the opulent, baroque arrangements. An expansive spirit helps this busy food.
Named for the finely milled flour essential to Neapolitan-style pizza, Double Zero greets you with two beautifully tiled wood-burning ovens hand built by Stefano Ferrara, the third-generation owner of the Naples-based oven maker Uno Forno. You walk past the ovens into a vast, handsome dining room ringed with comfy booths and anchored by a lineup of communal tables stretching through the center. You can be in the middle of things or find a nice corner and settle in with the enormous, wordy menu.
Does the cocktail list catch your eye? It should. How much fun to drink a negroni ($15) with gin, Carpano Antica vermouth and Campari aged in a barrel for six weeks in-house, its sharp edges buffed by a mellow smokiness. A classic Old Fashioned ($9) comes bold and strong over a cube of hand-chipped ice. The Neapolitan Sour ($10) plays Betty Draper to the Old Fashioned’s Don; this feminine citrus/ginger libation comes shaken with egg white to a pinkish froth.
You and your posse may want to order drinks and the enormous, shareable appetizer called l’arrosto ($29) and call it a day. It starts with a 1½-pound hunk of pork butt braised to saucy, shred-apart opulence. Add in a basket of flatbreads, baked in the pizza oven and quartered, so that you can pull them open like fresh pita. All kinds of garnishes — from roasted garlic spread, to pepper jelly, to apple mostarda — come on the side. Appetizer, schmappetizer: This is dinner for four.
Keep exploring the menu, and you meet the many faces of the Double Zero kitchen. Chef John Coley has a fine-dining background that shows in magazine-cover dishes like prosciutto and pineapple carpaccio ($9), paper thin and set with teensy stripes of sweet sauce and embryonically small greens. The caprese salad ($13) unites roasted cherry tomatoes, still in a cluster, with good, creamy burrata and spherified dots of balsamic caviar.
And then there are big, messy crowd pleasers. Crab-stuffed calamari ($19) come heaped on a pile of squid-ink black pasta with gobs of tomato, garlic and olive oil. It’s an easy thing to stuff in your face before the excess oil separates. A giardino salad ($10) unites all kinds of fancy veggies (carrots, baby turnips, heirloom radish) with candied pistachios and that porcini dirt in a whole lot of lemon vinaigrette. A perfectly fresh, perfectly cooked piece of red snapper ($32) tops a hilariously massive heap of panzanella salad with brioche croutons and an entire community supported agriculture box of salad veggies in tomato jam.
Are you beginning to see what I mean? There’s a lot of razz matazz going on here. I loved eavesdropping on the older guy at the next table who, upon hearing a lengthy description of daily specials and an even lengthier spiel about the unusual pizzas, asked, “Do you just have a meat lover’s?”
Actually, the house specialty pizza ($16) offers a nice switch from jazz to classical, with its toppings of arugula, prosciutto and good bufula mozzarella on a light, tasty crust with good texture. The huge wedge of zucchini cake ($5) is really just like a green carrot cake if you squint, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Lamb polpettine ($9) features a trio of juicy meatballs that have been breaded, fried and poised on slivers of mozzarella. In context, this is one of the more restrained dishes.
But it all gets to be too much if you’re not careful. What is the weird brown puree under the braised octopus leg ($12)? The waiter says parsnip. Parsnip in June in Atlanta? Really, brah? Does anyone actually like the tasting of cheese-flavored ice creams ($9)? It’s interesting, I guess, how the goat cheese tastes like nothing and the Parmesan cheese tastes like the mummy’s crypt, but I wonder how much of the menu’s novelty is necessary.
It is a question I ponder when the rapini e salsicce ($16) fettuccine hits the table. It’s an excellent rendition, with silken ribbons of fresh pasta, lean nuggets of sausage, bitter rapini greens and a beguiling flavor that grows more interesting with each bite.
Owner Federico Castellucci III, the young family scion whose vision brought this restaurant to life, comes to the table as we’re slurping away and raving. Thrilled, he says, “You know what really brings everything together in this dish? Lemon honey.”
He’s right. You have to take this place for what it is and roll with it.DOUBLE ZERO NAPOLETANA 5825 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 404-991-3666 Food: pizzas, pastas and Italian dishes with a kazillion creative twists Service: Has that special old-school Italian restaurant warmth to it. Hands may be kissed. Best dishes: l’arrosto, lamb polpettine, Double Zero pizza, zucchini cake, cocktails Vegetarian selections: quite a few Credit cards: all major Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays Children: Fine for kids who can handle the noise and energy of a big, open space. Parking: valet Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: full Smoking: no Noise level: High but not unpleasant; you can usually carry on a conversation without screaming. Patio: not yet open Takeout: yes, everything but the pizza