It seems that lately one can’t throw a rock in Atlanta without hitting the newest Neapolitan-style pizza joint to pop up. Amid the recent hype, it can be easy to overlook the chefs putting their own spin on things. It can be easy to forget that there is more to great pizza than a pizzaiolo fresh off the boat from Naples.
Brought to us by the same team behind Cypress Street Pint & Plate, Hearth Pizza Tavern in Sandy Springs deserves its slice of attention. In the corner of a shopping center, the narrow interior is framed by an expansive bar and high-backed wooden booths, leading to an open-mouthed stone oven burning at more than 600 degrees. One can’t help but stare into the gas-fired behemoth as you walk by, feeling the emanating heat against your cheek.
One part Neapolitan, two parts American-style, the crusts emerge from that inferno slightly thicker than you’d expect and nicely spotted with char. Made from organic wheat flour, the bready dough retains a nice crunch that holds up well. While the crust plays its part well, it merely acts as the supporting cast for toppings that steal the show.
Sliced chorizo salami, cherry peppers, caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms, cheese and cilantro get a shower of garlic chili oil, giving the Ring of Fire ($8/$14) a slow burn that will have you dabbing your forehead in no time. The bounty of meats on the Cure ($8/$14), including pepperoni, Italian sausage and whole strips of applewood smoked bacon, may test the integrity of the crust, but will surely satisfy the staunchest of carnivores. Perhaps the most exciting pizza at Hearth, the Chorizo Sunrise ($10/$18), looks to be only a special, though I hope it earns a permanent spot on the roster. Dollops of Mexican crema add pleasantly surprising sour notes to the crumbled chorizo sausage and broken yolk egg, tied together nicely with a sprinkling of cilantro and salsa picante.
Despite doing some of their finest work when toppings abound, partner and executive chef Rob Phillip also proves himself skilled at well-executed simplicity with his take on the classic Margherita pizza, the Queen’s Right ($8/$14). Baked with a thinner crust than most of their pies and topped with cow’s milk mozzarella, basil leaves, and olive oil, this pie is best savored immediately out of the oven, before the aromatic marinara sauce can soak through the dough. However, the light base of olive oil and cheeses on the Simply White ($6/$9), allows more time to slowly savor the pungent garlic and aromatic herbs.
With only a handful of sandwiches and salads on the menu, pizza remains the clear focus at Hearth, but do not overlook the chicken club sandwich ($7.50). Served on warm grilled focaccia, the semi-melted Gruyère and creamy garlic dressing give this an eye-rolling richness accented by peppery arugula and smoky bacon. And be on the lookout for one of the regularly rotating sliders, like the jammin’ chicken sliders ($9), with sliced pancetta and sun-dried tomato jam.
Another special that stands out is the Hearth mac and cheese with pancetta ($8). The rich broth of mascarpone and muenster cheese paired with the crispy chunks of cured pork makes this a hearty cowl of comfort food that is best shared, lest you give in to the temptation to ruin your appetite before the entrees arrive. You may also want to split an order of roasted broccoli ($7), which arrived perfectly cooked in a buttery bath with caramelized onions and pepperoncini , as the intense flavor of the fresh garlic may prove overpowering to some. I refused the server’s offer to take it from our table until I had the chance to soak up the last drops with a few chunks of foccacia.
Not every dish elicits the same protective instinct, however. I can’t help but lament the thin broth that the cozze mussels ($10) swim in. This could use a little more reduction, as the white wine sauce leaves me eating it by the spoonful in the hope that I pick up any hints of the fennel or mint it promised. Similarly, the panko crusted eggplant chips ($7) prove underwhelming, with the lack of seasoning only remedied by a dip in chipotle and sun-dried tomato aioli.
These few misfires do not overshadow the fact that Hearth Pizza Tavern serves an impressive selection of well-executed Italian-inspired fare, and merits a visit for any pizza fiend in town.HEARTH PIZZA TAVERN 5992 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 404-252-5378 Food: pizza, sandwiches and salads Service: friendly and knowledgeable Best dishes: Ring of Fire, roasted broccoli, and chicken club Vegetarian selections: salads and vegetarian pizzas Credit cards: all major credit cards Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays Children: fine Parking: ample parking in the shopping center Reservations: for parties of eight or more Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: moderate Patio: yes, mostly covered Takeout: yes