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Hearth Pizza Tavern restaurant review, Sandy Springs

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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.

Review by Jon Watson

Review by Jon Watson

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.

hearth1

Roasted broccoli with caramelized onions (photos by Becky Stein)

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.

Chorizo Sunrise pizza

Chorizo Sunrise pizza

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
3stars5
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

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24 comments Add your comment

Mark

September 1st, 2011
8:11 am

Come on, Jon!! Kessler gives 246 a (justifiable) two star rating, and you’re telling me that the latest in the parade of thin crust pizza joints, in Sandy Springs, rates three? That someone in, say, Smyrna, is more likely to drive to Sandy Springs for a pizza, than to 246 for innovative Italian cuisine not available anywhere else in ATL?

jimmy

September 1st, 2011
9:30 am

Higher star rating than 246?

JIMBOB

September 1st, 2011
9:42 am

I think it sets the standard for fine dining in the Sandy Springs region. 5 stars it is!

Billy

September 1st, 2011
10:42 am

This place is not new and the pizza, if you would call it pizza, is suburban chic aka DiGiorno’s. It’s cooked in a gas oven that’s made to look like a wood burning one with decorative flames on the edge surrounding the inside of the oven that may be 600 degrees at best. Dreadful service and food execution even worse. It’s an upscale Chuck E Cheese. This place is a 1 star and Kessler’s 2 star for 246 is spot on.

thomas

September 1st, 2011
11:35 am

I respectfully disagree with your assessment.

Mark

September 1st, 2011
12:10 pm

Is anyone else as sick of the “me too” trend in restaurants in Atlanta as I am? First it was burger places, trying to emulate the success of Flip. Now, it’s thin crust pizzas. Everywhere. Antico, Varasano, Vesuvius, Piola, Sapori di Napoli, Double Zero, Shorty’s, Max’s Coal Oven, Hearth Tavern. And that’s on top of the originals—Fritti (still my fav), Woodfire, Floataway, Baraonda.

I believe that every resident of Atlanta now lives within ¼ mile of a 1000 degree pizza oven. So, Jon, no, I don’t really think that Hearth “merits a drive if you’re looking for this kind of thing.” Let’s see, Fritti 3 minutes away, Varasano 12 minutes, but I’ll drive to Sandy Springs???

At least let’s stick to places with actual wood-burning ovens. Come on, I have a gas oven in my kitchen that hits 550! Pseudo-wood ovens burning gas at 600 just don’t cut it.

Bob from Accounttemps

September 1st, 2011
1:22 pm

@Mark – I agree with your comments, although I do enjoy Hearth with the family. It’s not as expensive so it’s pretty good pizza for less than $10 a pie (for a personal size) and it gets you close to the really great pizza in the city that you mention (Baroanda and Antico being my personal favorites). But as you note, I wouldn’t recommend that you drive there from downtown if you have the great alternatives you do nearby. As much as I do like Hearth, 2 stars is what I’d rate it too.

dw

September 1st, 2011
2:05 pm

I LOVE Hearth but have to concur that it is closer to 2 stars than 3

Mark

September 1st, 2011
2:45 pm

@Bob: agree, if that were my “5 minutes away” place I’d be at Hearth all the time. We do Fritti for the same reason.

Lisa

September 1st, 2011
3:25 pm

We love Hearth!! One of our favorite pizza places!

Jon Watson

September 1st, 2011
4:07 pm

Honestly, I debated between 2 or 3 stars for quite a while when writing this review. What ultimately tipped the scales for me is that, while there are quite a few good neighborhood pizza places scattered across the city, I don’t think that there are many that do the thin-crust American style/toppings driven pizza this well. How many other places serve pizza topped with chorizo, Mexican crema, and broken yolk egg?

I don’t think that living near Antico or Fritti should prevent anyone from leaving their neighborhood to eat pizza elsewhere, especially when the style of pizza is ultimately different from what you get at either of those restaurants. Living near a great Texas-style BBQ restaurant shouldn’t stop you from driving across town for fantastic Carolina-style ‘cue. I think the same applies here.

This 3-star rating was given in the same context as all of our ratings, which is to judge the restaurant for the kind of place that it is and the type of dining that they are attempting to provide. For what they strive to be – a “neighborhood” pizza tavern – Hearth executed the dishes and service above and beyond the bar that would be expected for that type of restaurant. I can only go off of my own experiences, and what is what I saw.

I live in town, and I’ll definitely drive back to Sandy Springs to eat there again.

Mark

September 1st, 2011
7:42 pm

How many people WANT pizza topped with chorizo, Mexican crema, and broken yolk egg :-)

Colly

September 1st, 2011
8:10 pm

Better yet, how many people NEED pizza topped with chorizo, Mexican crema and broken egg yolk? Ssssh….if you listen carefully, you can hear the arteries hardening….

Not a Food Snob

September 1st, 2011
8:25 pm

Please – all you haters and food snobs stay away! Go to your overpriced and overhyped Antico and Varasano’s instead. We love Hearth, have been faithful customers since it opened and have never had a problem with service – in fact, it is one of the few places where we have never had a bad experience. It was never marketed as gourmet pizza – it is simple, wholesome and inexpensive neighborhood fare. I would prefer it to stay off the radar and as our little secret anyway!

dave

September 1st, 2011
9:23 pm

I am dying to try Aurelio’s Chicago pizza in Marietta. Has anyone been there yet??

Bob from Accounttemps

September 1st, 2011
9:45 pm

@Not a Food Snob — Antico is hardly overpriced. Hearth has gotten steadily busier over the years and they have a well-earned loyal following. For nearby pizza it’s either Hearth if we want nicer or Vintage if we want more casual (especially their calzones!).

Jadzia

September 1st, 2011
10:00 pm

We need more places like Hearth – neighborhood places that do a great job, don’t have huge overhead because of PR and fancy decorator expenses. Pizza places that offer a thin crust and consistently aren’t soggy are hard to find in Atlanta, especially for a decent “everyday” price. The percentage of places in NYC, LI, and NJ that use wood burning or coal burning is tiny. So to jump to judgement that a pizza place is inferior because they lack wood or coal is not a fair assessment, it is a snob assessment.

Cale

September 1st, 2011
10:07 pm

As much as I respect Kessler, his ratings are ridiculous. Jon actually rates restaurants the way they should be rated. Should Hearth be rated higher than No. 246 (perhaps the best new restaurant of the year)? No way but it’s not Jon’s fault that Kessler jacks up the ratings.

By the way, Hearth is very good. However, Double Zero, just a mile a way from Hearth is way better but more expensive. I know, I know…it’s a different style but just had to say it.

Karen

September 1st, 2011
11:26 pm

dave if you make it out to Aurelio’s, stick with thin crust. They claim to have stuffed pizza, which is NOT the half inch thick thing they serve. They are better known in the Chicago area for their thin crust pizza, and while they’re not the best, it certainly suffices around here.

Cypress Street owners being the ones behind Hearth makes so much sense now that I think about the beer menu…and this place has been around for quite a bit so maybe you should clarify that so all these idiots don’t have to moan and groan that they think it’s some new bandwagon thing.

Oh and I live in town and have come here for pizza, and would again.

RK

September 2nd, 2011
9:26 am

This scale just isn’t working.

However, I’ll be dropping by Hearth now, as I’m in that area a lot.

Grasshopper

September 2nd, 2011
10:56 am

Yippee.

Another pizza place…

Another burger joint…

Another pizza place…

Another burger joint…

Are we Dante’s first circle or the third?

Valeria

September 2nd, 2011
12:41 pm

“pork makes this a hearty cowl of comfort food that is best” – A hearty COWL? last time I loooked, a cowl was a hood or scarf. Good gawd, people, proofread!

MookieB

September 2nd, 2011
4:09 pm

I respect the opinions of both J. Kessler and J. Watson, but AJC seriously needs to re-think its rating system. Even if 246 is flawed, it should not receive a lesser rating than Hearth.

Kirk L

September 5th, 2011
4:38 pm

@Mark – Hearth has been around longer than most every place you listed – hard to consider it “trendy”. In my mind Varasano’s really started the “trend” and Hearth opened at least 6 months earlier.

I’m a bit of a pizza snob and have had pizza most everywhere worth travelling to in Atlanta, and Hearth is top 5 that I’ve had, consistently. And I’ve eaten there no fewer than 30 times because it’s convenient to both home and work. The only drawback I’ve found is they tend to be slow – I’d go there for lunch more frequently if they were quicker.

I will say Hearth tends to go for big, bold flavors, which I like, but which might not be what everyone really wants. It’s hard to compare to the likes of Varasano’s, Fritti, and Antico because it’s a different style of pizza.