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Don Antonio by Starita: new pizza in town

Fried pizza, anyone?

Fried pizza, anyone?

You might say that Neapolitan-style pizza is a four-year-old trend. The transformative pizzerias opened, the copycats came and went, and we should be on the next big thing.

Please. It wasn’t a trend so much as a realignment of expectations. We no longer judge pizza exclusively by New York criteria, i.e., that if it doesn’t give good slice, then it’s not worth getting the extra-large to bring home.

Now we’ve grown accustomed to thinking of pizza much more like Europeans (not just Italians, but all Europeans.) It’s a dish you order and eat in a certain kind of inexpensive restaurant because you want the crust crisp and puffy, the mozzarella puddly, and the smell of oven char still wafting off the pie. It doesn’t go with beer and pretzels, but rather wine and salad. So Neapolitan pizza restaurants — here, there, and everywhere — keep opening apace.

If you haven’t gotten sick of Neapolitan pizza (is it even possible?), then you will want to check out the new Buckhead venue with the rococo name — Don Antonio by Starita.

This restaurant is an offshoot of a well liked spot in New York’s Theater District run by two men who have seen greater pizza fame elsewhere. Roberto Caporuscio runs Kesté Pizza & Vino in the West Village, while Antonio Starita is the third-generation owner of the iconic Pizzeria Starita in Naples. They arrived in Atlanta at the behest of Brian Lewis, who engaged them to take over his struggling STG Trattoria.

Gone is STG’s sense of chic aspiration. No more wine vault, iPads, counter seating, fussy aperitivos, none of it. Instead we have a restaurant that looks like, well, a come-hither place in the Theater District. Pine tables. Bright lights. Carafes of cheap wine. A comfortable Italian restaurant by anyone’s reckoning. The menu, huge and slickly produced, gives off the same high-volume Euro vibe of that at La Tagliatella.

But unlike that import, the focus on craftsmanship is more apparent here. The kitchen remains open as it was in the STG days, and its two spitting-hot brick pizza ovens still flank the two corners. If you look behind the glass wall into the back prep area, you will espy a cook hand stretching balls of lustrous fresh mozzarella and burrata throughout the evening.

Truffle burrata plate

Truffle burrata plate

You can order some as an appetizer, although I wouldn’t rush to the truffle burrata, which comes filled with a ricotta-like pasty scoop of truffle-flecked cheese rather than the cream-imbued shreds you’d find inside a superior version. Three slivers of supermarket-quality proscuitto, a swipe of balsamic syrup and a zigzag-cut half tomato serve as perfunctory plate mates.

No, you’re not here for ingredient worship, you’re here to try an intriguing-sounding pizza from one of those ovens. I think you’ll find something to like.

While Caporuscio hews strictly to the rules for making a true Neapolitan crust, he cuts loose with the toppings. Try that fresh mozzarella on a pizza with pistachio pesto and sausage, and you will find a new friend for life. Other pies come with, say, walnut cream and porcini mushrooms or butternut squash and zucchini. The crust — pillowy soft, tangy, well salted and nicely charred — plays its supporting role with aplomb.

The house speciality is a kind of deeply cupped fried pizza, the “Montanara Starita.” This award-winner features flavorful pellets of smoked mozzarella and a signature tomato sauce that is thick, crimson and salted to a pitch. I like it but will need another to see if the feeling blossoms into love.

I know a serious cohort of Atlantans will be thrilled to hear this restaurant makes a legit gluten-free product that blisters and puffs in the oven.

By this point you may want to ask me how it ranks in comparison to Antico Pizza Napoletana or Varasano’s. To which I would respond, “Does it have to?”

Don Antonio by Starita: 102 W Paces Ferry Rd NW, Atlanta, 404-844-2879

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

10 comments Add your comment

Baltisraul....

February 11th, 2014
7:46 am

John, I never judged pizza by a NYC scale but I know many have. Don Antonio sounds like a ‘must try’ place. Thanks!

Don Vito Corleone

February 11th, 2014
8:20 am

I still miss Rocky’s Brick Oven Pizza on Peachtree. It was a favorite of the five families.

RIP Bob Russo; we miss you !

Grasshopper

February 11th, 2014
8:30 am

Pizza joints keep popping up because the main ingredients to make pizza are cheap. Then the ‘chef’ will stick a few blobs of something fancy on it, call it ‘especiale’ and charge way too much for it. Voila! The crowds will hum and sway.

Road Scholar

February 11th, 2014
8:34 am

We still miss Everybodies Pizza. The new place that took its space is not that good! Will have to try these places.

art

February 11th, 2014
8:46 am

Neapolitan pizza is a “regulated” product in Europe. The dough can be no thicker than 3mm and the oven is supposed to be at 485 degrees F. It’s eaten with a knife and fork. Rarely will you see anyone picking up a slice of pizza. I love it for its simplicity.

Jadzia

February 11th, 2014
9:03 am

We’ve been going every week for the last month. Kessler is right, the plain burrata rocks. Antonio is here periodically and you see the other owner Roberto all the time. Very humble man who keeps a tight eye on the kitchen. Patricio, the manager is seemingly there all the time.

The pizza is outstanding, the smoked mozzarella fried one is like a savory zeppole. I don’t eat gluten-free, but my two friends said it was the best they’d had and were worried somehow it wasn’t gluten free. In the end it was – they had no healthy issues eating it.

Glad to have a neapolitan pizza option that has ample parking and lots of seating.

Baltisraul....

February 11th, 2014
10:28 am

Don Vito….With all due respect, Don Vito, Godfather’s Pizza is the choice of the 5 families. No disrespect, the ‘friends of ours’ would never, ever eat Neapolitan anything!

Fiveyear Cancer Survivor

February 11th, 2014
1:58 pm

I may be aging myself, but I remember a time when the only thing that came on top of a pizza was toppings.
The best pizza I ever had was at the showbiz pizza in east cobb.
In 1990 I was eating at a showbiz pizza in Kuwait when it was firebombed by radical anthropomorphic mice wearing purple t-shirts and baseball caps with the letter “C” on them.
It was a crazy time.

Bob from Accounttemps

February 14th, 2014
1:06 pm

John – are the pies to share or are they individual in size? From the pictures on their site they look single-size in which case their prices are OVER-size.

Lizzy

February 14th, 2014
1:59 pm

B from A…..the pizzas are housed on W. Paces Ferry Rd., not in a strip shopping center for middle income folks to get ther pizza fix wth a hefty pepperoni binge out. I’d have to make this a special occasion treat but have a strong feeling from the review it would be worth the spend….just saying, I love me some Mellow Mushroom and Fellini’s but this is in different pizza realm.