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.
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