The first time I found my way to Antico Pizza Napoletana, I didn’t even make it through the front door. A large, portly man yelled from the door, “Sorry, but we’re closed. No more dough.” That rejection only fueled my desire to try, supposedly, the finest pizza in the land and by land I mean Atlanta.
When I did finally walk through those doors, I think the reason why my experience was a let down was because I had internally hyped this place up beyond realistic expectations. The entire foodiesphere seemed to be enthralled with this place. I was expecting a revelation, a slice of pie that would forever change the way I see the world. Pizza that would show me how sinful of a life I’ve lived. Step aside Paris, Italy is where I belong. But while my first bite didn’t incite an Italian revolution, I completely understand why Atlanta loves Antico, whose pizza is as true as the kitchen brigade.
I love the feel and layout of the place as much as the pizza. Yes, it’s cramped with customers edging to place an order at the counter or claim a “seat” to eat at, but this competitive atmosphere makes the experience that much more exciting. The rule of thumb at Antico is to eat wherever you can find a space. On a busy Saturday night, my party huddled around the corner of a steel industrial table – seatless, silerverwareless drinkless, and for the entire meal, waiterless.
No place to hide.
At Antico, most don’t eat in a dining room but in the kitchen with the crew. From my post I watched the head chef, a bold and charismatic Italian man, yell at the crew to “start using their brains.” Another chef would zip by me to deliver a takeout pizza to the cashier. So really, you see the entire operation if you eat in the kitchen, and the transparency is more than beautiful. It’s refreshing. It’s refreshing because you’re not just told the pizza is real, you see that it’s real and made by real Italians.
As for the pizza’s themselves, they are quite a piece of work. No shortcuts are taken on either the crust or the toppings. The crust takes on a life of its own as do the vibrant san marzano tomatoes on the margherita ($17). I didn’t expect the sauce to be as liquid-y as it was and I didn’t expect the crust to be as limp as it was, but it still all translated very well.
The San Gennaro ($21) topped with cipolline, sweet red peppers, buffalo cheese and salsiccia (homemade Italian sausage) turned out to be even more satisfying than the classic margherita. The cipolline and sweet red peppers led the charge with a bold sweetness while the sausage and cheese brought everything together.
For dessert I managed to try an Amaretti Cannoli ($3.75). When you order these at the counter, you can watch another person make it in the back. The cannoli was as sweet as it should have been and was a very smooth way to finish the meal.
So the pizza didn’t enlighten me like I had drooled about (maybe such an outcome isn’t even possible nowadays), but I still love this place because of all that it stands for. It’s authentic, it’s tasty, it’s definitely not formal and it’s being served whole-heartedly by boisterous Italian men. How can you resist?