Here in Atlanta, we take our food pretty seriously. We line up at 4:30 PM to get a taste of Chef Scott Peacock’s world-famous fried chicken. We beam with pride when our mighty burgers (from Ann’s Snack Bar or the Vortex) are featured in the national media. We have very strong personal feelings about where to get the best “meat and three.” And now, we must choose sides in the war of the Neopolitan pizza.
The fiery battle between Fritti (in Inman Park) and Varasano’s (newly opened in Buckhead) was stoked by Mr. Varasano himself, who not only claimed to be “the creator of the internet’s #1 pizza recipe,” but also ruffled some feathers when he referred to Fritti’s pizza as “tasteless cardboard.” Now that he has opened up shop in town, my mission was clear: taste both pizzas, and report back with findings. Lather, rinse, repeat.
First, Fritti. We visited on a Friday night while one of my DC girlfriends was in town, and we showed up around 8 PM. There was a short wait for a table, so we enjoyed a couple of rounds in the bar area. There were plenty of beers and wines to choose from, which always makes me happy. We were seated outside, which allowed us to enjoy the beautiful evening and the sights and sounds of Highland Avenue. So far, so good! The menu is quite extensive, so after some debate, we ordered the arancini (risotto croquettes, these with sausage) and the bresaola (thin-sliced beef with arugula and parm) as appetizers. The arancini were perfectly fried and pratically grease-less, but they were a bit bland overall. Perhaps some more salt or some kickier fillings would be good. The bresaola was nice and balanced, and a very light and tasty start to the meal.
On to the pizza! I ordered the calamari fritti pizza, which contained (duh) fried calamari, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella. My friend had a pizza with lamb, mint, red onion, and mozzarella, and fiance ordered the salame piccante (with spicy salami and black olives). I really loved my pie–the toppings were flavorful and high-quality, the sauce had a nice sweetness, and the crust had the right amount of chewiness and crunch. There was some char present, but it didn’t overpower all of the other flavors. The pizza did get a bit soggy towards the middle, but that upset my dining companions far more than it did me (after all, I was born in NY, so properly folding a slice is in my DNA). Service was prompt and very friendly, and I definitely liked the scene.
A week later, we headed to Varasano’s to see if it was worth the hype. This time it was just Jason and me, and we again chose to sit out on the patio. Sadly, Buckhead just isn’t as interesting to look at–but that’s not the restaurant’s fault. What IS the restaurant’s fault is that the options–in terms of both beverages and food–are a bit limited. The only appetizers available were three different kinds of salads and a cured meat platter. None of those really spoke to me, so we passed on the first course altogether. In terms of drinks, there was a small selection of wine and a fairly decent bottled beer roster, but other than a glass of prosecco (which always hits the spot), I really didn’t get excited about anything on the list.
The options for pizzas were somewhat limited as well, so I ordered a classic: the margherita pizza (with an upgrade to buffalo mozzarella). My fiance went for the salumi (cured meat, mozzarella, and spiced olives). The toppings were delicious, and the crust actually stayed crispy throughout the pie. BUT, unfortunately, the char that accompanied that crisp crust was a very overpowering flavor. I actually lost a lot of the taste of the mozzarella due to the bitter bite of the char. Even though the flavors of Jason’s cured meats were more robust and could stand up to the char, he agreed that it was a little too much for his liking as well. Service was very good–the restaurant almost seemed overstaffed, as many different people came to check in on us at various times throughout our brief meal (which is better than the alternative, don’t get me wrong). I really wanted to try the Italian doughnuts, but I was too full to justify them.
Since service and pricing were so similar, the pizza stands as the sole point of comparison (which is probably how it should be). So where did I come out in the great ‘za debate?
I’m definitely in the Fritti camp.
Certainly, Varasano’s pizza was tasty. And perhaps it truly was a perfect example of real Neopolitan pizza (I wouldn’t know). But, between the heaviness of the char and the surprisingly small number of choices, I left Varasano’s with much less of a desire to return than I did when I left Fritti.
So, chalk one up for Fritti–I’ll definitely be back for more.