Restaurant Review: Ammazza
Napoletana-style pizza with a local spinTuesday January 22, 2013 09:40 am EST
The name Ammazza translates literally into the noun "slayer" or "killer," though apparently in Italy they use it much the same way we do "awesome." Ammazza's pizza comes close to earning that description, but what's really killer about the restaurant is the niche it's created for itself within Atlanta's crowded pizza scene. Ammazza manages to be both a hip, intown drinking spot and a family-friendly pizza joint in Old Fourth Ward.
One evening, small kids lined up along the kitchen window to watch pizza makers spin dough in the air and slide pies loaded with toppings into one of two Italian-style wood-burning ovens. A pair of giddy, preteen girls at the DJ booth requested Bieber, but settled for Bruno Mars. Meanwhile, young couples and groups of friends hung out over bottles of affordable Italian wine, glasses of craft beer (15 choices on tap), and unfussy, Italian-accented cocktails. In a town that too often pits those dining with kids against those without, Ammazza forges a triumphant truce.
The setting is a renovated old warehouse on Edgewood Avenue. Exposed red brick walls, reclaimed wood, and a large communal table among smaller ones make up the open dining room. It's bordered on one side by a full bar and on the other by a windowed-in kitchen. The setup, though, is a bit confusing. On my first visit, it took a few minutes of wandering before I realized that I was supposed to order at the counter near the entrance, down the hall from the dining room. In any case, if you take a seat first, the friendly but hands-off staff seems willing to take your order. You'll still be on your own, though, to pick up silverware and glasses of water. Consider it self-service plus, or maybe full-service minus. I'm really not sure.
Ammazza claims to make Napoletana-style pizza, though not strictly by the book.
A dozen or so different compositions make up the majority of the menu, alongside four starters and four desserts. The pizza crust is appropriately thin; its typically soft center firmer on the pizzas without sauce. With a nice char and crunch, the edges take on a baguette-like quality, in a good way. This is thanks in part to the dough being given two full days to rest and let flavors develop. Meat toppings mostly come from the Spotted Trotter, but Ammazza also branches out when it makes sense, as in the prosciutto di Parma direct from Italy. Ammazza also uses a variety of quality cheeses, from house-made mozzarella to Vermont Creamery mascarpone. The sourcing of local, national, and international ingredients marks a philosophical departure from the Anticos of the world that adhere to all things Italian. Speaking of which, Ammazza's owners, brothers Jason and Hugh Connerty, were once partners in a company with development rights to expand the Antico concept, but ended up going out on their own.
Whether or not Ammazza tops Antico is really a question of personal preference. Are you spellbound by an illusion of Italy? Or does the presence of draft beer make your pizza taste better? I prefer Ammazza's more flavorful and less doughy crust, as well as the more liberal choice of toppings, such as marinated artichokes paired with salty prosciutto, or a mix of funky wild mushrooms playing off sweet caramelized onions. Yes, you can get a fairly straightforward Margherita, but I appreciate Ammazza for its differences.
For example, the pizza fritta — a type of fried pizza often seen in Naples. Start with the basic Semplice, a deep-fried semi-circle of dough packed with three cheeses and a bit of basil. It's melty inside, crunchy outside, and calls to mind the dough-meets-oil goodness of a doughnut without the sugar overload. Bright acidity from a side of Ammazza's tomato sauce, served hot, serves to balance the gooey richness.
Young ones may be tempted by the glitter pizza. Yes, pizza topped with edible glitter. Suffice it to say, the kids at our table were impressed for a few seconds, but then happily moved on to scavenge from the "adult" pizzas. It's refreshing when adults and kids are on the same page.
If you need a warm-up before the pizza arrives, go for the cheesy, saucy, old-school house-made meatballs. The insalata di basil, a lightly dressed tangle of field greens with artichokes, olives, and goat cheese, is a genuine upgrade from most pizza parlor attempts at salad.
Afterward, I recommend going all out on the pasta fritta con connella. It's essentially a pile of fried dough balls covered in cinnamon-sugar. If you have kids in tow, they'll be equally happy, and may just swear off American doughnuts as an inferior alternative. Ammazza also makes a flourless chocolate almond cake called a Torta Caprese (it originated on the isle of Capri) with nutty, rich, chocolate depths that will have you pondering whether a glass of milk or jammy red wine would make the best companion.
Ammazza does many things well — from the pizza to the drinks to the vibe to the kid-friendly show — and it does them differently than just about anywhere else in town. It's no Antico, but that's a good thing. My kids have vetoed that place.