Food Issue - Around the world: Italy

A slice of Naples at Antico Pizza

There's no place in Atlanta where the char is smokier, the limoncello sweeter, the pizzaiolo more playful, or the soundtrack of Prima and Puccini more endearing than Antico Pizza Napoletana. So thoroughly Italian is the packed Westside pizzeria that it would seem all that remains of Atlanta is the air.

The intimate space holds a row of stools set against picture windows; a cash register and display case where you place your order and drool over desserts; a teensy dining room with a utility sink and stacks of Italian food imports; and the kitchen, which has a half-dozen tables arranged cafeteria-style with a view of the nearly 1,000-degree pizza ovens. These wood-burning monsters kick out perfect pies in half the time of a commercial break.

Owner Giovanni Di Palma, a New York/New Jersey transplant whose family hails from Naples, is a charming (if occasionally harried) host. Di Palma perennially dons a red kerchief and moves among the communal butcher-block tables with the satisfaction of a man whose popularity and achievement belie his modest surroundings. Antico feels like a distant back alley in Naples, a far reach from that city's high-rent shopping and dining districts, and that serves Di Palma just fine. As is evident from his pizza, he is a man on top of his game.

The menu is limited — pizza, calzones and Italian desserts. That's it. There are no salads, no starters, no wine. You can, however, bring your own bottle, and Di Palma might even pour you a courtesy glass of red or a shot of limoncello.

You'll be feeling the Italian vibe long before your pie arrives. Once it does, prepare for an overload of pizza awesomeness. The San Gennaro pie is a marvel of salsiccia (sausage), spicy-sweet peppers and cipollinis. The Gigiotto calzone, stuffed with broccoli rabe and salsiccia, is just as swoon-worthy, the bitter greens playing off the sweet sausage and creamy bufala mozzarella. Really, there are no bad choices.

If you know what's good for you, you'll grab a pignoli cookie or cannoli on your way out. You'll need something to help ease the painful transition from the quaint bustle of hidden-gem Naples to the sputtering gridlock on Northside Drive.

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