First Look: Amalfi Pizza

Erstwhile East Andrews proprietors bring Neapolitan flavors to Peachtree Center

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Take a stroll through a narrow brick corridor decorated with glowing patio lights, aromatic herbs, and a mural of the Mediterranean. Listen to the cheerful clinking of glasses coming from a wrought iron Juliet balcony above the fountain as you make your way up a flight of steps. The newly opened Amalfi Pizza is located in the hundred-year-old Dailey’s restaurant building in Downtown's Peachtree Center, though it could be taken for an old street in Italy.

Amalfi Pizza’s co-owner, Stephen de Haan, was president of the East Andrews Entertainment District in Buckhead, which shuttered at the start of this year. He and his former director of operations, Greg Grant, founded their new Downtown enterprise as a team, bringing back the essence of East Andrews speakeasy Prohibition with the new Red Phone Booth craft cocktail bar and cigar lounge downstairs. As before, guests must dial a secret password at a London-style phone booth manned by a suited guard to enter off the street.

Amalfi Pizza requires no password. Located on the second floor, the restaurant was inspired by Grant and de Haan’s travels through the Campania region of Italy. The pair recruited pizzaiolo Luis Vargas as their executive chef to develop what they call an “authentic Italian menu” of Neapolitan pizzas and other classic dishes.

No value assignedThe large, two-storied space boasts exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and industrial ceilings. There are romantic Italian songs like “Volare” playing in the background, while the televisions in the dining room show live baseball. Comfortable oversized leather booths seat up to 170 guests and tables are covered with white paper. The focal point of the open kitchen is a pair of 6,000-pound wood-burning brick pizza ovens imported from Italy.

The name Amalfi comes from Italy's picturesque southern coast. Naples, an hour north of the Amalfi Coast, is known as the birthplace of pizza. It is here where this round sheet of baked dough covered with herbs and tomato sauce was invented in the late 1700s as a poor man’s fast food. To make traditional Neapolitan pizza, dough is crafted from 00 Italian wheat flour (the gold standard for pizza), stretched out thin by hand, then baked at very high temperatures for less than 90 seconds.

Amalfi’s one-page paper menu, which may soon be expanded, currently lists a handful of appetizers, salads and pizzas. Antipasti offerings include familiar dishes like Caprese salad ($14), classic Caesar ($8), and bruschetta ($8).

All pizza pies measure 12 inches, ideal for individual portions, and come pre-sliced. The Margherita D.O.P ($8.50) is topped with homemade San Marzano tomato sauce and fior di latte mozzarella (made with cow’s milk rather than buffalo's). Though the dough was thin and crispy, the sauce tasted dull, lacking the strong sweet flavors that should be a signature of San Marzano tomatoes. Tartufo e funghi ($13.50) is a white pizza with porcini mushrooms, cheese sauce, and a hint of truffle oil. It had a crumbly white appearance from overbaked ricotta, and tasted dry.

No value assignedThe house specialty is pizza Carnevale ($12), meant to resemble a traditional Italian carnival mask. Ricotta cheese is skillfully stuffed into the edges of the dough and topped with spicy salami, homemade meatballs or peppadew peppers for an additional charge. Each bite finds a winning balance of flavor and texture, with crisp dough wrapped around a light and fluffy cheese ball. This is possibly the best dish on the menu.

Service was slow, with pizzas taking nearly half an hour to arrive despite the quick cook time. Servers were noticeably curt and unfriendly on two separate dining occasions, undermining expectations of traditional Italian hospitality.

Though one of the restaurant’s walls is adorned with stacks of wine bottles, the wine list is currently limited to very few options. There are domestic and imported beers, however, ranging from Bud Light ($4) to Peroni ($5).

For dessert, there are two choices, both made in-house: cannoli ($4), a tube of crispy pastry with sweet and creamy ricotta filling, chocolate chips and powdered sugar, or a very dense yet flavorful tiramisu ($7).

Amalfi Pizza’s Downtown location is a boon, drawing a business crowd for lunch and out of town visitors for dinner. Parking can be difficult and expensive, but the Peachtree Center MARTA stop is just steps away. And while there are quite a few better Neapolitan options (with better service) dotted around the city, a relatively affordable and locally owned restaurant is a welcome addition to the chains that dominate the area.

Amalfi Pizza. 17 Andrew Young International Blvd. 404-228-7528. amalfipizzaatl.com

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