I've never seen the Atlanta blogosphere go quite as crazy as it has for Varasano's. Over the course of Jeff Varasano's years of oven jerry-rigging and pizza blogging, he has built up quite a following, so with the opening of his eponymous pizza joint, the excitement has built up to a fever pitch. After reading Little Brother's glowing review, I had to check it out for myself.
Fortunately a media preview came along that gave me the opportunity to try every single pizza on their menu. Gluttonous yes, but also a chance to see if the place lives up to the hype. Does it? Yes, indeed Varasano's is just as good as everyone is saying, although I will say here and now that I did not experience paroxysms of ecstasy like some have described. However, I definitely thought it was top notch pizza, better than you find at most Atlanta places.
The buzz has focused largely on Varasano's ability to replicate the perfectly charred thin crust you find at world-famous pizza establishments like Patsy's in NY. I found it to be an appealing combination of yeasty chewiness and charred crispiness, although the crust wasn't nearly as exciting to me as the high quality ingredients. Great ingredients make for a standout pie. I found this to be particularly true on my personal favorite slice, the caramelized onion with sweet onions and sharp emmanthaler cheese. The pungent cheese and sugary sweet onions balanced each other perfectly, and it stood out from more traditional pies.
I returned to Varasano's with Mr. AT and some friends and found Varasano himself chilling at the bar. He informed me that he's upgrade the herbs used in the Nana's Special upon finding that his homegrown herbs were better than those he was ordering. Clearly ingredients get great attention here, and it shows.
The Nana's and the Margharita sound virtually the same on the menu, and I'd be hard pressed to distinguish them. Apparently the waiters have trouble too - we ordered the Nana's on Varasano's recommendation, and the waitress brought us a Margharita. Oh well, it was still good, although in a place with so many interesting toppings, it doesn't thrill me. Pizza classicist, I'm not.
The New Haven Clam has gotten a lot of attention, too, but I must admit it was my least favorite. I suspect that has more to do with my distaste for seafood on a pizza and less to do with it's actual quality. The red version was less seafoody to me than the white.
The Bianco Verde, nicknamed the chick pizza for its inclusion of arugula and its lack of meat, was another favorite. I normally don't love a lot of greenery on a pizza, but in this case the hint of lemon juice was a unique pizza addition and elevated the flavor of the entire pie. The Nucci adds some meat (capocollo in this case) to that pie taking it from chick-friendly to dude-friendly. Salumi is the ultimate guy pizza a variety of Italian cured meats. Honestly the Nucci and the Salumi tasted similar to me, but maybe that's because I was 6 slices into my night. That said, you can't go wrong with either.
The Dolce also caught my eye as anything with dates, cheese and honey would. It wouldn't work as a main entree as it tastes more like a dessert, but I thought it was another standout. The Greek/Italian flavors work so well together, and it's a flavor combination you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere. On the actual dessert list are Italian donuts, which are similar to Zeppole but not as good. When I tried them they were a bit dry, so I say stick to the pizza, that's what the buzz is about anyway.
Worth noting is the upscale interior. I had envisioned a classic NY pizza joint feel, but Varasano's is more tailored to the upscale Buckhead set. Think date night not post-flag football game. Fortunately prices are line with other upscale pizza restaurants like Fritti, so it's still the kind of place you could eat on a fairly regular basis. Three pies was a perfect amount for four hungry adults, so you can get out of there for around 20 bucks a person if you're drinking.
Varasano mentioned they'd be starting lunch service soon, which might be a challenge given a lack of non-pizza options on the menu, but I suspect dinner business will remain brisk. With his attention to detail, though, I imagine he'll quickly make any changes he needs to make to bring in lunch diners, too.
In the end, I think Varasano's is a winner. In a city without a pizza heritage, it stands out for attention to detail. The pizzas are flavor packed, refined and perfectly charred.
Pros: great ingredients and perfectly charred crust, constantly trying to improve, upscale decor
Cons: service still working out the kinks but that's to be expected so early on
2171 Peachtree Rd. (in the Mezzo building)
Atlanta, GA 30309