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Omnivore - The pizza wars' plot thickens

Antico Pizza Napoletana ambushes Fritti and Varasano's

As an ardent observer of Atlanta's Pizza Wars, I rushed Monday night to try Antico Pizza Napoletana, which Jennifer Zyman raved about here last week.

Her post, which is heavily illustrated and continues on her personal blog, is followed by 40-odd comments. Read them! It is weird how emotional Atlantans get about pizza. When I was critical of Varasano's (while nearly every other critic and blogger in town waxed orgasmic), I received an avalanche of furious comments. Now, Varasano's is greatly dissed by commenters on Jennifer's post and it seems pretty clear Antico is on its way to being the new palazzo di pizza.

The place, located in the old Jaqbo Bakery building, really is like nothing I've seen in our city. You can start with the booming opera soundtrack. There's a big table where you can stand (only) and mix and mingle with Georgia Tech students and foodies while eating the pizza, served hot from the 1,000-degree, wood-burning-ovens.

Standing there, you will get a view of the gigantic kitchen and see that even more people are dining at a couple of large tables inside, within view of the fiery ovens and staff (including Enrico Liberato, who recently departed Fritti). Gazing at the happy seated people, you might feel like a second-class foodie, but you're not at Antico to burnish your foodie credentials, are you?

The hell you're not. This is war, pizza war. And this place is likely going to kick both Varasano's and Fritti down a few notches. You must absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. War!

As Jennifer notes in her post, you should eat the pizza on the premises. I confess that, feeling annoyed by all the cloying exuberance, I only ate one slice there, actually out front, and carrried the rest home. The pizza does not travel well. You're basically steaming it in the box.

I ordered the Margherita, the usual test of a pizzeria. Antico's is made with San Marzano tomatoes, basil, garlic and bufala mozzarella and, at $15, is the cheapest pizza available. I ordered extra bufala for $5. Perhaps it was the addition of the extra cheese, but my pizza was quite gooey in the center — just as gooey as any I've had from Varasano's. I expected that to be the case with the "steamed" slices I ate from the box when I got home, but my fresh-from-the-oven slice was also gooey.

That doesn't mean it wasn't delicious. It really was about perfect, flavor-wise. The San Marzano tomatoes were fruity, not a bit acidic. The garlic's sweet notes were all the more noticeable because of the slight sourness of the billowy, chewy crust and the creamy, slightly chewy bufala. But the sourness was likewise checked by the characteristic that seems to most obsess Atlanta foodies: the slightly astringent char. So your palate gets full stimulation.  Oh. And there's basil, aromatic and prickly in its flavor.

There are nine pies available here now, along with three calzones and house-made cannolis. You will happily pay the the slightly higher prices for the quality ingredients. Bufala, for example, is used in many of the pies where another restaurant would likely use a cheaper mozzarella.

Try it out and see if it changes the side you're on in the pizza wars.