Nom nom, fried pizza

No value assignedArriving in Atlanta seven years ago as a founding pizzaiolo for Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico on the Westside, Italian-born Luca Varuni helped set off a Neapolitan pizza craze that flooded the city. A few years later, the chef severed ties with Antico and moved on to open his own restaurant, Varuni Napoli, in Morningside. Then, late last month, he entered phase three: debuting a pared-down Varuni Napoli stall at Krog Street Market.

Though Varuni was initially hesitant to open at Krog due to the small square footage of the stall, he now welcomes the challenge. “The craziness of Krog is what I like,” he says in his thick Italian accent, noting that before the market opened he had eyed the space as a potential location for his full-sized restaurant. He compares his new digs to the bustling markets of his hometown. “It’s a perfect environment: loud and casual. It’s like Naples, where you can stop on the street and look out and watch people going a thousand miles an hour, so busy but doing nothing!?۝

The feeling seems to be mutual. On day one, Varuni says he sold 400 pizzas, and demand has shown no signs of slowing. His new menu is an abridged version of the Morningside lineup; the pizzas are smaller 11 or 12 inches rather than 14. Diners can choose from a dozen of Varuni’s most popular Neapolitan-style pizzas ($12-16), two salads (one green, one caprese, both $9) and the market special ($15): a pizza fritta stuffed with fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, Pecorino Romano and nduja, a spreadable pork and pepper salumi that Varuni makes in-house.

The pizza fritta, or fried pizza, resembles a calzone, but its fried exterior tastes more like a funnel cake as in, the kind you’d find covered in powdered sugar at Six Flags, sans the sugar. A bite is pure, calorific bliss: the unctuous yet airy crust giving way to a thick, savory ooze of cheese and meat.

While relatively new to Atlanta (Ammazza, which also bears Antico connections, serves up its own version on Edgewood Avenue), the pizza fritta has long been a popular street food in Varuni’s hometown of Naples. After the war, when ovens were expensive and hard to come by, frying pizzas in hot oil emerged as a more frugal alternative to baking. Home chefs would stuff their cheese and toppings between two layers of dough and deep-fry it until crispy.

“It never really left Naples,” Varuni says of the technique, describing memories of his neighbors frying pizzas in the alleyways outside their houses, a doughnut-esque smell wafting through the air.

Varuni says he isn’t quite sure why the Neapolitan fried pizza hasn’t yet caught on stateside, but feels confident about introducing the dish to his Atlanta fanbase. “Fortunately for us, in the South, people love everything fried!?۝

Varuni Napoli, 99 Krog St. N.E. 404-500-5550.

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