Jeff Varasano is the kind of guy that takes pizza seriously. He doesn’t have a blog about pizza like yours truly, but he does have one of the best ranked pizzerias in the country. In some books that makes him pretty legit. But it doesn’t stop there! Jeff has written what I call the “dough manifesto.” In a time before the Internet this is the kind of mad-scientist rambling that anthropoligist would find scattered across hundreds of journals that they’d uncover while digging through an elephant graveyard of pizza. The panicked script trying to capture the pizza equations before they fled from his brain. Fortunately for humanity, Jeff’s Tesla-esque pizza experiments are live on the Internet. I’ve spent a few rainy Saturday mornings pouring over this text trying to unlock the secret to pizza dough. It was the closest I’ve been to being in a Dan Brown novel.
Varasano’s Pizzeria is located in Atlanta, Georgia and I used the excuse to visit my sister in Atlanta to visit this place. Sorry you had to find out this way, sis. Visiting a spot like Varasano’s Pizzeria is one step along the journey to Pizza Nirvana. It’s not quite Italy, but it’s probably as close as you’re going to find in America. With that said, I was surprised by how “New York” the restaurant was. Very modern looking mixed with black walls and a casual wait staff. I expected it to scream more pizzeria than it did, but what do I know about interior design? All I’m saying is that a few bricks would’ve been nice. Even if they were placed on the table to keep the napkins from blowing away.
My mom, sister, and I sat down and, as the pizza enthusiast, I was charged with ordering the food. I was no fool had spent all day preparing for this moment. I spent much of that morning ignoring my family as I emailed back and forth with Jeff himself. “I’m a pizza enthusiast visiting my family in Atlanta, what should I order at your place?” I asked. I was hesitant to use the term pizza journalist. He responded quickly with paragraphs of suggestions. I’m guessing that this man rarely half-asses many things in life. He provided precious tips and tricks to ensure that I had a quality experience (like “Don’t use a knife and fork with the pizza. Just fold it.”). He recommended a number of pizzas but we settled on just two that seemed to encompass Varasano’s Pizzeria: Nana’s and the Chica Bella.
Nana’s is a pizza that embodies tradition. It’s the perfect balance of the pizza trifroce that basks in the glow of simplicity. It’s fluffy when it needs to be fluffy and crisp and crunchy when you expect it to be crunchy. There’s something safe and comforting ordering a pizza that doesn’t hide any secrets in the sea of red. Nothing more devastating than finding a flavor ambush in a pool of white cheese.
Jeff suggests putting roasted red peppers on half and so we did. It complemented the pizza nicely without disrupting the classic flavor. Honestly, it tasted a lot like the pizza I had at Il Pizzaiolo. If you’re jonesing for traditional pizza this is what you need to get. It’s ideal in every way imaginable.
The Chica Bella was more of a curve ball. It threw tradition out the window and replaced it with ricotta and mozzarella. On top of that creamy base was arugula and lemon zest. This is the pizza equivalent of a nice cold beer on a hot day. It’s green, light as a cloud, and as refreshing as water. Every bite of the Chica Bella kept the southern heat at bay and I was transported to a place of comfort and relaxation. It was pizza therapy.
Of the two pizzas I was most impressed with the Chica Bella. It provided a pizza experience that I haven’t met before and in the heart of the south it was an appreciated reprieve from the heat. It played with the concept of a pizza and challenged the idea of toppings without turning it into a cacophony of ingredients.
Balance is key to any pizza and it’s obvious that Varasano’s places each topping with purpose. Nothing is by accident. It’s like they have a paint-by-numbers in the back that each pizza must adhere to before being finding its way to a hungry patron.
I can't recommend Varasano’s enough. From what I understand Italians heritage is a novelty in the south so finding classic pizza is as difficult as finding a Waffle House in the north. If you’re in the area stop by and check it out. Duh.