Atlanta Pizza Quest 2014: Varuni Napoli
Stop number five in Atlanta Pizza Quest 2014 (read previous posts here and here) brought us to Varuni Napoli at 1540 Monroe Dr NE in the Ansley Park neighborhood of Atlanta. The opening of this restaurant has been much anticipated, both in Atlanta at large and within our Quest for the best pizza in town.
Varuni Napoli was opened by Luca Varuni, a native of Naples, Italy. From their website, I learned that Luca studied under the renowned Enzo Coccia, one of the world’s foremost "maestro pizzaiolo" at La Notizia, the only Michelin-rated pizzeria in the world. He then went on to work in some of the top kitchens in the U.S. and abroad, including Antico Pizza Napoletana, arguably the best pizza joint in all of Atlanta. It will be interesting to see how Varuni compares when we eventually visit Antico.
The one downer: like many pizza places in the ATL, Varuni doesn't offer table service. I don't know about you, but counter service is not my cup of tea. For me, the last thing I want to do on a Friday night after a long week is stand in line fighting for a chance to order while you are staring at other people's pizzas being prepared right in front of you.
Varuni Napoli didn't do anything to change our minds about it either. It was crowded and since we had a group, our first order of business was to stalk a table that would fit everyone. Now, it says right on the door not to do this, but IMHO we are not going to order over $100 worth of food unless we know we have a place to sit. So after some light stalking and an appetizer order that made us more legit, we snagged a table, threw another one of us as a placeholder in the long line and waited for everyone to arrive.
Am I complaining too much? On the positive side, Varuni has prosecco on tap, cheap wine, bright and inviting decor and Luca himself walks around helping the wait staff and chatting with guests. That's always nice to see! Plus - the pizza! The pizza makes it all worth it!
Our timing eventually worked out perfectly and we made it to our table with our order placed and two bottles of wine as the final members of our party arrived. We made the executive decision to order before they got there so we didn't lose our prime spot in line; but this definitely wasn't ideal. Usually we make a group decision about what pizzas to order.
- the Bastardo - fresh buffalo mozzarella, mixed pepperoni and pork ragu sauce with basil and Pecorino Romano cheese
- the Margherita - fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and Pecorino Romano
- the Spacca Napoli - fresh buffalo mozzarella, Taleggio cheese, caramelized onions, Pecorino Romano, basil, truffle salt and black truffle oil
The pizzas arrived quickly and were hot and bubbly and beautiful. Yes, we think pizza is beautiful. The first we tried was the Bastardo - which is basically the Margherita with meat. It was slightly spicy and the crust almost melted in your mouth. Everyone loved the sauce too. Kerri kept losing the cheese off her pizza and was wondering if this was a chronic problem for everyone, but I think we determined it was just user error (just kidding Kerri!). Anyway, so far so good.
The next was the Spacca Napoli, which was received only so-so at the table. I loved it (you could sprinkle truffle oil on my shoes and I would probably gobble them up) but others thought it had a strange aftertaste, which was probably due to the Taleggio, which can be a rather strong smelling/tasting cheese.
Several members of our group thought the simple Margherita was the best pizza of the three and in doing a little more research on the restaurant, I discovered that the Margherita pie is actually the chef's favorite (and specialty) as well. This is somewhat ironic because we bickered with the boys during week one of the Quest over always ordering the Margherita. They thought it was "too boring." But anyway, I think it was pretty unanimous that this was all pretty good stuff.
As a reminder, we score each restaurant in the categories of crust, sauce, cheese, toppings, dining experience and overall impression for a total of 60 points. We all agreed we had to rate this one low on dining experience because of the chaos involved in ordering.
As a side note, we also chatted about how much revenue the restaurant was missing out on by not having servers. We most likely would have ordered another pizza AND another bottle of wine (gluttons!), but our laziness and impatience prevented us from getting back in the line.
Anyway, after eliminating the highest and lowest scores (is this called a variance? I still don't know), Varuni Napoli came away with an average of 41 points out of 60, or a 68% approval rating from the six of us. As a comparison, we ranked Ammazza 78%, Fritti 82% and Cucina Asellina 71%. I'm surprised Varuni ranked lower than Cucina Asellina, but again, this is where "dining experience" makes a huge difference.
[NOTE: Varuni scored 77% when rating on the pizza only and not including dining experience.]
So overall another delicious and authentic pizza place has come to Atlanta. If this place changes to table service, they could take over as Pizza King of the ATL!
See ya next time!