First Look: Don Antonio by Starita
Owner Roberto Caporuscio's New York transplant is already a hitMonday March 17, 2014 04:00 am EDT
What will it take for Atlanta to embrace a New York import? Tom Colicchio's Craft fizzled out back in 2011. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market and Laurent Tourondel's BLT Steak — both inside W Hotels — have managed to last, but cater more to visitors than locals. The upcoming Buckhead Atlanta development will soon house a bevy of New York concepts, including a clamored-for Shake Shack. But it seems there's at least one Manhattan-to-Atlanta success story already in the making: Roberto Caporuscio's new Buckhead pizza joint Don Antonio by Starita.
Don Antonio opened in early January as the second outpost of Caporuscio's much-praised Manhattan pizzeria. The man has become a sort of prophet in the world of Neapolitan pizza. He has his own pizza-making school and is the president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli, a governing body that certifies and monitors authentic Neapolitan pizza-making practices. The restaurant's namesake, though, is Caporuscio's mentor and partner, Antonio Starita, head of one of Naples' most respected pizzerias, Starita a Materdei. Caporuscio splits his time between New York and Atlanta, while his daughter — appropriately named Giorgia — works full time in Atlanta. Not without her own accolades, Giorgia won a top award at the Campionato Mondiale del Pizzaiuolo in Naples in 2013.
Don Antonio is located next to the St. Regis Atlanta hotel on West Paces Ferry Road. The space, which housed STG Trattoria until it shuttered last October, was built for pizza making. Two tomato-red Acunto pizza ovens leftover from the STG days remain in the kitchen. Sepia photos of rough hands massaging white dough line the walls, honoring the alchemy of flour and water.
Like STG, Don Antonio is an upscale, sit-down pizza restaurant. While the overall modern/rustic vibe hasn't changed, Don Antonio added a well-stocked, full-service bar to the main dining room and ditched STG's strange U-shaped communal counter seating.
The menu is a carbon copy of Manhattan's Don Antonio, with more than 50 iterations on Neapolitan pizza spanning traditional pizze rosso (with sauce), pizze bianche (no sauce, natch), a small selection of fried stuffed pizzas, a dozen unusual pizzas that clearly depart from tradition, and even gluten-free options (I have a feeling that's not how they roll in Naples). The offerings are so many, in fact, that I've noticed the pizzaioli having to consult the menu to decipher exactly what they were supposed to put on certain orders.
There is a diverse list of green salads and Italian appetizers featuring things like creamy house-made burrata or a few takes on fried dough. The Montanarine is basically a savory pizza beignet. At just $1, you may as well give it a shot.
Don Antonio's signature Montanara Starita pie (a bargain at $13) warrants its own little section on the menu. The dough gets a quick dip in 375-degree frying oil before being topped and finished in the wood-burning oven. The method results in a puffy disk of golden dough with crisp edges and not a hint of oiliness. Toppings include a spread of thick but elemental tomato sauce, a liberal sprinkling of imported smoked mozzarella, and fresh basil. Like the other pizzas here, the Montanara arrives pre-cut into four large slices, with forks and knives at the ready if you so choose. The crust itself merits oohs and aahs, but it's the smoky cheese that accentuates the light char of the crust and bright sauce. The traditional pizze rosso ($9-$19 for roughly 12-inch pizzas) and pizze bianche ($9-$20) rival any other wood-fired, Neapolitan pizza joint in town (Antico, I'm looking at you).
Unlike its peers, Don Antonio features a collection of less conventional, "special" pizzas. The Vesuvio ($25) is a massive stuffed pie that lives up to its name, overflowing with artichokes, mushrooms, and ham into a limp, liquidy center. If you want to taste the pizza Starita designed for Pope John Paul II, try the butternut squash and zucchini-laden Pizza del Papa ($19). The combination of pistachio pesto, creamy house-made mozzarella, and crumbly fennel sausage on the Pistacchio e Salsiccia ($22) is harmonious, but equally uncommon.
Don Antonio offers a perfunctory list of Italian wines, a few beers, and a wide range of Italy-tilting cocktails. You can go over the top with something like the Trasteverino, featuring Cynar, limoncello, vermouth, and a crushed pistachio-rimmed glass. But simpler classics such as a Negroni or pleasantly bitter Aperol spritz are a better fit with the food.
Don Antonio is available for delivery via Zifty. At lunchtime, smaller versions of its most popular pies are available, starting at just $5 for a basic marinara and up to $10 for one topped with prosciutto di Parma. The 8-inch pie is plenty for a light lunch for one. Add a salad for another $5 if you're feeling veg-deficient.
Any way you go, Don Antonio is likely to leave you in a New York state of mind, via Naples of course. With homemade ingredients so unassailable in their simplicity, dough this flavorful, and char this good, Don Antonio is an import Atlanta should have no trouble embracing.