Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.
Several years ago a pizzeria opened in a cramped space near Georgia Tech. Tiny little Antico was quickly lauded by food bloggers and critics alike. The buzz was intense, vaulting their Neapolitan-style pizzas to the top of every best-of list in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, back in suburbia, we ate our New York-style pies, blissfully unaware of the changing hipster ITP pizza scene. To many in Alpharetta, “Neapolitan-style” meant getting chocolate and strawberry ice cream in one carton.
But last week’s opening of Campania Pizzeria may prove to be a paradigm shift for suburban pizza. Owners Stewart Muller and Jennifer Simmons, who also own this stripmall, have brought Alpharetta its very first true Neapolitan-style pizzeria.
Campania’s pizza toes the line on this tradition. The ingredients are few, remarkably simple and carefully sourced from Italy. From the delicately-soft double zero flour to San Marzano tomatoes to buffalo mozzarella, everything is by-the-book authentic.
The star at Campania is their oven. Imported from Italy it sits proudly on display in the dining room, emboldened with the restaurant’s name spelled in black tile. It’s fueled with a mix of oak and cherry logs. Temperatures inside reach a scorching 1000 degrees. Pizzas sit on a slab of volcanic rock cut from Mount Vesuvius.
It takes only about 90 seconds for the pizza to cook. Next the pie is slowly lifted inside the oven. Flames from the burning oak roll across the top of the oven, kissing the top of the pizza and charring the crust. A mere two seconds later the pizza is rescued from the inferno, cut and delivered to your table for immediate consumption.
Which pizza should you order? The Margherita DOC is traditional, with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil. The San Marzanos are a little sweet, the crust pillow-soft yet charred and the cheese slightly smokey. I prefer the Margherita without the buffalo mozzarella which can soften the bottom of the pizza due to higher water content. Purists may scoff, but it’ll also save you a few bucks.
Campania’s marinara pizza is amazingly simple yet surprisingly powerful with flavor. Without cheese the flavor of the tomato really shines. The pizza is topped with pungent sliced garlic and oregano.
By far the best pizza on Campania’s menu is the Tartufo. This white pizza has mozzarella and fontina cheeses, mushrooms, pancetta, sliced garlic and is topped with truffle oil and rosemary. There’s so much going on with this pizza – from pungent flavors, the aroma of the truffle oil, texture of the bread to the delightfully-salty pancetta. Amazing.
Pizzaiolo Stefano Rea is the talent at the oven. He spends as much time in the dining room glad-handing patrons as he does in the kitchen. Rea’s passion for his craft is genuine and he’ll chew your ear off talking Neapolitan pizzas. He’s past gigs include Sandy Spring’s Cibo e Beve and a brief stint at Erwood’s in Crabapple.
What’s Rea got up his sleeve next? How about black pizza dough infused with squid ink? It’s basically a black pizza topped with seafood galore. It’s, if anything, perhaps the most bizarre and intriguing menu item in Alpharetta.
Only two questions remain about Campania. First – is it as good as Atlanta’s Antico? Local foodies have been quietly beating a path to Campania’s door to get that question answered. Their pizzas are a tad smaller than Antico’s but very close to their taste and quality. The ambiance at Campania is far more comfortable and the staff much more friendly.
And second – will suburbanites embrace an authentic Neapolitan pizza? Remember, it isn’t burned, it’s charred. You can’t buy it by the slice. This isn’t Mellow Mushroom and it isn’t exactly kid-friendly. Once we get past these notions I believe Campania can be a game changer. Hopefully we’re seeing the start of a budding new restaurant scene along Alpharetta’s Main Street!
Photo Credit: Mike Murphy