Pizza is a fast food. That doesn’t mean it should be treated the way we tend to treat fast food, the cheap, industrial, artless junk that barely resembles sustenance. A good pizza deserves to shine with fine ingredients and the careful touch of an artisan, but this isn’t slow food. Fast is the perfect word for it. In fact, few foods happen as quickly as pizza does. The best pies spend only a measure of seconds in rip-roaring hot ovens.
Over the past year and into the coming months, a bevy of new pizzeria competitors have opened and are opening (those coming soon include the Local Pizzaiolo, Harry’s Pizzeria and Blaze Pizza) in the metro area in a fast-casual style. That is to say, they marry the kitchen of a proper restaurant with the simple counter service and shared seating of a fast-food joint. It’s a perfect fit, so long as the pizza is actually good.
We checked out a few of the restaurants aiming to fight the latest battle in Atlanta’s long-running pizza wars.
When this North Carolina-based pizza chain opened its third location, in the Mall of Georgia, it may have also taken the title for largest pizzeria in the metro Atlanta area. If it isn’t the largest, it certainly feels that way. The footprint of this 6,200-square-foot restaurant is matched by ceilings that reach airplane-hangar heights. An open kitchen row of wood-burning ovens, which churn out classically styled Neapolitan pizzas for $15-$18, faces a room full of blond wood communal tables.
Much like the size of the room, the size of the Neapolitan pizzas served here is perhaps a bit more generously portioned than others. At roughly 16 inches in diameter, you could probably serve three people with a single pie. The blistery crust has a nice, classic char, and the clean, bright flavors of the red sauce are an excellent contrast to heavier toppings like sausage or spicy Italian salami.
Minuses: The impressive width of these pies can leave the center of the crust a touch more limp than ideal, even when their charred flavor is just right.
Best pick: Toscana, with sausage, San Marzano tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves and garlic.
Insider tip: The unfussy wine selection, which runs at the budget-friendly rate of $4 a glass and $20 a bottle, includes some easy-drinking table wines like Gabbiano Chianti Classico.
3333 Buford Drive, Buford. 678-765-7426, alinopizzeria.com.
— WYATT WILLIAMS
Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria
This downtown Atlanta restaurant, owned and operated by the same restaurant group as neighbors Stats Brewpub and Twin Smokers BBQ, is expanding with a second fast-casual location at Perimeter Mall in October. At the new location, diners can expect the same classic combination: big New York-style pizzas, neither thin nor thick, cooked in an old-school coal-fired oven. A build-your-own 12-incher starts at $12 and ranges up to $19 for house specialties.
The coal-fired oven used at Max’s is similar to the technique used in classic, long-running New York institutions like Patsy’s Pizzeria. It doesn’t boast the scorched, blackened crusts that Neapolitan wood-fired ovens achieve, but a more light-golden brown crispness. It is a fine, crunchy and somewhat heftier contrast for classic toppings like pepperoni and sausage.
Minuses: In a world of ever-expanding culinary options and distinct, notably sourced ingredients, the rather average toppings at Max’s can feel a little humdrum.
Best pick: Arugula and Prosciutto, with prosciutto, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and a pile of lemon pepper-dressed arugula.
Insider tip: For an extra meaty indulgence, order a plate of the lemon pepper wings, which are cooked to a deep golden brown crisp in the coal-fired oven.
300 Marietta St., Atlanta. 404-974-2941, maxsatl.com.
— WYATT WILLIAMS
MOD entered the Atlanta market in Junewhen doors unlocked at its outbuilding at Kennesaw Marketplace. Decatur will get a MOD in late September, and Sandy Springs will join the club in October.
A colorful industrial interior lends MOD personality that belies its category as a chain restaurant. However, there is a busy feel to the place that can induce fast eating. The $7.87 price for an 11-inch pizza is easy on the pocketbook, but MOD comes up short in pleasing the palate.
Minuses: The super-thin crust is not the problem. It is the gloppy, floppiness of the pie — which happened in the case of build-your-own (MOD also offers unlimited toppings for the same price) and with some of the specialty combinations on the menu. Perhaps another minute in the oven would have made a difference. It would also be nice if the staff would cut all the way through the pizza rather than forcing customers to wrest apart each slice.
Best pick: Ella, a seasonal pizza made with white sauce, mozzarella, spicy chicken sausage, diced tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lemon wedge and Sriracha.
Insider tip: The Mega, a double-decker of dough separated by your choice of sauce, is a waste of dough (both kinds).
1945 Cobb Parkway, Kennesaw. 470-264-0050, Modpizza.com.
— LIGAYA FIGUERAS
This new addition to Town Brookhaven will appeal to the crowd on a budget. Pizzas are 11 to 12 inches, and range in price from $7.99 for a one-topping of your choice to $8.49 for the most expensive specialty pie.
Its dough recipe is a winner; the crust truly has flavor. PizzaFire uses all-natural, fresh, organic ingredients. There is no freezer, nor a microwave. Some toppers, like basil, are hydroponically grown on-premise. When you go the build-your-own-creation route, $8.99 gets you unlimited toppings. After placing your order at the counter, the pies come out fast, baking in 180 seconds. A bar offers a serviceable selection of beer and wine.
Minuses: The texture of the crust. Even though the dough recipe uses 00 flour and the pizzas are baked in a brick oven at 700 degrees, the thin crust is flimsy — not quite the promised Neapolitan pie. Also, avoid the bland pesto sauce that tastes solely of oil and basil.
Best pick: The Buffalo, with free-range Buffalo chicken, mozzarella and Romano cheese on ranch-bacon sauce.
Insider tip: The lunch combo, available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, costs $9.49 and includes a small pizza (roughly 7 inches), plus a side (choose from a side salad, meatballs, Firestix garlic breadsticks, Cinnastix cinnamon breadsticks or a brownie) and a fountain drink.
804 Town Blvd., Brookhaven. 404-343-0401, pizzafire.com.
— LIGAYA FIGUERAS
Is Anne Quatrano, Atlanta’s grande dame of fine dining, actually running a fast-casual pizza joint? No, not exactly. But she is serving pizzas in her new, expanded version of Star Provisions, the retail and counter service space adjoining the recently relocated Bacchanalia. Served from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, pizzas run from $14 to $18 and also happen to be among the best pizzas served in the city right now. Neither traditionally Neapolitan nor exactly American in style, the pies sport extra-crisp thin, golden crusts and the distinct, subtle flavor combinations that her kitchens have long been known for.
On any given day, you’ll have only three or four pizza options on the menu. One pie is a good portion for two people, but ordering two contrasting options will give you a better sense of the kitchen’s range. A recent soppressata-topped pizza was vibrant with the flavor of crushed tomatoes and oregano, while a white pie made with little more than Parmesan, whole pistachios and thinly sliced onion was a compelling combination of salty cheese and lightly sweet nuttiness.
Minuses: Unless you have the appetite (or companions) to order whole pies at lunch, the limited hours make it difficult to get your hands on one of these pizzas.
Best pick: Rosa, with Parmesan, pistachios and red onion.
Insider tip: Flawless cured meats, impressive cheeses, and fresh baked breads are for sale to take home in Star Provisions. They’re perfect for an at-home evening snack after a pizza lunch.
1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd., Atlanta. 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com.
— WYATT WILLIAMS
Krog Street Market’s newest tenant is the second outpost of Atlanta-based pizzeria Varuni Napoli. (The first opened on Monroe Drive in Midtown in 2014.) As the name suggests, the pizzas are made in the Neapolitan style, puffy, thin pies with blistered black crusts baked in a beautiful, tile-covered wood-burning oven. The pies, roughly the size of a large dinner plate, run about $15, while a build-your-own option starts at $12.
Owner Luca Varuni sources many ingredients from Italy, from San Marzano tomatoes to Mozzarella di Bufala. You can try your hand picking out ingredients for a build-your-own pie, but the kitchen has 10 selections, including several white pizza options, that make balanced combinations of the kitchen’s best ingredients.
Minuses: There are a couple of salads on the menu, including the Varuni Salad with sweet candied pecans and prosciutto, but they’re the sort of forgettable greenery that you buy only because you’re stuck in a pizzeria.
Best pick: The Bastardo, with fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, pepperoni, nduja sausage, pecorino Romano and basil.
Insider tip: Take advantage of the extraordinary draft beer list offered by the Hop City craft beer bar at Krog. Few pizzerias can offer the experience of washing down a slice with a sip of the latest, limited-release Saison or Berliner Weisse that Hop City is sure to have on tap.
99 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-500-5550, varuni.us.
— WYATT WILLIAMS
“The Subway of pizza places” is how one dining partner described Your Pie, which has multiple locations in greater Atlanta and franchises coming soon to Grant Park and Milton.
At this quick-service pizza joint, it is your pie, your way. It is cheap. It is fast. It is in no way “artisanal,” but you do leave mostly satisfied.
Your Pie gets credit for dough options: white, wheat or gluten-free. A build-your-own 10-inch pizza costs $8.99, whether you opt for one topping, 10 or 20. Not only did veggies taste especially fresh, but meats were surprisingly good — especially the medium-spicy, crumbly Italian sausage. For those who prefer to follow something scripted from the Your Pie menu, order the Ischia (olive oil, fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, basil and garlic).
Minuses: The crust of every pizza we ordered was rather unremarkable. Pizzas were noticeably flat, there was no big, bubbly crust, zero oven spring. Perhaps that had something to do with oven temperature. On our visit, the digital thermometer of the brick oven read 543 degrees. On its website, the company states that pizzas are baked at 800 degrees.
Best pick: Build your own with Italian sausage, ricotta, artichoke hearts, garlic and basil pesto.
Insider tip: Got kids? The $5.99 kids meal includes a 7-inch pizza (or half a panini or a side salad) plus a 12-ounce drink and a scoop of gelato. Kids driving you crazy? Chill out with one of a nearly 20 local craft beers. Go on Wednesdays, when a glass of wine is $3.14.
Multiple locations, yourpie.com.
— LIGAYA FIGUERAS