Farm Fresh Pizza at Atlanta's Moto Bene
Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Atlanta. —The Mgmt.
Peachtree Road Farmers Market, 2744 Peachtree Road, NW Atlanta, Georgia 30305 (map); 404-654-3282; motobenepizza.com
Pizza Style: Thin
Oven Type: Wood-fired
Price: Pizzas usually start around $14
Notes: Also appears at the inTown Farmers' Market, the Cobb International Farmers' Market, the Dunwoody Green Market, and the East Atlanta Village Farmers' Market
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, Dan Latham went to work for Mario Batali, primarily at Po and also working in the back of Italian Wine Merchants to help develop recipes for Armando Batali's Salumi in Seattle. In 2004, Latham and his wife moved to Oxford in their native Mississippi, where they opened L&M's Kitchen and Salumeria, which had a successful five-year run.
Now in Atlanta, Latham gets up three to four days a week and tows his portable wood-burning oven to one of four different farmers' markets in the area, where he operates under the name Moto Bene. When he arrives, he gets the fire started and goes shopping. See, although he brings the dough, sauce, and cheese with him, he depends on other vendors at the market for his toppings. Once his shopping is done, descriptions of the day's pies go up on the chalkboard and Latham and his team get to work, usually selling out before the market closes just after noon.
On the day of my visit, I had a choice between a Margherita and a pie topped with sausage, onions and jalapenos. I opted for the latter, put in my order and wandered the market for a few minutes until my pizza was ready. Latham mans the oven while the rest of the crew helps with prep and deals with customers. It seemed most people were taking their pizzas home with them, but I had no intention on waiting. Pie in hand, I wandered the church parking lot that hosts the market and found a mulch-covered island with a tree in the middle of it to have a late morning pizza picnic.
The freshness and quality of the ingredients was undeniable. The cheese, which comes from a local family-owned dairy called Johnston Family Farm was creamy and generously applied. The sausage had terrific flavor with a moderate amount of fennel. It was not quite as fatty as I would have liked, but the cheese more than ably balanced out that very minor flaw. The sauce was made from San Marzano tomatoes and was delicious. The only real problem with the pizza was that the jalapenos were just way too hot for the pie. I chalk that up to them using peppers that were too good for pizza purposes; these were not from a large farm that breeds grocery store jalapenos.
As the pictures clearly show, Latham turns out some perfectly cooked crusts with a nice char and good hole structure. The texture was a little weird, though not in a bad way. It had chewy down pat, but in place of a real crisp outer part, there was an element of almost biscuit-like mini-crackle. The taste was very good in parts with char, but could have used a little salt elsewhere. But I'm being picky, the crust, like the rest of the pie, is a winner that I think will only get better as Latham cooks more pies.
Moto Bene currently operates at four additional farmers markets. On alternating Tuesdays, you can find it at the inTown Farmers Market and the Cobb International Farmers Market. On Wednesdays, Moto Bene is at Dunwoody Green Market, and on Thursdays at the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market. Latham also can be hired for private events and sometimes he just shows up places. Curious Atlantans are advised to follow him on Twitter. As far as a brick and mortar spot goes, Latham is in no hurry, but says it's a definite possibility.