Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Atlanta. —The Mgmt.
Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria
300 Marietta Street NW, Atlanta GA 30313 (map); 404-974-2941; maxsatl.com
Getting There: Gold or Red Line to Peachtree Center or Green or Blue Line to CNN
Pizza Style: New York coal oven
Oven Type: Coal
Price: 12-inch pies start at $15, 16-inch at $19
Notes: Occasionally, Max's makes Sicilian pies in the coal oven
Atlanta has many good things going for it, but stellar public transportation is not one of them. So until last year, if you found yourself downtown without a car, perhaps to visit the spectacular aquarium or the brainwashing operation that is The World of Coke, and you craved a good pizza, you might have been out of luck. But Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria opened last summer, giving pizza lovers a place to go.
Max's offers seven different preset toppings combinations or a build-your-own option with ten possible toppings, all on pizzas that are either 12 or 16 inches. I opted to keep things simple with a sausage pizza and was not disappointed.
The first thing I noticed about the pizza was the amount of sauce. My most common misgiving with a lot of quality pies born in wood- or coal-burning ovens is that they do not have enough sauce, something all the more painful when those places brag about using San Marzano tomatoes. On those occasions, I am forced to consider my personal kōan: If a pizzeria has great sauce but you can't taste it on the pizza, does it matter?
At Max's, I have no idea what kind of tomatoes are used, but the sauce is delicious and put on the pizza with more generosity than I remember seeing on a coal oven pie. Another pleasant surprise was the sausage, which was unlike any I've had before. In addition to the traditional fennel, the sausage was seasoned with a healthy dose of nutmeg and some cinnamon, creating a sweet savory pork combination that really worked well. I don't know that I'd want it to be my regular sausage, but I really liked it a lot.
Side note: they were actually out of their housemade sausage on my visit, so I had the sausage normally put on their Italian sausage sandwich. The chef told me that their regular sausage also has some nutmeg in it, but if anyone asks, they're happy to use the sausage I had on the pizza.
The only place where Max's came up short for me was the crust. According to the website, the goal is for a blend of crispy and chewy. It's an admirable goal, but on my pizza Max's fell well short. I'd like to blame it on the cooking, as that is easily corrected, but the pizza was cooked perfectly. The bottom crust was just too dense for the style, and the result was a crust that was too chewy.
Is Max's going to blow your mind? Probably not. But if you find yourself in downtown Atlanta craving some pizza, you could do a whole lot worse.