A Hamburger Today

Atlanta: Pizzas You'll Appreciate at No. 246

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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

No. 246

129 E. Ponce de Leon Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030 (Map); 678-399-8246; www.no246.com
Pizza type: Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: Upscale neighborhood place from Ford Fry does simple pizzas remarkably well
Price: Mushroom, $13

Ford Fry is undoubtedly the hottest name in the Atlanta food scene right now, with a mini-empire that's seemingly expanding every time a restaurant space in the metro area becomes available. Not content to let the upscale fish camp The Optimist be named Best New Restaurant of the Year by Esquire, Fry's already set his sights on converting Nava's former kitchen to an open hearth-inspired colonial menu; may possibly be bringing a Mediterranean concept to the old Bluepointe address; has been rumored to be eyeing a Mexican joint in Alpharetta; and wants to start up a non-profit food truck just for the hell of it.

But JCT Kitchen on the Westside and No. 246 in Decatur are still heavy hitters in their respective neighborhoods, each with a few key dishes that keep Fry's reputation solidly intact. (I'll definitely be giving their burger the official AHT treatment at some point). No. 246* may not be a "pizza place" per se, but their under-the-radar pies certainly deserve mention when you're talking about the city's finest.

*The name is pronounced "Two-Four-Six" and was the original designation for the plot of land the restaurant occupies just off The Square.

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The pizza menu isn't overwhelming by any stretch, at least not in number. The Margherita, Salami, and Mushroom varieties are always available, with one or two additional options on rotation. The Fattoria, for example, described to me as more of a flatbread, is topped with house-cured pancetta, herbed goat cheese, and locally grown collards. But it was the Mushroom ($13) that caught my eye; according to chef Drew Belline it's also the restaurant's most popular pizza.

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The restaurant partners with a network of local farmers, so the ingredients used in both the specials and the mainstays vary depending on what's local and in season—mushrooms included.

The mushrooms change out seasonally, according to what local foragers are harvesting; currently, it's shiitakes and maitakes. They join the mainstays of this earthy pie: simple and lightly applied San Marzano sauce, mozzarella, and a zesty arugula-almond pesto.

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The dough formula consists of Antico Molina 00 flour, water, dry activated yeast, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. It's mixed and allowed to sit in the walk-in overnight. Come morning, it's portioned into trays and returned to the walk-in to ferment for an additional 8-12 hours.

The cornicione shows nice microbubbling, thanks to Belline's painstaking trial-and-error approach. He ultimately settled on a two day cold fermentation process, for dough with a soft consistency—floppy but never soggy—that rises quickly, chars beautifully, and has a wonderful chew.

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That delicate char comes from the kitchen's handmade Acunto Napoli oven. It's not out on full display, like at other, showier shops, but this wood-fired workhorse keeps a large bed of coals and small bit of flame going at between 800 and 825ยบ F. Despite the pizza renaissance that we Slice'rs believe has hit the mainstream, Belline says he still has to frequently assure customers that their pizza isn't burned. I found my darkened rim to be near-perfect. I'll chalk up the modest spotting underneath to the fact that it was early in the day's lunch rush, and it's unlikely the oven had hit full blast. So, no complaints from me on the crust front.

Or anything else about this pie, for that matter. Uncomplicated ingredients mix well with a few surprises (chives, chili flakes), and the arugula-almond pesto offers a unique interplay of salty and bitter. This Mushroom Pizza is a far cry from your average pizza with mushrooms.

Indeed, all of the pies at No. 246 are noteworthy. (There's a Meat Lover's on the current dinner menu that will delight carnivores.) But these days, everything Ford Fry touches is noteworthy. So let the rest of the foodgawkers make their two-months-out reservations at The Optimist and debate which local hotspot he'll take over next. Get yourself to downtown Decatur and sample some of what put Fry in the empire-building position to begin with: simple kick-ass pizzas at No. 246.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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