A Hamburger Today
Atlanta: Flatbread Pizzas Fall Flat at Cucina Asellina
1075 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309 (Map); 404-793-0141; website
Pizza type: Primarily flatbreads
Oven type: Wood
The Skinny: Swanky Italian in a hip urban setting; Overpriced pizzas that underwhelm.
Price: Margherita, $11 as listed/$16 with half-sausage add-on; Prosciutto Pizze, $18
From the outside looking in, there's much that's intriguing about Cucina Asellina. First, its pedigree—being the sister eatery of Ristorante Asellina in New York City brings a certain clout that few spots in the A have. Plus, it's from the same folks who created STK Atlanta, the steakhouse that's one of the city's top see-and-be-seen places.
This little Italian joint next door actually has the same primo people-watching vibe in a much smaller footprint. With outdoor patio seating. On an absolutely plum corner in the heart of Midtown. Yeah, Cucina Asellina should be killing in Atlanta. But sadly, their much-ballyhooed pizzas left my palate underwhelmed, and my wallet overextended.
In truth, I came for a pizza I didn't expect to see listed on the menu. Early on, no one mentioned Cucina Asellina without raving about a hush-hush truffle-and-egg-topped pie that was always available, but only to those in the know. And yet, here it was in black and white, listed as the Prosciutto Pizze. What gives? My server told me that this was, in fact, the formerly-secret-menu-pizza, now with prosciutto added and available to anyone who knows how to read. His take? "It was meant to be kind of a secret treat for the locals...but then we were only getting locals in here."
Huh??? I'm not sure how taking the kitchen's most buzzworthy dish and making it seem patently un-special by sticking it above the grilled chicken panini broadens the restaurant's mass appeal to those outside the 30309, but I was already here. And hella hungry. Bring it on.
It looked tasty enough, if on the small side at eight inches. And the egg yolk was already bleeding out, having arrived pre-cut. I might have hoped for more black truffles dotting the surface, but this was already an $18 pizza. I shudder to think what the price would be with any more of them. Perhaps that's why the kitchen added prosciutto to the mix—it's definitely the standout on this pie.
I've said it before about truffles on pizzas and it held true again: I know I'm supposed to be impressed, but the taste just doesn't do anything for me. Between the prosciutto's saltiness and the egg's richness, those could have been garden-variety mushrooms—or simply not there at all—and I wouldn't have known the difference.
It's not a bad pie. But for an $18 personal-size pizza, I want to be blown away... or at least filled up. This felt more like the kind of aren't-we-cool-and-trendy app you'd get for the table to snack on over fancy drinks from the bar while you scan Peachtree Street for celebs. But a destination pizza? Definitely not.
The other pies on the Cucina Asellina menu are larger oval flatbreads, and while the same dough is used for all of them, the size and shape difference translated to taste, too. The eight-inch round under the truffle-and-egg was yeastier, denser, and chewier than the crisp crust I noted under the rustic and more elongated Margherita.
Decorated with cherry tomatoes and thin ribbons of basil atop its buffalo mozzarella, the Margherita had more wood-oven char around the rim, with burnt edges. The huge chunks of red and yellow tomato placed atop the melted mozz made for a pretty picture, but had a tendency to fall off with every bite... unless you carefully manipulated each piece en route to your mouth to prevent spillage.
Our table decided to add sausage to half, just for variety's sake. (One of the day's specials was a sausage-rapini pie, so we figured we'd help the kitchen use some of that surplus pork.) Ho-hum. A hunk picked off the pie and eaten on its own yielded exactly zero flavor—of any kind, sausage or otherwise—indentifiable solely by its telltale "bumpy" mouthfeel.
What's worse, this add on (on just half the pie, mind you) jacked up the price of the Margherita from the menu-advertised $11 to a stunning $16 on my final bill. Again, not a bad pizza, but not great...and certainly not worth sixteen bucks.
I really wanted to like Cucina Asellina. And maybe if I were a young, hip twentysomething working in Midtown Atlanta and walking past the place every day on my way home to my super-swanky loft apartment, this is exactly the kind of place where I'd meet my unspeakably cool friends after-hours for an overpriced nosh, craft cocktails, and some urban herd-watching on the patio.
And maybe if that were me, paying 50 dollars (with tip) for two personal pizzas and two soft drinks wouldn't bother me in the least. But as a pizza fan, I can come up with a dozen pie shops within walking distance that offer way better bang for way fewer bucks.
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 The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.