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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Paizano's Italian Bistro

7 Jones Street, Norcross, GA 30071 (Map); 770-300-0250; www.paizanos.com
Pizza type: NY style
Oven type: Gas
The Skinny: True neighborhood place dishes up decent pies, but nothing worth driving across town for.
Price: Bensonhurst, large, $18.50; Bronx Bomber, Sicilian, $22.50

Everybody needs a good go-to neighborhood pizza place, a Saturday night let's-keep-it-simple-and-go-with-something-we-know kind of joint. But what happens when you're not actually in your neighborhood on a Saturday night? Having the interwebs right on our phones sure makes it easier to find those out-of-the-way places, but there's still something cool about popping into one and wondering what it would be like if it was your regular spot.

Would I have a usual order? Would they know me when I came in the door? Would I be enough of a loyal customer that I'd recommend it to people not from the neighborhood? Paizano's Italian Bistro may not serve destination pizza per se, but if I lived in the downtown Norcross area, I'd happily consider it my neighborhood go-to.

Paizano's markets itself as "Atlanta's Best NY Pizza Pie." While that's an impossible-to-prove (and ludicrously unlikely) claim, they do try to inject some Empire State attitude into their pies (NY-style, Neapolitan, and Sicilian are all on the menu) by giving them Big Apple names like Penn Station, Staten Island Ferry, and Park Avenue. (Question: do New Yorkers actually think that's kind of a cool honor... or is it as eye-rollingly trying-too-hard as it seems?)

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While the list of nearly 30 build-your-own toppings looked promising, I was more attracted on this night to the more unusual combos—the Bensonhurst ($18.50), for instance, which is described as a "lasagna pizza," dressed out with meatballs and ricotta.

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There wasn't much char to be seen topside, and the undercarriage didn't satisfy my leopard-spotting lust, either. I asked my server what kind of oven the kitchen uses and was met with a blank look...although the telltale cross-hatching of a mesh pizza screen spoke volumes.

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That said, the rim looked decent in that what-do-you-want-it's-just-a-neighborhood-joint kind of way. And the Bensonhurst was pretty darn good overall. The shaved meatballs were light and fluffy (I'd love to try them whole in a bowl of noodles), and the ricotta, while super-rich, added a nice level of complexity to the pie. It was so rich, in fact, that most of the Bensonhurst came home in a box, and, like all good lasagna, was even better as leftovers.

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We tested the Sicilian waters with a Bronx Bomber ($22.50). More meatballs here, but joined by pepperoni, sausage, and prosciutto (which Paizano's manages to misspell across much of its menu). The outermost shell of the thick crust crackled nicely, and the rim itself sported an almost buttery taste that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Although I'm always a meat man, more grease than I might have wanted found its way to the underside and caused a soggy mess. Still, the toppings themselves were good... and the crust itself was pretty decent (pre-soak, anyway). I'd opt for the Sicilian again, but maybe with another array of toppings (the seafood-based Chelsea Pier, the tomato-less Greenwich Village, and the Upstate Chicken all seem interesting).

But then again, I don't find myself in downtown Norcross very often. I have no problem loading up the fam and making a bit of a drive for truly spectacular eats on a Saturday night, but that's not what Paizano's is, or, at least, not to me. Granted, it was certainly a far cry from pulling into some chain off the interstate or braving the outskirts of the mall. Probably not worthy of a special trip across town, but I'd be more than okay with Paizano's as my down-on-the-corner pizzeria. I guess that's the calling card of a true neighborhood place.

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.

Paizano's

Paizano's

7 Jones St Norcross GA 30071 7703000250

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