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Neighborhood Pies With NY Flair at LaBella's Pizzeria in Atlanta
2635 Sandy Plains Road, Marietta, GA 30066 (Map); 770-973-0052; labellaspizzeria.net
Pizza type: New York
Oven type: Gas
The Skinny: Neighborhood pizzas with authentic NY flair
Price: Plain cheese, $13.25; Sausage/mushroom/pepperoni, $19.25
You know that #smh feeling when you're looking for your favorite sunglasses—retracing your steps, dumping out drawers, turning over piles of mail on the kitchen counter, rummaging under the car seats, raking your hands through your hair in maddening frustration...only to find them perched safely on top of your head? Happy, sure. But d'oh!
That's me right now. I've lived in my house out in the suburbs for a little over eight years. 428 weeks, if you want to get nerdily anal about it. (I always do.) That's 428 hanging-out-at-home-with-a-pizza Friday nights...but I must sheepishly confess that it took me 426 of them to find my neighborhood pizza shop. Others have come and gone in that time, but now that I've found LaBella's Pizzeria (just two miles down the road!), I have some serious making up for lost time to take care of.
There's no mistaking this for fancified gourmet pizza, the kind that all of us here at Slice are all too happy to geek out over. No, LaBella's serves up no-nonsense takeout pies perfect for feeding the fam after soccer practice runs late, satiating a slumber party, or just giving you a good option for a greasy-in-a-good-way lunch or late-night chow. But it's also a far cry from yet another generic pizzeria in strip mall suburbia—LaBella's actually rates well with highfalutin' local media and the city's sometimes-snooty food bloggers, not to mention my neighbors.
My kids (like most, methinks) are connoisseurs of the cheese pizza, so that started our recent family movie night order. All of LaBella's pies are 16 inches (no smalls, mediums, or larges here), with a dough that's made in house daily and a bright sauce that spotlights the fresh basil added to each batch. The mozz is spectacularly ooey and gooey; no one's breaking new ground here, but this is the sadly-all-too-rare plain cheese pizza that is sensational on its own, rather than seeming like just a pie where they left off the real ingredients.*
*Looking for some genuine pizza snob cred? Back before he opened his own pie-lover's mecca, Jeff Varasano was calling the pizza at LaBella's (and the cheese pizza at that) one of his favorites.
Owner Rick Sorrentino brings real-deal chops to the joint. The Long Islander owned a pizzeria in New York for 19 years before setting up shop in Marietta back in 1992. And the place is still awash in that brusque big-city vibe. Call in a pick-up order, and the staff doesn't want to know your name; you're given a number that you'd better be able to regurgitate when you hit the door. Do it often enough, though, and they'll get to know you by sight; most customers with whom I've shared the tiny confines during my visits have been met with a familiar and friendly "hon" or "buddy" and some how-ya-doin' small talk while your usual is prepped.
Not ready to throw down for a full pizza? LaBella's does slices, too, dressed out any which way you please. The calzones rock, and there's hot heroes, cold subs, salads, superb rolled loaves, and pasta dishes, too. And the homemade zeppoles on (some) Sundays (always) sell out within two hours. Don't say you weren't warned.
From my first bite, I fell in love with the crust at LaBella's. While the 7-8 minute stay in the double deck Bakers Pride gas oven doesn't result in the kind of char or leopard spotting that we tend to gush over on a wood-fired pie, the underside has a wonderfully crackly sheen that puts up just a bit of a fight when you go to fold it in half. But that extra work is rewarded with a rim that shatters slightly on the tooth and gives way to a fluffy-yet-dense satisfyingly chewy interior.
My go-to pie anywhere is always a sausage-mushroom-pepperoni, and LaBella's version of it shines. The star here is unquestionably the lightly spicy sausage, sliced super-thin so that it curls into seductive little cups.
Rick told me he has his sausage trucked in once a week all the way from New Jersey. And though I found out after I was already smitten with it, I think it made me fall just a little harder.
I sense that I'm gushing now. And I know the purists among you may be skeptical. It's just strip mall pizza, you're saying. There's a place like this on every other block. It's nothing special—look at the puddle of grease at the bottom of that box, for Chrissake!
But I'm a firm believer that while there's a time and place for the Anticos, for Varasano's, for every other pizza-as-artform-with-a-capital-A gourmet Neapolitan shrine out there...sometimes you just want to chill on your couch with a sloppy, gooey, greasy, holy-crap-this-is-why-I-fell-in-love-with-pizza-when-I-was-7 kind of pie. And LaBella's does that better than most.
It took me eight years to find LaBella's Pizzeria. I predict it'll take significantly less time for Rick to get to know me as a LaBella's regular.
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, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, 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.