Vingenzo's Pasta & Pizzeria
105 East Main Street Suite 100, Woodstock, GA 30188 (map); 770-924-9133; vingenzos.com
Pizza type: Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: First-class pizza and Southern Italian cuisine made with handcrafted ingredients in one of the metro area's hidden gems
Price: Regina, $14; Quattro Formaggi, $13
That's how long it took me to do a complete 180 in my thinking about Woodstock, with its quaint 1880s-era buildings and brick-paved sidewalks dotting its "Olde Towne" downtown district. I was pretty sure I had Vingenzo's Pasta & Pizzeria pegged, too—a cute little Italian place that, while probably home to the best food in this quiet northern 'burb, certainly wouldn't compare with the culinary heavy hitters scattered across Atlanta proper.
But when a pair of picturesque pies hit my table just 95 seconds after going into a roaring 800-degree brick oven, I did an abrupt about-face. And after just one bite, I knew I'd been dead wrong. Vingenzo's is dishing up some of the finest pizza I've ever tasted... not just in Woodstock, not merely in the suburbs... but in all of the metro Atlanta area... and maybe anywhere.
Chef Michael Bologna is serious when he talks about the difference between "Italian" cuisine and "Italian-American food." He's even more serious about only serving the former at his restaurant. That's why you won't find spaghetti and meatballs or chicken parm on the menu; "That's not what they eat in Italy." Your server, upon hearing that it's your first time at Vingenzo's, will review the "confusing" menu with you (her word, not mine) to explain that this is true Southern Italian fare— no beef or chicken in the protein department, only seafood and sausage... and only enough to accentuate the handmade pastas or traditional Neapolitan pizzas.
The sausage on the Regina, for example, is hand-cranked on site by Bologna himself, using a recipe handed down from his father, an Italian-born butcher. It is superb, sprinkled about in large crumbles and with a nicely seasoned bite. It balances perfectly with the wild mushrooms, grown at a local startup farm that Bologna has partnered with (the farmer works in the kitchen, too). These toppings, plus a few basil leaves, are clustered in the middle of the 11-inch pie, leaving a ring of San Marzano tomato sauce around the rim to shine on its own.
Mozzarella mavens shouldn't miss the trio of housemade cheeses available as an appetizer. The Grandioso Tasting offers slabs of Bufala and Fior Di Latte, along with a supersized creamy dollop of Stracciatella Di Burrata. All are exceptional, but the Fior Di Latte stands out, both here and on the Quattro Formaggi pizza. (It's the cheese on the Regina, too... although some pies like the La Margherita 1796, the Napoletana, and the Sopressata feature the Bufala.) Provolone, Fontina, and Gorgonzola make up the rest of Vingenzo's QF, with a different cheese seeming to star from bite to bite. While it was a stellar pie that beats the vast majority of pizzas in Atlanta, it was just the second-best pie at our table on this night. Regina rocked my pants off.
That 95-second ride in the oak-fueled inferno left a few fair-sized bubbles in the cornicione, with a last-moment splash of wood shavings in the fire creating some deeply scorched leopard spots on the rim and fair charring underneath. These spots scraped against my tongue every now and again to drive home that wood-fired quality. The thin crust holds a pie that runs the gamut of textures, from the liquefied center to just enough yeasty chew at the outer rim (just what you'd expect from a Neapolitan pizza).
My only complaint is that the steak knives offered with the unsliced pies tended to tear rather than cut through cleanly. I've rolled my eyes at the scissors thing before, but I found myself wishing for a pair at Vingenzo's. These pizzas were too pretty to have to be sawed apart by my unskilled hands.
Bologna makes it a point to try to visit each table for some one-on-one. (He spent a good 20 minutes chatting up me and my wife, only further convincing us along the way that we had just found our new go-to Italian spot.) He's quite a character, and with little doubt the driving force behind Vingenzo's success. But he was quick to stress, "It's not about me. It's about the food on the plate." Rest assured that Bologna and his top-notch staff do every little thing the right way at Vingenzo's. Everything that can be made in-house is made in-house, from the mozzarella to the pasta to the gelato, with a level of care and attention to detail that come through in every bite of food and every minute spent. The pizzas unquestionably deserve a spot in Atlanta's Top 5, but the entire menu (hello, 6-hour-braised pork in San Marzano sauce!) is the sort that will encourage frequent returns to the tiny town of Woodstock.