Suburban Pies That Compete With the Big Boys at Atlanta's Campania Pizzeria Napoletana

[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Campania Pizzeria Napoletana

800 North Main Street, Suite 100, Alpharetta, GA 30009 (Map); 770-559-4674;
Pizza type: Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood
The Skinny: Real-deal Neapolitan-style pizza north of the city that gives the big boys in town a run for their money
Price: Quattro Formaggi, $14; Salumi Mista, $15

"...the easiest way to get there is to turn into the Autozone lot and back track into the strip mall where it is at."

That was my first introduction to Campania Pizzeria Napoletana, in a comment from Slice'r rlp122. Sure enough, there it was, in a nondescript suburban shopping center, tucked in with a smoke shop, a car stereo dealer, and a vendor of coins and firearms. Certainly not the kind of place I expected to find one of the best pizzas in the city.

Thankfully, I've learned not to judge a book by its cover—or a pizzeria by its next-door neighbor—because Campania is pumping out Top-10-list-caliber pies and may just be the best-kept pizza secret in town. For now.

Owners Jennifer Simmons and Stewart Muller first fell in love with Neapolitan-style pizza in Seattle, of all places. When they relocated to the Atlanta area, they landed in the northern 'burb of Alpharetta and quickly realized that getting a similar Old-World-school pie would require hitting the interstate. So when a piece of commercial property closer to home came on the market, they snapped it up in order to offer those topside of the perimeter an authentic taste of pizza history.

Look past the blues coming from the speakers and the big-screen airing ESPN at the bar; there's a fire-breathing behemoth in the background. The wood-only Stefano Ferrara oven was hand-built in Naples and weighs in at nearly three tons. It's unquestionably the centerpiece of the smallish restaurant space; all 17 tables have a good view of the pizzaioli at work on any of the ten pies on offer.

The Quattro Formaggi ($14) is one of three white pizzas on the menu. The blending of fior di latte mozz—made locally by Orobianco—ricotta, fontina, and Parmigiano Reggiano is certainly smooth and creamy, but what it really does best is show off Campania's crust.

Simmons wouldn't divulge much about her dough recipe other than the basic ingredients: 00 Caputo flour, water, yeast, and sea salt. But what I can tell you is that it's spongy and chewy and floppy and all-around excellent; these are fairly wet pies, to be sure, and the menu goes so far as to suggest eating them with a knife and fork.

Utensils or not is up to you, but the crew definitely knows what it's doing—every pie I saw at Campania came out with very nice leopard spotting. In a testament to what is apparently still the novelty of a Neapolitan pie in this part of town, the wait staff will likely school you ahead of time on the fact that, despite the visible char blisters, your pizza won't be "burned," and that it will take just 70-90 seconds to bake, given the oven's 1000°F cooking temp.

My favorite of the Campania pies I've sampled is the Salumi Mista ($15). The base is a sparingly applied layer of San Marzano sauce. Jennifer told me that the staff goes to great pains to remove as much moisture as they can, and that they add only imported olive oil and sea salt as finishers. It has a concentrated, earthy tang that beautifully spotlights the meaty toppings of this particular pie.

Italian sausage and Calabrese salami are here in healthy proportion, but it's the salame piccante that offers a welcome kick. Jennifer went all the way to California to track down a spicy pepperoni that cupped and charred a bit when cooked, and then hand-picked one that also delivered a bit of heat. Crowned with fior di latte and fontina, with pieces of basil tucked in underneath the toppings so as not to get scorched to a crisp, the Salumi Mista is almost more popular choice than the Margherita among Compania's loyal Alpharetta clientele.

The pizzeria's year-long run as the area's only option for real Neapolitan-style pies is coming to an end; heavy hitter Antico will soon be opening a satellite location not far away. But based on the first-name-basis regulars that had the place packed on a Tuesday afternoon—not to mention the truly outstanding pizzas—I believe Campania will more than hold its own.

In fact, I'd wager that more than one person will tire of the crazy hype and wait times that the Giovanni Di Palma brand will inevitably bring, wander over to Campania instead, and never look back.

Just remember, "turn into the Autozone lot and back track." Then look for the coins and firearms shop. Trust me, it'll be okay. Like, way better than okay.