When Ammazza opened in September 2012 in the Old Fourth Ward, the fast-casual pizza concept quickly gained a neighborhood following and spawned a lively late night bar scene.
But beginning in June 2017, a series of unfortunate events — including two different vehicles crashing into the front of the building, a busted water main, and flooding that caused extensive damage — shuttered the restaurant, and kept it closed.
Owner Hugh Connerty has been working on a second location in Decatur since 2016. But a new set of problems beset that project, as the city worked on water, sewer and street improvements around the building on East Howard Avenue, across from Kimball House.
Finally, though, Ammazza Decatur soft-opened in November 2018. The build-out has some similarities to the original O4W Ammazza design, with exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood and metal fixtures and furnishings, and concrete floors. The open pizza kitchen displays a pair of Acunto wood-fired brick ovens. And there’s a large outdoor space in back that will open when the weather warms up.
Executive chef Sean Dwyer has been tweaking a menu that includes house-made pastas and desserts. And beverage director and general manager Daniel Bridges has been pulling together the bar program, which features some 30 beers, plus wines by the glass or bottle, and eight house cocktails.
As always, hybrid Neapolitan-meet-New York-style pizzas are the focus, with some 15 different pies on offer, from a simple Margherita to the Vegan Piccante with house-made cashew “cheese.”
The Ammazza formula starts with dough made from Caputo 00 flour and fermented and proofed over three days, before it’s tossed, topped and finished in the 900-degree ovens. Fresh mozzarella made daily in the kitchen, vegetables from regional farms, and meats sourced from the Spotted Trotter in Kirkwood are pointed to with pride on the back of the menu.
Recently, during a tour of Ammazza Decatur, Connerty, Dwyer and Bridges talked about the new restaurant, and the food and drink.
“I like this space. It’s much smaller, and much cozier,” Connerty said. “It doesn’t take too many people to fill it up inside. We had a few more setbacks with things like our liquor license, so it feels like we’ve only been up and running normally for a few weeks. And we only put the pasta on the menu about two weeks ago.
“The menu is similar to Old Fourth Ward, but we took off a few items that didn’t sell. And we added a few things, like the crispy Brussels sprouts, and a couple of different pizzas, including the Arrostito, which is a sauceless pizza. The pastas are new, and so are a couple of desserts.”
Connerty noted that while he’s worked in the restaurant business most of his life, pizza is the core of what Ammazza does.
“I grew up in restaurants, but I guess I’ve worked with pizza for almost 10 years,” he said. “I was originally working with Antico before Ammazza. The difference here is that we try to source locally when we can, and we still do everything in-house that we can, including our dough and sauce and pulling our fresh mozzarella every day.”
For his part, Dwyer said he was really excited about getting more experience in pasta-making.
“I’d made pasta before, but I hadn’t worked with an extruder,” he said. “I’d done hand-rolled pasta, which is another process. But this is fresh pasta with an extruder made with Semolina flour and eggs. The fettuccine I just made came directly out of the extruder and into the pasta cooker, so it’s pretty fun to do that.
“But since I’ve worked here, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been blown away by the quality of the products we use. I wasn’t too familiar with cooking with wood fire, but for me, that’s really the most fun. There’s something primal about it, it’s so hands-on.”
As far as the beverage program, Bridges said he’s sticking with a simple approach.
“We’re focusing on Italian liqueurs, amaro, and things like that,” he said. “I like to keep my cocktails pretty simple, just use fresh ingredients, and let the spirits speak for themselves. But we definitely sell a lot of beer and wine. We change up the draft list almost daily. We try to stay local and regional with beer, and we have Italian wines.”
314 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-963-7997, ammazza.com/ammazza-decatur.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Ammazza Decatur
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