Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria

300 Marietta Street, N.W., Atlanta

There is a war going on in Atlanta. Somewhere, right now, a pizza – bubbled and blistered from 800-degree heat, cheese and tomatoes blanketing its creviced crust – is being drawn from the dark cave of a deck oven.

This sphere of cheese and dough has fueled the Atlanta pizza wars. All this year, pizzerias have been opening, closing and changing staffs. If there is one food story for the recession, it’s that, in Atlanta anyway, pizza is the “cake” of our very own little food revolution. Melted cheese and bubbled crusts go a long way in feeding and satisfying the masses.

And while all may be fair in love and war, when it comes to pizza, who’s baking the best pie seems to be the city’s latest foodie fight. Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria, newly opened in the Luckie Marietta District of downtown Atlanta, is one of many pizza joints to open amid this battle. From Bob Amick’s Concentrics Restaurants, this pizzeria stretches to mimic a New York-style joint, with New York native and chef Nick Oltarsh, formerly of Concentrics’ Room at Twelve, as executive chef.

I can’t say that the pizza here is going to win the war, but Max’s, as an overall experience, is loads of fun. A team of young bartenders and waiters seem like your cool, wish-you-saw-them-more-often family, and the pizzas, while not the perfectly blistered-crisp versions of their Northeastern cousins, are certainly better than average. The crust bubbles with doughy welts along the outer edge, but towards the center – which might be filled with anything from baked garlic and mozzarella to meaty meatballs – it gives way to issues of soft sogginess.

The calzones are quizzical, giant, oblong orbs that seem part baked and part fried, filled with mozzarella, ricotta and basil, with a side of sweet marinara. There are pastas, too, and the lasagna is served steaming hot and filled with sausage and ricotta, with a fresh, sweet tomato sauce – completely unremarkable in its otherwise remarkableness.

But little things make Max’s different: the waiters all have a Rasta ’tude, but with a hustle, able to tout the allure of Spanish wines while sharing the merits of their band’s latest video on YouTube.

They’ll sell you on the freshness of an insalata Caprese, and considering the easy-on-the-wallet price point at Max’s, you won’t believe them until a plate of huge, juicy, heirloom tomatoes arrives, sliced and stacked with fresh mozzarella and basil. It is, frankly, the best of its kind I’ve eaten in this city. This is a salad that cannot withstand the weight of an anemic tomato, and these sliced red beauties were worth swooning over.

The room is sparsely decorated, its focal point the much-touted, coal-burning oven toward the back of the room, outfitted in red brick. Wooden booths and a multi-textured wood wall couple with chalkboards that colorfully announce various flavors of house-made gelato, the sole dessert.

Frankly, after a huge salad, a bite or two of pie and some nibbles on a dish of lasagna, a scoop of well-made gelato is about all a person could want (pistachio and vanilla were the winning flavors).

As for winning the war, Max’s will have to settle for gaining good ground on a much-littered battlefield.

Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria, 300 Marietta Street, N.W., Atlanta

Overall rating:

Food: Pizza

Service: The servers set Max's apart from the pack

Price range: $ - $$

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express

Hours of operation: Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday from and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m Thursday through Saturday

Best dishes: Insalata Caprese, pizza Bianca, grande calzone, pistachio gelato.

Vegetarian selections and special dietary needs: Many salads, with dishes that could easily be served without meat

Children: Absolutely!

Parking: Parking garage offers a $5 fee with any purchase at Max's of $20 or more, or street parking

Reservations: Accepted

Wheelchair access: Yes

Smoking: No smoking

Noise level: Medium, with really good tunes

Patio: Yes

Takeout: Yes, with nearby local pizza delivery

Address, telephone: 300 Marietta Street, N.W., Atlanta, 404-974-2941

Web site:

Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.

Key to AJC ratings


Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.


One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.


A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.


Food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.

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