Pizzas bake in one of the wood-fired pizza ovens at Ammazza. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: Henri Hollis
Photo: Henri Hollis

Review: Ammazza is back after devastating car crashes — pizza intact

Suppose a car rams your pizzeria at 65 miles per hour and you end up with an estimated half-million gallons of water under the restaurant. What then?

It took 22 months for the original Ammazza on Edgewood to recover from the structural calamity that began on June 10, 2017: a devastating car crash that ruptured a water main; followed by a second facade-ripping vehicular assault less than a month later.

But bounce back it did.

I’m jazzed to report Ammazza’s pie-making prowess survived the chaos, and the 100-year-old red-brick building in the Old Fourth Ward is more handsome than ever.

A Pesto Gorgonzola pizza comes out of the oven at Ammazza. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

In a city not unfamiliar with the specificity of Naples-style pizza ingredients (high-protein 0 or 00 flour; water-buffalo mozzarella; tomatoes grown south of Mount Vesuvius), owner Hugh Connerty and executive chef Sean Dwyer have garnered considerable credibility by crafting Neapolitan-inspired pizza from local ingredients. Nothing but the flour and Gorgonzola is imported from the mother country, Connerty tells me.

“Ammazza” is an Italian slang word for “wow!” In this case, I like to think it means “amazing.”

Certainly, you can taste the love and care that Ammazza puts into its pies, which are built on a thin crust that’s more chewy than crispy; pocked with charry blusters from the fire of a wood-burning oven; and strewn with house-made mozzarella and sauce; fresh tomatoes and basil; and cured meat products from the Spotted Trotter in Kirkwood.

This is the main dining room at Ammazza on Edgewood Avenue. The restaurant had to be rebuilt after two back-to-back catastrophes in 2017. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Over four meals, I’ve eaten terrific pizza at the newly resuscitated Ammazza on Edgewood. (A second location, in Decatur, opened in November, with Dwyer in charge of an identical menu, but it was not visited for this review.)

Still, I’ve seen the kitchen flub other fairly straightforward dishes, and while the service at the bar is warm and neighborly, ordering from the spiffy new front counter can be cumbersome and confusing. On the two occasions I arrived with guests, we were encouraged to purchase our food, then buy drinks at the bar in the adjacent dining room: a two-transaction process that requires more energy and credit-card swiping than I care to provide. I’ll take a one-stop, one-check experience on a bar stool any old day.

Ammazza’s Insalata di Basil is made with field greens, marinated artichokes, Kalamata olives, red bell peppers, tomatoes, goat cheese and a creamy basil dressing. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Consider starting with a basic Caesar (it’s solid) or the Insalata di Basil (even better). Presumably the house salad, the latter is a very pretty pile of greens, tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, Kalamatas, crumbled goat cheese, and the namesake ingredient: “creamy basil” dressing. A salad of orzo, zingy capers, basil, feta, bright roasted cherry tomatoes and red peppers tasted clean and fresh.

Alas, the Caprese was a flavorless bore, even though the bartender/server assured me the tomatoes were grown nearby. Someone in the kitchen forgot to include basil (nary a single leaf!), and though the much-ballyhooed house-made mozz does the trick when melted, it’s pretty blah when cold. When I mentioned to the server that my Caprese was basil-free, he took it off the check. Grazie mille for that.

Unlike the Caprese, the cacio e pepe — that simple amalgamation of spaghetti, butter, pecorino and cracked black pepper — wasn’t just OK. It was terrible. Poorly executed and marred by an off-tasting oiliness, it lacked the definitive cheesy-starchy binding and peppery goodness of this elemental dish. Forget that.

At Ammazza, polpette is a dish of house-made meatballs baked in tomato sauce with Parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

We did like the polpette, meatballs plopped in a little casserole and drowning in thick tomato sauce, Parm, mozz, and a veritable scoop of fluffy ricotta. (The first time we tried them, that is; on a second spin, they could have been warmer, and better seasoned.) Another safe bet is the “carne” version of spaghetti fritti, essentially noodles mixed with soppressata, bacon, cheese and cream; shaped into balls and fried. (There’s a veggie version of spaghetti fritti with mushrooms and caramelized onions, but hey, when in Rome. … )

Among the red pies, any option with meat will not disappoint, be it the Carne (pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon), the Bolognese (meatballs, Italian sausage, ricotta) or the Amarena, a truly lovely pizza with crumbles of Spotted Trotter’s black cherry sausage, sweet Peppadew peppers, and caramelized onions.

Oddly, the Margherita was a rather ho-hum affair with a thin layer of cheese and measly amount of basil. Some slices had not a single leaf. Is there a basil shortage I don’t know about? Of course not.

The pizzas at Ammazza on Edgewood Avenue include (clockwise from left) Amarena, Terra and Pesto Gorgonzola. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Two vegetarian pizzas I wholly endorse are the Terra, a white pie with sauteed wild mushrooms, goat cheese, truffle oil, mozzarella and basil, and the Pesto Gorgonzola, puddled with cheeses and pesto and topped with sliced fresh Roma tomatoes, baby spinach and fresh garlic.

Vegans and lactose-intolerant, take note: Ammazza recently rolled out a full-blown plant-based menu: eight vegan pies modeled off the menu staples. The main difference is the fake cheese, made with cashews. We savored our vegan Arrostito, sweet with caramelized onions, roasted garlic and roasted red peppers, and we look forward to exploring more vegan fare in the future.

Though the pizzas are mostly exceptional, other items aren’t so amazing. This includes cocktails.

While we had a knockout Manhattan and loved the Italian 75 (sparkling Lambrusco rather than Champagne), the Negroni was a fail. Thanks to the Cocchi Di Torino, all I could taste was tobacco and chocolate. Not what I want in my mouth with red sauce and cheese. Maybe go with a more neutral red vermouth for your house Negroni, unless a customer requests otherwise?

Apparently, Ammazza’s bar manager has a thing for intense flavors. Though the pizza parlor prides itself in its beer selection, it could use some lighter, easy-drinking brews, rather than the bananas foster stout, strawberry lager and other picks flavored with orange-vanilla, cinnamon-cocoa and cucumber. But all is not lost: A new beverage menu was just unveiled. This purist remains hopeful.

On the whole, it’s great to have Ammazza back in the swing, reborn from the bedlam. Some folks would have given up on the battered old building. But Connerty loved it and didn’t want to leave; his rebuilding efforts border on the heroic. And in a city with an increasingly sophisticated pizza palate, Ammazza’s pies are pretty wow.

AMMAZZA EDGEWOOD

Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)

Food: pizza influenced by Naples but made with local ingredients

Service: goofy at the counter; excellent at the bar

Best dishes: Insalata di Basil. Polpette (meatballs). Pizzas: Carne, Bolognese, Amarena, Terra, Pesto Gorgonzola, and Arrostito (vegan version).

Vegetarian selections: Salads. Pana di casa (cheese bread). Spaghetti fritti with veggies. Margherita, Arrostito, Cinque Formaggi and Terra pizzas. A new vegan menu features eight pizzas made with cashew cheese.

Price range: $$$

Credit cards: all major credit cards

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Saturdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays

Children: no problem

Parking: a few spots in front and plenty of free parking shared with Thumbs Up Diner just east of the building, on Edgewood Avenue

MARTA station: King Memorial

Reservations: encouraged for groups of 1o or more

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: moderate to loud when busy

Patio: yes

Takeout: Of course! It’s a pizza joint.

Address, phone: 591 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-835-2298

Website: ammazza.com

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