It’s the most sparkly, bell-ringing time of the year, but I’ve got some dark prophecy to deliver. Thanks to the advent of e-commerce and easy shipping, mall culture is dying, y’all. This occurred to me when I drove to Phipps Plaza to buy a pair of jeans the other day, only to realize that Belk’s had vanished over the summer.
Thank goodness for pizza (and plentiful parking).
In an ironic reversal of fortune, the cheap, populist pies many people associate with cardboard delivery boxes have gone luxe. It’s not that thin, charry-bottomed, minimalist beauties of Neapolitan provenance are anything new to sophisticated, slice-loving Atlanta. But only Phipps Plaza can boast a parlor that traces its lineage to a James Beard Award winner.
That would be Genuine Pizza, from South Florida chef Michael Schwartz, whom the Beard Foundation anointed Best Chef: South in 2010 and whose Miami flagship, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, has spawned an empire.
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So if your quest for Gucci realness leaves you feeling peckish, you can get a bite to eat at Phipps without breaking your Tiffany piggy bank.
It would be disingenuous of me, however, to tell you that Genuine Pizza, which opened about a year ago, is the genuine article. In truth, service can be confusing, cocktails lack finesse, and you may find yourself forking into an entree that is borderline unacceptable.
Most heartbreaking: The pizza menu — from classic red-sauce-splattered pies (Margherita; pepperoni; Italian sausage) to fancy white pizzas (short rib; kale; rock shrimp) — is jarringly uneven.
A starter of meatballs in red sauce, with toasted focaccia on the side for sopping, packed mom-and-pop appeal but had an uptown price tag ($8 for two meatballs, $14 for four). Red-pepper cheese dip, redolent of smoke and manchego, was over-whipped, thus a bit thin for scooping on focaccia.
Of the three cocktails we sampled, The Doctor (Cold River Gin, apple juice, Monday Night Brewing’s Dr. Robot Sour Ale) was the most delicious, inventive and seasonal. A traditional margarita was overly sour. The Bulletproof Manhattan was hardly noteworthy — until the end, when I plucked the wonderful, whiskey-doused candied cherry off its rosemary skewer. The wine list, for the record, is pedestrian, and there’s zero beer on tap, though the restaurant does a fair job of stocking local bottles from Red Hare, SweetWater, Wild Heaven and others.
On to salads: Both the Caesar and the Harry’s Chopped made for a fine pizza prelude. The Caesar was a bit on the petite side: fashioned from crisp, chewy escarole (no romaine!); gently massaged with lemon, olive oil and Parmesan; and decorated with anchovies. The chopped was a nicely munchy old-school bowl of iceberg and all the usual veggies, plus white beans, farro, Auribella cheese, and kalamatas, all tossed in a creamy lemon dressing. Safe, solid. A dish of warm Brussels sprouts with burrata, sliced pears and pistachios was a star, and substantial enough to pass as a side.
On that early Sunday afternoon when I stopped by Phipps for a pair of jeans, I was in the mood for something to fill them: an actual meal, not pizza. Curiously, the kitchen was out of the roasted chicken, the skirt steak and even that red-pepper cheese dip. It was pizza or nothing.
The short rib, with Gruyere, caramelized onion and a lovely scattering of arugula, was noticeably better than the uninspired rock shrimp (with roasted lemon, manchego, cilantro, scallions) and the classic Margherita (tomato, basil and mozzarella) I tried on my first visit. Then, on my final stop, my friend ordered the kale pizza, and it was well-nigh perfect: an impeccably seasoned, almost meaty-tasting marriage of greens and caramelized onion, fontina, Parm. So good.
Alas, the oven-roasted half-chicken was both noticeably dry and, when you popped the leg from the thigh, noticeably pink. It was also a bit tardy to the party: As our meal was winding down, we had to flag the server about the missing dish. So sorry, she said. Apparently the kitchen was out of an ingredient. “The manager will take care of it,” she assured us. Meaning “take it off the bill,” one would presume. As it turned out, the holdup was minor: The accompanying salad of oranges, radish and red onion was made with chopped fennel, rather than sliced. (Who cares?) The $19 entree ended up on our check, the manager was dispatched, and the onus was on us to extract ourselves from a welter of poor communication. Awkward. In the end, we were not charged for the bird. But still.
Genuine Pizza is about as satisfying as obligatory gift-giving. If getting a bite is on your list, it will suffice. Just don’t expect it to fill you with comfort and joy.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Phipps Plaza, 3500 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta. 470-481-3883, genuinepizza.com.
Recommended: The Doctor cocktail. Meatballs. Warm Brussels sprouts and burrata. Kale pizza. Short-rib pizza.
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