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Meet the pizzaioli of Atlanta

Jeff Varasano stretches the dough for a Margherita pizza. He never tosses the dough, as it makes it tough. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Jeff Varasano stretches the dough for a Margherita pizza. He never tosses the dough, as it makes it tough. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Twelve Atlanta pizza-makers discuss their craft

While it is commonplace around the globe, pizza-making began hundreds of years ago in the narrow alleys of Naples, Italy. Pizzaioli (pizza makers) in Atlanta continue the tradition, with the same simple ingredients used in the past, cooked in ovens that are the heart of their pizzerias.

Jeff Varasano, Varasano’s Pizzeria

If it’s not too hectic, Jeff Varasano will make diners a four-flavors pizza tasting, walking guests through the history of pizza while creating flavor combinations that are earthy, citrusy, spicy, meaty or vegan. His natural sourdough starter ferments for 4 to 7 days, and his quest for the perfect pizza-making methodology made his recipe an online sensation. “I never would have opened the restaurant if not for that,” he said. His three-tiered Swedish oven produces a light, airy, crispy-yet-chewy Neapolitan crust, imbued with subtle smokiness, in less than 3 minutes. And, Sicilian or New York-style pies slide out with the same precision.

2171 Peachtree Road. NE, Atlanta. 404-352-8216, varasanos.com

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Alessio Lacco's pizza truck was the first to be certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Courtesy of Alessio Lacco

Credit: Handout

Alessio Lacco's pizza truck was the first to be certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Courtesy of Alessio Lacco

Credit: Handout

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Alessio Lacco's pizza truck was the first to be certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Courtesy of Alessio Lacco

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Alessio Lacco, the Atlanta Pizza Truck

“I’m very proud to be from Naples and bring this tradition to the States,” Alessio Lacco said. And he really brings it. His custom, Italian-built 900-degree wood-burning oven is attached to a vintage blue Piaggio Ape vehicle, and is the first mobile pizzeria certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Lacco studied under famed pizzaiolo Gaetano Esposito (grandson of Raffaele Esposito, who first created the Margherita pizza). “I stay true to authenticity,” Lacco said. “The right Italian flour, fresh yeast, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes from Italy and a 24-hour rise.” He makes Neapolitan pizzas with soft, foldable dough and house-made mozzarella in 90 seconds.

470-317-4992, theatlantapizzatruck.com

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Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza describes his New Jersey-style pie as "just plain old pizza." Courtesy of Anthony Spina

Credit: Handout

Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza describes his New Jersey-style pie as "just plain old pizza." Courtesy of Anthony Spina

Credit: Handout

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Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza describes his New Jersey-style pie as "just plain old pizza." Courtesy of Anthony Spina

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Anthony Spina, O4W Pizza

When asked what sets his New Jersey-style pizza apart, Anthony Spina said, “I don’t do anything special; it’s just plain old pizza.” Yet, metro area residents will drive miles for a pepperoni or a grandma pie. His slow-rise dough, with very little yeast, ferments for 36 to 48 hours, then gets stretched to fit a rectangular sheet pan, slicked with garlic butter and topped with dollops of Wisconsin mozzarella and fresh mozzarella made in-house. The grandma is crowned with marinara, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with pecorino Romano and baked. Then, it’s topped with fresh basil, just like he learned at his uncle’s pizza place when he was age 13. “There’s no room for error — you can’t rush it,” he said.

3117 Main St., Duluth. 678-587-5420, o4wpizza.com

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The best "quality, consistency and culture" is what Luca Varuni said he's striving for at his Varuni Napoli restaurants. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

The best "quality, consistency and culture" is what Luca Varuni said he's striving for at his Varuni Napoli restaurants. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

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The best "quality, consistency and culture" is what Luca Varuni said he's striving for at his Varuni Napoli restaurants. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Luca Varuni, Varuni Napoli

The light blue to-go boxes manufactured especially for Varuni Napoli are emblematic of the love that chef Luca Varuni puts into his pizzas. What is important, he said, is “quality, consistency and culture.” He uses imported 00 flour, filtered water and his fresh yeast “madre,” which he has been cultivating since opening his flagship Midtown location in 2014. The native of Naples tops his dough with San Marzano tomatoes, imported mozzarella di bufala and extra-virgin olive oil. He cooks in two brick ovens made in Naples. He said the ovens’ blue color was inspired by the SSC Napoli professional soccer club jersey, as well as his wife’s eyes.

1540 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-709-2690; and 99 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-500-5550, varuni.us

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Giovanni Di Palma opened Antico Pizza in 2009, and since has established a group of businesses that he calls Little Italia. Courtesy of Giovanni Di Palma

Credit: Handout

Giovanni Di Palma opened Antico Pizza in 2009, and since has established a group of businesses that he calls Little Italia. Courtesy of Giovanni Di Palma

Credit: Handout

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Giovanni Di Palma opened Antico Pizza in 2009, and since has established a group of businesses that he calls Little Italia. Courtesy of Giovanni Di Palma

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Giovanni Di Palma, Antico Pizza Napoletana

Since opening Antico in 2009, Giovanni Di Palma has established a group of businesses that he calls Little Italia. The New York native, who cranks out 700 to 1,000 pizzas a day, trained in Naples. “That’s where science and art came together for me,” he said. He has three imported Acunto ovens that were built by hand with bricks that retain the high heat needed for a quickly cooked, consistently charred crust. He uses imported flour and puts three cheeses on each crust. “It’s that scent out of the oven, the cheese plus dough,” he said. “That’s what makes Antico different.”

Multiple locations. littleitalia.com

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Massimo Andreozzi opened Vesuvio Pizzeria Napoletana in January, after spending 24 years learning the best techniques for making pizza. Courtesy of Massimo Andreozzi

Credit: Handout

Massimo Andreozzi opened Vesuvio Pizzeria Napoletana in January, after spending 24 years learning the best techniques for making pizza. Courtesy of Massimo Andreozzi

Credit: Handout

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Massimo Andreozzi opened Vesuvio Pizzeria Napoletana in January, after spending 24 years learning the best techniques for making pizza. Courtesy of Massimo Andreozzi

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Massimo Andreozzi, Vesuvio Pizzeria Napoletana

At age 20, Massimo Andreozzi began learning the craft of Neapolitan pizza in Naples. And, 24 years later, he opened his own pizzeria, bringing with him techniques honed after a decade in Italy, then Spain, Miami and Atlanta. His blue-and-white tiled Manna oven, made from volcanic Italian bricks, maintains a constant 900 degrees, in order to make the crunchy, yet soft, charred crust in just 90 seconds. Any topping that’s not house-made or garden fresh comes directly from Italy, including flour, San Marzano tomatoes, Parmesan, salami, prosciutto and large cherry tomatoes grown in the soil of Mount Vesuvius.

2893 N. Main St., Kennesaw. 770-702-8168, vesuviokennesaw.com

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Brothers Daniele and Ambrogio Florio worked in many pizzerias in their native Naples before opening Sapori di Napoli in Decatur. Courtesy of Daniele Florio

Credit: Handout

Brothers Daniele and Ambrogio Florio worked in many pizzerias in their native Naples before opening Sapori di Napoli in Decatur. Courtesy of Daniele Florio

Credit: Handout

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Brothers Daniele and Ambrogio Florio worked in many pizzerias in their native Naples before opening Sapori di Napoli in Decatur. Courtesy of Daniele Florio

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Daniele Florio and Ambrogio Florio, Sapori di Napoli

Brothers Daniele and Ambrogio Florio of Sapori di Napoli trained in many pizzerias in their hometown of Naples. When a Margherita pizza comes out of their Acunto oven, Daniele said, “you can taste the sweetness of our tomatoes and the freshness of our bufala mozzarella, with a touch of char from the wood-burning oven.” Imported Caputo flour helps the fermented, hand-stretched dough withstand the high heat of the domed oven. The brothers are quick to mention pizzaiolo William Blackborough, who has been with them since they opened in 2011. “He’s a very big part of our success,” Daniele said.

314 Church St., Decatur. 404-271-0001, saporidinapolipizzeria.com

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Michael Bologna taught at the Culinary Institute of America and became director of the culinary school at Chattahoochee Tech before opening Vingenzo's in Woodstock. Courtesy of Michael Bologna

Credit: Handout

Michael Bologna taught at the Culinary Institute of America and became director of the culinary school at Chattahoochee Tech before opening Vingenzo's in Woodstock. Courtesy of Michael Bologna

Credit: Handout

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Michael Bologna taught at the Culinary Institute of America and became director of the culinary school at Chattahoochee Tech before opening Vingenzo's in Woodstock. Courtesy of Michael Bologna

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Michael Bologna, Vingenzo’s

The savory, crisp crust of New York native Michael Bologna’s pizza comes from his pâte fermentée, older fermented dough added to the final dough, which gives it a depth of flavor and improved texture. The self-described “perfection fanatic” trained at the Culinary Institute of America, then traveled to Italy to learn from pizzaioli there. He not only sources flour, San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, salt and mozzarella di bufala from Italy, he also watches pH levels in the water used (which he also imports from Italy). Other cheeses and sausage are made in-house. His tiled, wood-burning, Italian-designed ovens were built to deliver pizzas at 825 degrees in 90 seconds, just like in Italy.

105 E. Main St., Woodstock. 770-924-9133, vingenzos.net

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Greg Grant and Stephen de Haan spent a month in Italy training before opening Amalfi in downtown Atlanta. Courtesy of Greg Grant

Credit: Handout

Greg Grant and Stephen de Haan spent a month in Italy training before opening Amalfi in downtown Atlanta. Courtesy of Greg Grant

Credit: Handout

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Greg Grant and Stephen de Haan spent a month in Italy training before opening Amalfi in downtown Atlanta. Courtesy of Greg Grant

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Greg Grant and Stephen de Haan, Amalfi Pizzeria

Greg Grant and Stephen de Haan spent a month in Naples, and along the Amalfi Coast, training by day and working apprenticeships with top pizzaioli by night. “We wanted to bring the love, culture and the art form of technique they put into their food to Atlanta,” Grant said. Their two imported Stefano Ferraro ovens — built of clay from Mount Vesuvius and each weighing 6,000-pounds — were dropped into the kitchen of their circa-1911 building in downtown Atlanta by crane. Their dough ferments 48 hours for added flavor.

17 Andrew Young International Blvd. NE, Atlanta. 404-228-7528; also 3242 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta. 678-993-0903, amalfiatl.com

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Naples native Biagio Schiano “Gino” Moriello shows off one of his New York-style pizzas at Taste of Italy. Courtesy of Biagio Schiano Moriello

Credit: Handout

Naples native Biagio Schiano “Gino” Moriello shows off one of his New York-style pizzas at Taste of Italy. Courtesy of Biagio Schiano Moriello

Credit: Handout

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Naples native Biagio Schiano “Gino” Moriello shows off one of his New York-style pizzas at Taste of Italy. Courtesy of Biagio Schiano Moriello

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Biagio Schiano Moriello, Taste of Italy

Many of Biagio Schiano “Gino” Moriello’s pizza-making skills were learned from family in his birthplace of Naples; his chef father, who worked in Brooklyn restaurants; and his cousin from New York, who taught him after he moved to North Carolina. Moriello makes both New York-style thin crust and softer crust Sicilian-style pizzas in gas ovens. His signature is a New York-Sicilian hybrid square bruschetta pie that has a slightly thinner crust than traditional Sicilian, and is topped with imported San Marzano tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil.

8265 Ga. 92, Woodstock. 770-928-3764, tasteofitalyga.com

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