For Astarita, Maccarrone and manager-turned-managing-partner Alin Cruceanu, the move north comes with more than a change of address.
Gone is the wood-fired oven that used to make Neapolitan pizzas with “crackle and char, and the rim of dark bubbles that sets in the violent, smoky heat,” as former Atlanta Journal-Constitution dining critic John Kessler described in his February 2001 review. Installing live fire in 2023 is expensive; dealing with all the fire codes is a headache.
They now have a gas-fired oven with a lava rock on the bottom that turns dough made from a blend of soya, rice and whole wheat flour into trendy Roman pinsas.
The rectangular flatbreads still sport crackle and char and the rim of dark bubbles. There are four pinsas on the menu — Margherita, tri colori (red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, mozzarella and basil), prosciutto and diavolo. The Margherita, the queen of classic pizza toppings, was solid. The diavolo delivered delightful, mouth-warming heat from a combination of ‘nduja sausage, Calabrese salami and peppers, and smoked mozzarella.
The pinsas are the reason to visit Baraonda. Salads are a close second. Two decades later, they still get the two thumbs up Kessler gave them. A crisp Caesar was coated generously with an anchovy-forward dressing. And a shareable bowl of roasted cauliflower florets — tossed with arugula, roasted red and yellow peppers, pickled onions, fried capers and black olives — hit the mark for flavor, color and texture.
About two-thirds of the old menu has been ditched, but the eggplant polpette starter remains. You haven’t had Baraonda’s eggplant “meatballs”? Try this vegetarian delight, which brought five crisp, fried rounds in tomato sauce with dabs of pesto. When it comes to fried food, the eggplant was far crispier than an oil-drowned seafood fritto.
They’ve also kept the pappardelle lamb ragu and the filetto Sophia (seared beef tenderloin with Marsala cream sauce), but the pastas and entrees mostly were disappointments. Lobster ravioli, the only pasta made in-house, brought a generous, albeit very dry, filling and a gloppy cream sauce super-charged with sage. Rubbery South Carolina clams tossed in linguini stuck hard to the shells. Red chile flakes are not part of the dish’s menu description, but your taste buds will tell you that they should be.
At $42, a 14-ounce bone-in grilled veal chop is the most expensive item on the menu. Despite the presentation, the vitello was a letdown. The medium-rare meat lacked flavor, and the marsala sauce tasted more like balsamic vinegar.
The beverage menu is serviceable at best. A half-dozen Italian-minded cocktails tasted empty, including a low-proof Aperol spritz, and a potent, rye-based Borghese with apricot liqueur and house-made limoncello. Wine drinkers, however, will like the options for 6- and 9-ounce glasses, and the overpouring.
Baraonda’s patron base seems to be enjoying this new addition to a city whose dining options continue to expand. Even midweek, the place gets busy. Seats fill up in a main dining room that looks more like a cafeteria than a casual Italian restaurant. Folks gather at a U-shaped bar surrounded by lots of varied textiles, at a long community table off to the side that looks like a private wine room without walls, and at the high-tops next to a mural blasting the word “Vogue.” Are we in the age of Madonna circa 1990?
Don’t overthink it. Baraonda has moved and made some changes. A couple of pinsas, some salads and an overpour of vino, and you’ll go with the flow.
BARAONDA RISTORANTE & BAR
1 out of 4 stars (good)
Service: friendly, but timid and inexperienced
Noise level: above average on busy nights, due to loud music and high ceiling
Recommended dishes: eggplant polpette; Caesar salad; beef carpaccio; roasted cauliflower; pinsas (flatbreads), especially the Margherita and diavolo; mezzi rigatoni
Vegetarian dishes: bread service, olives, burrata, crostini, eggplant polpette, mista salad, arugula salad, roasted cauliflower, Margherita pinsa, tri colori pinsa, penne checca, mezzi rigatoni, sides
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $$$
Hours: 4:30-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays, 4:30-10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Parking: free lot with validation
Reservations: accepted online and via phone
Outdoor dining: patio
Takeout: online ordering available soon
Address, phone: 6075 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-282-4380
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