Walking into Don Antonio by Starita, I didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit apprehensive. “What does a born and raised Southern girl know about authentic Neapolitan pizza? Especially specific to a particular region – Naples in this case.” Well, I know good food, fresh ingredients and can recognize passion for one’s own product, which I couldn’t wait to become witness of, so I figure I qualify, even if just barely.
At Don Antonio by Starita in Buckhead, you walk through a large wooden door on the side of the subtle location and round the corner to a simple but comfortable bar area, taking second place to the pizza bar in the back with a beautiful granite countertop. This spot is where the mouth-watering pizzas, dough balls and Nutella dishes I was about to experience are constructed. And by the grandeur of this lone counter, it’s obvious who the star is in this restaurant – the menu and its ingredients.
Everything about Don Antonio by Starita is, well, not simple, because it’s phenomenal. But it’s not complicated. The architecture, the decor, the interior window overlooking the homemade mozzarella balls being twirled and pinched, and dropped into water to keep; the fresh ingredients splayed along the prep bar, the cans of Italian tomato sauce lined across in front, and the lone Nutella jar between them all. It’s in this space that I can only imagine what it will be like on a full night where guests are ordering pizza after pizza, then the signature angioletti topped with that creamy chocolate hazelnut spread. I imagine it to be a chaotic ballet – where every move consciously evades running into the next or something going awry while at the same time knowing the perfect steps to signal to each other when are where each are headed.
We sampled endless options from the menu, it’s difficult to decide where to begin. How about the specialty – Montanara Starita – the lightly fried pizza created by Starita himself . Words can’t describe the look on my husband’s face when he took his first bite. “Great, this has ruined my life for pizza now,” he said with exasperation. “We’ll come back here for date night soon.” Jackpot! The dough is delicately flash fried, topped, then finished in the wood-burning oven. There was a delicious smokey flavor that came from a combination of the imported smoked buffalo mozzarella that graced the top of the creation and the wood that rested under it.
The first dish we had, though, proved so many places have it wrong when it comes to those “dreadful” carbs. Montanarine, or fried dough puffs. A skinny girl would shy away because, “Oh no, I don’t eat fried food or carbs,” (yes, these types of girls DO exist in the South) but that would be fine with me. More for me! The dough is soft and light, it’s almost as if it melts in your mouth with each heavenly bite. They’re simply flash-fried, so it’s just the right amount of “crust.” One was topped with onion and pancetta, the other a simple tomato sauce and a tiny basil leaf. TO. DIE. FOR.
We sampled veggie pizzas, white pizzas with olive oil, mozzarella, one with mushrooms and truffle cream. We also indulged in pizzas topped with prosciutto, another with Italian sausage, some meatless, but plenty to satisfy the meat-loving Southern man who “has to have his meat.”
Don Antonio’s even has their version of what we like here in the South, Fritattine or fried mac-n-cheese balls. They’re again lightly fried, filled with spaghetti and bits of pancetta, which in essence holds a strong resemblance to bacon. Aka the way to a Southerner’s heart. Put bacon on something and you’ve captivated every man who walks our land!
One of the most surreal parts of the night, though? The dishes that Starita served us himself. I mean, he’s served Pope John Paul II for crying out loud, and is still concerned about the everyday people eating his food. As I was taking the first bite of a pizza he brought me, he walked in view and watched, with a longing look on his face. I caught his eye, gave him a thumbs up. He smiled real big and gave me a thumbs up back. Yea, we had a moment.
It was also impressive to watch Caporuscio take on all hats of the night. He prepared, he served, he bar tended, he bussed. He had no qualms about doing whatever needed to be done, and did not expect his waitstaff to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. Refreshing to see a lack of pretense in these men’s attitudes.
Well my new Italian friends (okay, maybe we’re not quite THAT close… yet), I’m very glad you “just did.” I can’t stop salivating at the thought of delving into even more of your menu.
Check it out my Atlanta folk. I dare you to ruin your love for “pizza” as we know it in the South.
[box style=”rounded” border=”full” icon=”none”]Shelby holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and History from Georgia State University. She has written for several publications ranging in topics from home improvement to decor, from health to beauty. But where Shelby has truly found her passion is in embracing different cuisines and cultures, engaging readers in a unique view on the wonders of food, language and culture. This especially applies to any Italian ones, as any world that has a pure love for quality ingredients and regular doses of pasta is what she may refer to as favoloso![/box]