Since it opened in 2009, Antico Pizza Napoletana quickly became known—not only in Atlanta but all around world—for its authentic pies and no-nonsense atmosphere. Italy's own Festa Della Pizza, held annually in the birthplace of pizza, named Antico a Top in Class pizzeria. In honor of Pizza Week, Eater went to the man who started it all, Antico founder, owner and head pizza man Giovanni Di Palma, for the deets on local competition, the Fuoco controversy and what gives Antico that extra edge.
How and why did you decide to open a place like Antico in Atlanta? What was your inspiration?
Antico was inspired by the best of everything I took from my life/work experiences in New York and Naples, Italy, combined, as well as visits to other famous pizza spots. Also, I evaluated what, in my opinion, was wrong with the way pizza was being sold and most importantly the artisan craft being lost as well as the customer experience almost non-existent. I opened Antico personally to pursue my passion and that of my grandfather and hopefully make a living to provide and pay the rent for my family and creating something my son Johnny can be proud of. It was never about money for me and still isn't.
What's the most popular pie at Antico? Least popular?
San Gennaro will always be the pie people associate Antico with as being an incredible combination of flavors and my personal creation.The Diavola is also wildly addictive to spice lovers. The Marinara sells the least and ironically is most popular in Naples to Neapolitans. It's cheese-less and has anchovy fresh from Italy. This is the original Pizza of Naples before the Margherita. It was named after the fisherman or " mariner " who brought the tiny fish in from the Mediterranean.
Despite wild popularity, the menu at Antico is fairly limited. Have you considered adding salads, gluten-free or healthier items to the menu? Why or why not?
We are bakers. Salads would grind Antico to a halt and we would never be able to serve the amount of people we do. Antico has limited seating and offers a one-course meal that bakes in under 75 seconds. A salad would just change the entire flow and philosophy. Our pizza is healthy. If they make a gluten-free flour in Naples I'm comfortable with, I may consider it in the near future.
Numerous pizza places have been popping up around town. Are you worried about the competition?
If I was worried about alleged competitors Antico would not exist. There were over 800 Pizza places in Atlanta when I arrived. When you are now the " gold standard" in the market, the competition worries about you. Those who attempt to copy us only make us more popular really, and they find out quickly what we make look easy at Antico everyday is not at all. Really Antico is so unique and originally organic, that there is no replica of it anywhere in New York or Italy. However, there is a camaraderie to those who do it well and I'm known for lending a word of advice or sell some products when asked, to those who do.
The pizza at Antico is different from most of the others in Atlanta. What's your secret?
Nice try hahaha. Passionate, skilled people meet the highest quality, fresh products is the simple formula to our product. With a few Ancient secrets I learned in Italy that I simply cannot share. I have news for you: it's different than pizza anywhere in the USA. We just got the highest rating of any pizza spot in the country of 28 points from ZAGAT and we sell more pizza than any of the best Neapolitan places. Also, 2nd to only Bacchanalia for food in Atlanta is insane! We are incredibly thankful and very proud ! I cried when I got that news. Not sure if we deserved that we are just bakers in a warehouse with no service. But when I finished my cry, I rented the VIP room of Reign Nightclub an celebrated with all my staff, family and friends to a party that matched the award, a party that only the Gidewon family can host properly on short notice.Yeah Atlanta ..we beat the best of New York in Pizza? Be proud!
What's your take on the controversy surrounding Fuoco di Napoli lately?
Well we really can't comment except that was an obvious attempt to recreate that we have protected as proprietary. Building a homeade oven with local bricks and some other bizarre things that transpired there while apparently claiming to be affiliated with Antico was misleading to consumers. So we had no choice but to put a to cease to further confusion in the market and prevent further damage to the Antico Brand. I'm not a litigious person and hope that we can resolve it amicably.
Anything else we should know?
Antico expansion plans are full steam ahead. Look for openings soon in L.A (Hollywood) and Nashville on Music Row. I'm working on other domestic markets as well as over in Dubai. Locally we plan to open our Limoncello Bar, Caffe and Gelataria across the street in Piazza Antico [which is] currently being constructed. It will really add to the Italian cultural experience after enjoying our pizza. Piazza Antico will feature over 100 outdoor seats in an Italian neighborhood feeling and optional complimentary valet will be offered if you can't locate a parking spot.
Grazie Mille Atlanta for making us the highest rated pizza in the USA!!!! No matter how big Antico gets it all started here on Ethel & Hemphill , where I will always make pizza and hope my last pizza I ever make will be right here in Atlanta. The hands of my son Johnny [carry on] the family tradition for many years to come.
[Antico founder Giovanni Di Palma. Photo courtesy of Atlanta.]