It’s a mild summer evening, and Neapolitan pizzeria Varuni Napoli is swarming with young families. Kids take turns climbing onto the shiny green moped parked near the restaurant’s glass-covered façade. Toddlers balance precariously on long benches flanking the distressed white tables. The children alternate between eating dinner and playing with the thick, illustrated “smorfia napoletana” cards that say things such as “il padre dei bambini” with a corresponding picture of a father reading to his son. Servers dodge kids and force smiles. The scene borders on chaos. At its center is the restaurant’s ever-charming chef and co-owner, Luca Varuni.
At Varuni Napoli, it’s easy to get swept up in the sleek and expansive space and forget you’re in Atlanta. You could imagine finding a similar restaurant almost anywhere in Europe. The restaurant’s modern industrial look includes an exposed brick wall, glossy poured concrete floors, stacked red cans of tomatoes, and hanging dried herbs. There’s a nice patio out back.
Varuni was a founding pizzaiolo at Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico Pizza Napoletana, and it’s easy to compare his new Morningside pizzeria to the Westside institution. Antico and Varuni Napoli are very different places, however, serving very different pizzas. Like Antico, Varuni Napoli offers a version of Naples-style pizza, which can range from dry to soupy, depending on the pizzaiolo’s style. There is no one true, authentic Neapolitan pizza. Not even in Naples. The most important element is flavor, and flavor is where Varuni’s pies falter. Although the Naples native sources the right ingredients, including doppio zero flour, and has beautiful Stefano Ferrara ovens, the pies buckle under Varuni’s kitchen-sink approach to pizza construction.
My family has been making the trek to Duluth most weekends for the dim sum at Best BBQ, but I broke the pattern and ate at another stall called Ping’s (the second one once you enter the food court). It’s a Taiwanese stall that makes many classics. The one to the left of it is sichuan and also looks interesting. This may be the best Chinese food court in atlanta. No, it is the best Chinese food court in Atlanta.
Ping’s has all the standards like a flattened and fried pork chop and noodles with black bean sauce. I saw a table all having the same soup plus some fried bread and I knew I had to try it. It just looked interesting. I asked one of the diners and she was kind enough to help me order it from the stall. The soup’s texture and flavors were very similar to a hot and sour soup although this had added dimension from beefy black mushrooms. Then the silken and salted tofu made it creamy and a more substantial meal. The abundance of green onion was also much appreciated as I can never get enough raw onion in this type of cooking. The medium sized bowl, which was a meal in itself, was only $2 and little Z ended up swiping it from me halfway through the meal and keeping it for herself. I also got some stir-fried noodles (L21) from Best BBQ because I couldn’t be right there and not eat them. Cheap, good, fast, and the added bonus of entertainment for the kids like live shrimp and a bunch of other live seafood in the seafood section. Another bonus is that they are open for breakfast so break out of your egg rut and have some soup while you shop for the week.
Great Wall Supermarket: 2300 Pleasant Hill Rd, Duluth, GA 30096. 678-957-0098.