Varuni Napoli piles on the charm and the toppings

posted on August 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

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.

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