By Joe Duffy
My most repeated gastronomic maxim regarding local dining is that no cuisine has skyrocketed in both quality and quantity in the AlphaRoz megalopolis more than pizza.
Tesla didn’t go from zero to 60 as rapidly as pizza options. Kudos to intown dining master Giovanni Di Palma, who introduced world-class Neapolitan pizza at Antico Pizza Napoletana, a stone’s throw from Georgia Tech. He took his second location to Alpharetta’s Avalon, but he is not the first to consign this wondrous cuisine to the immediate area.
That distinction belongs to Campania. Occupying 800 N. Main Street, they are about a mile from the downtown Alpharetta’s ever-developing hotbed. Credit pizzaiola master and Naples, Italy native Stefano Rea for putting Campania on the map. He long ago delved into other opportunities, but Campania remains highly atop the list of estimable restaurants.
Campania uses the prerequisite “00” flour and San Marzano tomatoes heated up at nearly one-thousand degrees for 60 seconds in their imported brick oven. Having traded notes with fellow food snobs over the years about this local jewel, the only thing devotees can’t seem to agree on is which is their supreme pizza. My nominee is probably the salumi mista with pomodoro, Italian sausage, Calabrese salami, Fior-di-Latte mozzarella, fontina, and fresh basil. But then again, I’m a big, fat carnivore, so why wouldn’t it? The white pizza tartufo is also striking.
One could contend that the original Antico remains the emperor of said method of cooking pizza. What makes Campania distinctive from Antico and many other similar meritorious architects of brick oven pie is that Campania has a noteworthy entree menu as well.
In fact, my absolute favorite item is their veal meatballs. True, some days they are even more tender than others. When on-point, these are some of the tastiest balls of ground meat you will ever gourmandize. I clamor for them as an appetizer. Previously served with pizza dough flatbread as an accompaniment, they now serve it with their own rosetta bread. Frankly, the switchover was to reserve space in the oven for pizza, but both breads are impressive. One can also order the veal balls in a panini.
No term is abused in the foodie underground more than “authentic.” Paninis are pressed sandwiches generally on ciabatta, baguette, or michetta bread. Some might asseverate that a wrap, roll, or something else would be a more precise moniker as the balls are ensconced in the house-made pizza dough flatbread. Authentic schmentic. Whatever you want to call them, the veal meatballs, be it as a sandwich or appetizer, will decidedly call your name.
Campania has recently improved their social media presence. This resonates well with my wife because she is the quintessential chicken parmesan enthusiast. She says being married to me is the two best years of her life. That’s all well and good, but we’ve been married for 20 years plus two years of courtship.
Over that time, this script has been eventuated innumerable times. “How is your chicken parmesan?” I inquire. She responds with a circumspect, “It’s good. Try some.” Thus, I do. Suffice to say, I’ve savored bountiful amounts of the aforesaid dish in multifarious locations. Not on their regular menu, the pollo alla parmigiana at Campania is among both of our favorites.
There are seven pasta dishes on the menu, replete with homemade sauces. Obviously, any pizza joint will be vegetarian friendly, but there is also an outstanding tortellini alfredo or basic spaghetti al burro (with butter).
There are roughly 30 or so white and red wine selections. The truth remains I’m more of a beer than vino guy. I’m jubilant to inspect an evolving inventory with an amiable coalition of local beers such as Jekyll Hop Dang Diggity IPA from just a few miles down the road to some of the most respected craft offerings from around the country such as Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Goose Island’s 312 Wheat Ale.
Very possibly the first and certainly among best options for Neapolitan pizza in the northern suburbs is Vingenzo’s in the heart of downtown Woodstock. (More on Vingenzo’s in a future column.) Everything I’d say about Vingenzo’s is genuine about Campania. Both were pioneers in this cuisine in their respective vicinity, each remaining among the elite today. Foremost, both menus go well beyond the confines of first-rate pizza.
Chef/owner Jasmin Willis puts out the best homemade biscuits in the area at sensational newcomer Gracious Plenty on Canton Street in downtown Roswell. Initially I sampled their biscuits at Alive After 5. This time I went with the biscuits and gravy, being I’ve been a southern boy for 30+ years now. For those of you Yankees and other heathens who are terrified of sausage gravy, that’s okay. The gravy is very good, but the biscuits are the star of the show. At AA5, she has some jellies and preserves, though not made in-house, they are from a local purveyor. Also, the blueberry muffin is lighter and fluffier than most I’ve had—a bit different, certainly in a good way. They’d even like these babies in Hammonton, NJ, the undisputed blueberry capital of the world. ❍