Change is a big challenge for all of us, but it's particularly hard for an established restaurant that's earned a strong reputation. That's true for Fritti, Riccardo Ullio's pizza palace in Inman Park, next door to his show-stopping Sotto Sotto. If you've eaten at Fritti in the past, you'll want to have another taste.
Fritti's new take on things round and doughy has to do with Ullio hiring — fresh off the plane from Torre Annunziata, right outside Naples — a new pizzaiolo, Enrico Liberato. What's a pizzaiolo? Basically, it's a guy who makes pizza (not to be confused with the tomato sauce for meat of the same name).
But Ullio and Liberato are not just any restaurateur and pizza maker. Heed the words of Anna Del Conte in her 2001 book "Gastronomy of Italy": "A good pizza is not simple food, and it is not easy to make. It needs the hands of the Neapolitan pizzaiolo ... and the heat of a wood-fired oven."
Ullio has both.
Liberato takes great pride in his pizza, making the rounds to tables each night — even though he barely speaks three words of English. "I'm trying to find him a girlfriend," Ullio quipped as he poured guests a gratis shot of limoncello.
Certified as "authentic Neapolitan pizza" by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, Fritti's features dough made with Caputo 00 "blue" flour — a finely milled flour made from wheat (imported from Italy) that is softer (has less protein) and doesn't absorb moisture or water as readily as flours milled in the United States.
It's the perfect flour for making pizza dough, and Liberato has been doing just that since he was a kid. His dough is magically soft, but never chewy, and the crust has an ethereal crispness that stops just this side of crunchy.
The pizzas are made in the traditional Italian style that gives just enough for a person to share a slice if she had to — about a 12-inch diameter, according to Ullio. Believe me, you won't want to.
To have the most fun you can at Fritti, go with a group and order a round of hot, gooey-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside arancini, fried Sicilian risotto balls, here filled with tangy sausage. And spring for an arugula salad with tart lemon and olive oil, crowned with shards of Parmigiano Reggiano. There is an array of secondi — entrees — from which to choose now, too.
But honestly, it's the pizza that's the party here: traditional margherita with San Marzano tomatoes and super fresh bufala mozzarella, which melts like butter into the top of the pizza, making pools of white all over the beautiful red sauce. Or stracchinella, made with stracchino cheese and Italian sausage. Or carciofi — artichokes — and black olives.
Stay long enough and Liberato or Ullio will eventually make the rounds, offering (gratis) some of Liberato's other wonder of the world: his house-made limoncello, made from his grandmother's recipe (his orangecello, made from oranges, is too bitter).
Share a dessert of silky panna cotta or Sicilian-style ricotta cheesecake with poached figs and apricots that's reminiscent of cassata, the Sicilian cake layered with dried fruit.
Sit. Sip. Linger on the restaurant's ample, open patio. Life is too short not to eat good pizza.
Food: Pizza, with other Italian flourishes
Service: Upbeat and fun
Price range: $-$$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Hours of operation: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Dinner: 5:30-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30 p.m.-midnight Fridays, 4 p.m.-midnight Saturdays, 4-10 p.m. Sundays.
Best dishes: Pizza Regina Margherita, quattro formaggi, strachinella, arancini, cheesecake, fried mushrooms
Vegetarian selections: Many pizza selections and salads
Children: Heck yeah!
Parking: Complimentary valet or on-street
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Medium
Address, telephone: 309 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. 404-880-9559
Web site: www.sottosottorestaurant.com
KEY TO RATINGS
Outstanding: Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
Excellent: One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Very good: Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
Good: A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit or miss.
Fair: The food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
PRICING CODE: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. (The price code represents a meal for one that includes appetizer, entree and dessert without including tax, tip and cocktails.)
Enrico Liberato prepares the pizza dough at Fritti. He also makes limoncello from his grandmother's recipe." /> Fritti " data-src="/rf/image_lowres//Pub/p0/AccessAtlanta/2009/03/24/Images/photos.medleyphoto.2222910.jpg?uuid=07Ll1f4mTbqEIn_Yd_HgBA" data-sub-html="
Pizza with artichoke and olives." /> Fritti " data-src="/rf/image_lowres//Pub/p0/AccessAtlanta/2009/03/24/Images/photos.medleyphoto.2222912.jpg?uuid=nRayFZIZSFy814GM_yC7MA" data-sub-html="
The silky panna cotta is a mainstay of the dessert menu at Fritti in Inman Park." /> Fritti " data-src="/rf/image_lowres//Pub/p0/AccessAtlanta/2009/03/24/Images/photos.medleyphoto.2222914.jpg?uuid=8FN1kZU0S5ubRKyqo069pw" data-sub-html="
Enrico Liberato, the new pizza maker at Fritti, comes from near Naples in Italy." />