Baroni - Courtesy TFL
One of the worlds most famous chefs failed. Wolfgang Puck is arguably the world's first celebrity chef, and certainly the first to capitalize on his name and endorse a seemingly endless list of food and food products. But sometimes even the best strike out. Such was the case with the only outpost of Wolgang Puck Express in Atlanta, located in SoBuck. Woodfired pizzas, fresh tossed salads, and international sandwiches just did not seem to fit the SoBuck tastes and after several years, Puck finally retreated.

Fast forward months later and in comes a veteran of the Atlanta restaurant scene. The same group who operates Barondi, and Publik House in Midtown decided that where Wolfgang failed to succeed, they could do different. Up goes the paper on the windows; dust, construction, and crews follow, and then opens their newest concept - Baroni.
Baroni on Urbanspoon
Dining Room - TFL

While there was definitely something different, the place seemed eerily the same. It is as if the ghost of Puck would just not let go. The bar is in the same place. Check for the wood burning pizza oven. Check again for the minimilast decor, and European touches. Check for the pared down menu of wood fired pizzas, fresh prepared salads, and international sandwiches. Obviously the operators here thought Puck must have done something wrong other than the above mentioned similarities.

In one of our earliest review, we named Barondi the best and most authentic pizza in Atlanta. Several years later, we still stand behind this proclamation despite the influx of several strong contenders.

Replicating this format could not possibly fail. Or could it? (as of this publishing, no failure) On one of our first visits, the most delicious Italian bread was delivered table side. Olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and real parmesan cheese ensued and satiation was immediate.
Sorry Bread, no Fresh Pepper
Subsequent visits the bread morphed into poorly made pizza crust, and the pepper mill never materialized. We begin to think that Puck could have cursed this location for ever. But then we had the pizza. Thin, hot and with just the right amount of char - Baroni makes a mean pie. Fresh ingredients are evident with prosciutto sliced so thin, you could read the menu through it. Arrugula tasted young and fresh, and the olive oil was always top rate.
Yum - TFL
The Marghartia pizza was spot on most visits. The crust tended to be somewhat inconsistent, perhaps owing to temperature problems the entire restaurant had been experiencing. We will write that off as opening jitters, and move on.
Margharita Pizza - TFL
All things said, Baroni is a decent replication of the uber successful Barondi. Whether this concept will appeal to the Eugene loving SoBucks more than the Puck Express did will remain to be seen. This will certainly be a challenge, and there are few better operators in Atlanta. We wish Baroni the best, but will more than likely continue to visit Barondi when that Italian urge surfaces.
Chinese Pizza
Chinese Pizza, Courtesy of Helga's Lobster Stew/Flickr
Food wars are nothing new to the industry. Ever since the beginning of the modern restaurant, there have been competitive and often tragic battles over popularity, and whose food is the best. McDonalds and Burger King, Chili's and Applebees, ChicFilA and ... well nobody there yet. TFL recently opined on the saturation of burgers, and would now like to address the parallel universe - Pizza.

Calling Pizza ubiquitous would be a disservice. As the picture above shows, even in the deepest parts of Asia, Italy's food ambassador has made it's way. Here in our beloved city Atlanta, Pizza has become a flat out armeggedon. Of course we have a plethora of Dominoe's, Pizza Huts, and Papa Johns, but who outside of a university campus (age) truly enjoys these fast food renditions. We also have adult chains, California Pizza Kitchen and several others that offer grown up toppings fired in wood burning ovens. Recently, however, there has been a flood of entries into our favorite category, the independent operator.

The hype on Atlanta Pizza reached an ear deafening crescendo with Antico Pizza Napolitana. This place must have the most brilliant PR firm seizing on all things social media. APN has had over 400 people extole their opinions on Urban Spoon alone. Their pies are ridiculously expensive (20-28$) and must either be carried out, or consumed in the kitchen tables, or one communal table outfitted with those over achieving brown paper towels one usually finds in the rest area rest rooms. Their claim to fame is noteworthy; authentic wood fired ovens reaching over 800 deg F, ingredients sourced directly from Italy, and certification from Italy's most prestigious pizza authority. Their website is even in Italian with an Italian domain (.it). San Marzano tomatoes are supposedly used, and buffala mozzarella is brought in fresh from the motherland. And the Pizza? Certainly authentic. When TFL first visited, the pies were delicious and cooked to perfection. Subsequent visits have revealed the restaurant is eating it's own hype. Word on the street is the fresh imported buffala has been replaced by a frozen domestic product, and the pizzas have become soggy and seemingly undercooked. We guess when the line is out the door, customers eager to drop $25 on a pizza and some branded bottled from the N GA mountains, you better move the product through the kitchen as fast as possible.

In the past year, there has been many other notable entries into the pizza war:

Varasanos. This guy made pizza in his home oven for ten years before opening his first restaurant. Again authentic, but the overuse of fresh mozzarella creates a soggy pie.
Max's of Atlanta. This is from the conglamerate Concentrics. Coal Fired, unique for sure, and great for our downtown scene.
Hearth. This is brought to you from the team that created Azios to be a more family friendly place (read suburbia).
Maddios. Again another location created by fast casual phenoms behind Moe's Southwest Grill. A Good Pie, that is made fast and fresh right in front of you.

We at TFL, have had a favorite pizza place that has remained unchanged for the past 5+ years.... Baraonda. This place is run by an Italian husband, and a Dunwoody wife (insert your own punchline here). We believe this is the best and most authentic pizza in Atlanta. The crust is always charred just right, crispy on the crust, toothy in the center. The sauce is perfection, light enough to not overpower, balanced perfectly between sweet and acidic. While the cheese is not buffala, it is a well made product. The salads and sandwiches here are great, but the pizza is the star! This same owners have recently opened Publik attached to the Fox Theater, and will soon open Baroni in Wolfgang Puck's old Express location in SoBu (South Buckhead). If they continue to offer the simple, fresh, and authentic fare in the new places as they have done at Baraonda, then success will surely follow.

FYI: TFL judges all pizza restaurants by tasting the simple cheese pizza (usually referred to as Marghareita), and several of the house created combinations.  We feel this gives insight to the authenticity, while allowing the creativity of the individual operator to appear.