First up, Neapolitan pizza is quite different from the perhaps more familiar New York style pie.
For starters, Neapolitan pies are cooked in wood-fired ovens only. The bits of smoky char on the crust add to the pie’s texture and flavor.
And the toppings, both singly and in combination, are much more Old World Italian than Italian American, with less emphasis on meat-heavy pies dripping with oil, or gimmicky ingredients like ham or (gasp!) pineapple.
The second thing is that this brand new eatery in Milton delivers an authentic Neapolitan pizza that ranks with the metro’s best of that genre, and at a much better price.
Bonus information is that 850ºF Barpizza, named for the pizzas’ cooking temp, has a true Neapolitan pizzaiolo and chef at the helm. Italian-born Stefano Rea is certified as a professional after completing a regimen of tests given by the Naples-based organization that promotes the culinary art and tradition of the genuine article.
In his brief stint at Campania in Alpharetta, Rea became somewhat of a rock star among die-hard pizzaphiles for bringing the real deal to north Fulton.
But a few months back, Rea left Campania to join forces with two Roswell residents, Glenn Griffith and Nick D’Argenzo, who were planning to open a pizzeria in Midtown.
When that location fell through, they settled on the former Erwin’s space in Crabapple, which was already equipped with a wood-burning oven.
“Our concept changed when he came aboard,” Griffith said of Rea. “He has taken it to a whole different level.”
Meaning instead of just great pizza, 850ºF Barpizza also offers several excellent pastas, salads, starters and specials of the day, all based on recipes handed down from Rea’s grandfather, a Naples native who proudly served his regional cuisine in his restaurant in Rome.
In three visits, I’ve had the classic cheesy Margherita pie; a spicy Calabrese with cow’s milk mozzarella, salami and chilis; and a pie called Spacca Napoli, made with buffalo milk mozzarella, caramelized onions, sausage and peppadew peppers.
All were superlative, a result of the impeccable quality of ingredients as well as the skill involved in the pies’ creation and execution.
Rea utilizes only San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy in his cooking because they strike the perfect balance between sweet and acidic.
For his pizzas, he hand squeezes excess moisture from the tomatoes to prevent the toppings from being too watery.
Those tomatoes also are the star of his basic marinara, a hearty brew that is tweaked with additional ingredients for various dishes such a luscious mussels pomodoro or a pasta dish with pecorino cheese and house-made pancetta.
Speaking of mussels, if you’re a fan of this bivalve, do not overlook Rea’s “Angry Mussels” in a cream sauce spiked with white wine, onion, Serrano chile and pancetta. It has a definite zip to it, but it’s by no means overly spicy or hot, just boldly flavored.
Rea also offers the mussels with a zesty tomato sauce. Accompanied by pieces of freshly baked bread to sop up the sauce and listed as starters, for many people these dishes would be enough to make a satisfying meal on their own.
Personally, as much as I love his pizza, I think I crave Rea’s pasta dishes as much or maybe more. That’s not as odd as it sounds, as Rea confessed that pasta is his favorite food. “In Naples, you eat it three times a day,” the chef said.
The pasta dish he makes with broccoli rabe (a leafy green like spinach or collards), fennel sausage and fresh parmigiano cheese is perfection.
The al dente pasta is tossed with just enough of the creamy sauce to impart flavor and not leave a pool of sauce in the bottom of the plate. It’s what I imagine Italian comfort food must taste like.
Want something lighter? I recommend a deceptively simple arugula salad, dressed with lemon and olive oil and accented with parmigiano cheese. The lemony tang isn’t overpowered by the fruity olive oil, and if you add slices of lightly crunchy Milanese-style chicken to the mix, it’s a match made in heaven.
No discussion of 850ºF Barpizza would be complete without mention of the attractive and comfortable full-service bar, the first thing you see upon entering. It’s also connected to a spacious outdoor dining patio via a bank of pass-through windows that are left open in mild weather.
Griffith told me they will soon have live music indoors on weekends.
12635 Crabapple Road, Milton