Local foodies began buzzing about Joe’s New York Pizzeria months before it opened. It’s the second venture for pizza maestro Joe Amitrano.
Verra-Zanno’s in Johns Creek is Amitrano’s flagship, and Verra-Zanno’s has consistently garnered glowing reviews since it opened almost seven years ago.
Pizza is the unquestioned star at both of Amitrano’s establishments. I have never been to the Johns Creek restaurant, but the eponymously named Joe’s, open just three weeks, serves up a mighty good pie.
What you get here is as fine an example of a beloved pizza genre as you are likely to find in north Fulton. And for most of us, it’s the closest we’re going to get to New York-style pizza outside of the Big Apple.
Structurally, the crust is just about perfect. Thin and a pleasing balance of crisp and chewy, the crust is eminently foldable for easy one-handed consumption.
Like a little char? Just mention it to the server, and out it comes with the essential toasty speckles and toothsome texture.
So the crust more than passes muster. But I admit to being slightly disappointed with one of the pies we ordered on our first visit. The plain cheese pizza was a letdown. Always our benchmark for a pizzamaker’s expertise, this cheese pie was much more bland than we were used to.
It was the sauce, we decided. It was underseasoned. We had better luck with the pizza rustica, which featured marinated cherry tomatoes and crumbled Italian sausage. It was quite tasty.
So back we went another day to try again. This time we ordered the goat cheese deluxe, which in addition to the tangy goat cheese sported hot cherry pepper and onion relish, caramelized onions and more of that crumbled Italian sausage.
It was absolutely delicious. Emboldened, we asked for a sausage roll, a dish cherished by Verra-Zanno regulars.
Again, the flavors of the ingredients – Italian sausage, mozzarella, peppers and onions wrapped in a hot, puffy roll of freshly made pizza dough – were terrific. It was the accompanying marinara sauce that lacked the oomph that a dash of salt would have provided.
Come to find out, Amitrano intentionally undersalts his food. Sensitive to excessive sodium himself, he makes his pizza and marinara sauces with very little salt other than what’s in the high quality canned tomatoes used in the recipe.
“I definitely use less salt than everybody else. I don’t know anyone who uses less salt than we do,” he said. “That’s why shakers are on the table if someone wants to add it.”
Okay, now I get it. That would also account for why we first thought slices of the white pie with fresh spinach, which was hot out of the oven the next time we visited, at first tasted very, very mild. Most places salt the ricotta that melds with the mozzarella, fresh garlic and olive oil on a white pie.
The odd thing was that as the cheeses cooled slightly, my palate started to really enjoy the natural flavors. And there was plenty of the cheese to enjoy. The green notes of the spinach weren’t overwhelmed by seasoning.
Now, after sampling several menu items, I believe Amitrano is on to something. I recall all of the times my taste buds been assaulted by high sodium content pizzas and realize I actually prefer having this control over my salt intake.
And with the many topping ingredients available, it’s easy to get a pie that packs a flavor wallop. A case in point was the natural casing pepperoni and roasted garlic pizza Amitrano whipped up for me on my last visit. Sinfully good.
In conversation with Amitrano, it’s evident how much he cares about his food. That oily drip down your wrist you get from many New York-style pizzas? Won’t happen at Joe’s. Though he uses Grande cheese, the gold standard for mozzarella, it’s part skim, so it still tastes just fine, but the butterfat doesn’t mix with the (very little bit of) oil in the pizza sauce and get you all greasy.
For the marinara, he blends San Marzano Italian tomatoes with California-grown to modify the acid content, making the sauce easier on the digestion.
“The difference between most places and here is the amount of thought we put into the end result,” Amitrano said.
A Brooklyn native who has spent the majority of his professional life in the food service industry, Amitrano owned Big Daddy’s in Duluth before opening Verra-Zanno’s.
In addition to a selection of 12- and 16-inch gourmet or “create your own” pizzas, Joe’s has apps, salads, baked pasta dinners, calzone, strombolis and an oven-baked muffaletta sandwich with house-made bread.
A very well thought out beer menu includes five on draft and several craft brews in bottles. Though the wine selection is much smaller, it is enough to satisfy all tastes.
Joe’s is open seven days, though on Sunday it’s just from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays are team trivia night.
Joe’s New York Pizzeria is at1605 Mansell Road, Alpharetta.
Information: (770) 640-5637 or www.joesnewyorkpizzeria.com.