The pizza-maker who broke off from Antico and started his own restaurant will open Varuni-Napoli on Monroe Drive in Midtown the first week in April. Owner Luca Varuni says the fast-casual restaurant, which awaits its final inspection, will offer pizza and Italian street food made with ingredients imported from Naples.
Varuni-Napoli features a mozzarella bar with two to three types of the cheese and select seasonal vegetables, a bar with Italian wines available by the glass for $5 (on average), and communal tables made by local artist Jeff Mackenzie. Diners can start their meals with antipasti and end with traditional Italian desserts like cannoli, struffoli, and rum baba. Many of the ingredients used will be for sale.
The space, formerly Le Bam Studio, has a lounge complete with leather couches, a patio out back, and an overhead projector to display videos of Varuni’s family members making pizza in Naples.
“With pizza, people often eat and leave. I want them to eat and stay,” Varuni says.
He explains more about how he seeks to differentiate his restaurant from all other pizza joints in Atlanta below.
Why did you leave Antico?
I was not happy with the products I was making there. I like to keep stuff authentic.
What makes Varuni-Napoli unique?
It’s going to be the only place where you can find a real Neapolitan pizza maker cooking your Neapolitan pie. We import our San Marzano sauce, our buffalo mozzarella, our flour, and our extra virgin oil from small farms in Naples—all friends of mine.
How are your pizzas different from those at Antico?
My pizza is not only different from Antico but from all the pizza venues in Atlanta. It is the same pizza you will eat in Naples. We don’t improvise.
I designed a pizza bar that seats about twenty people where they can watch their pizza being made and ask questions about the products we use. I'm very old school. I love to interact with people and make them participate and share my love and passion for pizza.
Whatever is on our menu could be bought at our market: cheese, sauce, oil, and meat.
How many pizzas are on the Varuni-Napoli menu? Any pastas or salads or antipasti?
The menu will have about ten to fifteen pizzas, including a fried one and two pizzas (one red and one white) that you can build and add the topping that you like. We have a mozzarella and antipasto bar that will serve meat and cheese in the same way they do in the caseificio e salumeria in Italy.
Of course we are going to have the typical Neapolitan street food served in the original cuoppo style—a paper cone filled with small fried items. I don’t have pasta on the menu, but the restaurant is equipped with a full kitchen. I’m a chef, too. I could probably surprise you guys one night with free pasta—like a midnight pasta [promotion]. I’ll have the typical Neapolitan and Italian desserts.
Which pizza are you most proud of?
The pizza that I love the most is the margherita pizza because it is made with three unique products. All three originated in Naples: DOP San Marzano, buffalo mozzarella DOP, and Sorrento extra-virgin oil DOP.
Will you be serving slices or just full pies?
No slices. Neapolitan pizza needs to be eaten fresh.
Delivery or dine-in only?
We don’t offer delivery, but there is a window facing Monroe Drive where customers can pick up their pizza or their groceries without coming into the restaurant (Naples/European-style).
What kind of beverages will be offered?
We have a bar and are going to serve the best wine that Italy has to offer at a very reasonable price. Our wine by the glass will cost about $5. Our bottles will be cheaper than other restaurants in town without sacrificing the quality. We’ll have Italian draft beers and, of course, the beloved American beer, including Sweetwater and other local breweries. No mixology at the moment—just a good selection of limoncello, amaro, sambuca, grappa, and cynar.