Antico’s Giovanni Di Palma tells us about his craziest customer

Plus 12 other questions for the owner of Westside’s Little Italia group
Photo courtesy of Antico Pizza
Photo courtesy of Antico Pizza

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Giovanni Di Palma is the owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana, Gio’s Chicken, and other restaurants in the Little Italia group. 

When you aren’t running the restaurants, what do you do for fun?
I used to be a low handicap golfer but got away from it. Topgolf has reinspired me to get back into the game. If I get up at seven, you’ll find me on a golf course.

What are your ambitions beyond Atlanta?
We’ve been inundated with offers worldwide, from Shanghai to Dubai and South America—even India. For me, it would be something that would happen very slowly if I did it, and it would be subject to picking a unique location. We’re interested in Miami. Right now two of the best restauranteurs in New York want me back there to open a pizzeria, but it would have to be very, very unique. Alternatively to Atlanta, it would be a very small place with one oven, and it would be difficult to get pizza there.

What’s one ingredient you can’t stand?
It’s a dead heat between curry and kale. For kale I’ll just use broccoli rabe instead. Kale is just a trendy thing. Curry I can’t stand—all curry, even Stephen Curry. It’s the aftertaste.

What is your fast food guilty pleasure?
The Shack Stack at Shake Shack with the Fair shake, which has coffee in it. Have to have together.

What was the last TV show you bingewatched?
Right now I’m hooked on Vinyl. I’ve always been intrigued by the music era in New York in the 1970s and 1980s and how it got started.

What’s one thing you wish you knew how to cook?
I pretty much suck at cooking whole fish. I’ve tried it so many different ways, and it’s just not my thing. I wish that I could debone it perfectly in front of people with confidence.

Where’s your favorite place to visit in Italy?
Positano on the Amalfi Coast is maybe one of the most beautiful places on Earth. When the Romans owned the world, that’s where they went on vacation. The lemons there are as big as your head, so they use lemon in everything. The lemon flavor in the Sorrento chicken is inspired by that.

Any stories about the craziest Antico customer?
There’s a guy who keeps trying to change ingredients on the San Gennaro. He has come in disguises, but he knows we won’t change the pizza. He says his doctor says he can’t eat the onion, but he loves the peppers and sausage. One time he came in, and I pretended to call Michelangelo and said, “Hey, Michel. Can you fix the Sistine Chapel? Oh, he hung up.” I’ve never seen that guy again.

Does your son, Johnny, help out at all in the restaurants?
He did when I first opened. He was on CNN making pizza when he was eight years old. He helped me paint the building. He helped me mix the concrete for the base of the ovens. We built the stairs. Now he’s getting to teenage years, and he does his thing in sports and school. Probably when he’s about 17 or 18, he’ll get back to it. But he can make every pizza and all the recipes.

Do you have any pet peeves?
People who don’t have pens. If you ask me to sign an invoice or sign a check and you don’t have a pen, I’m going to lose it.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Always restaurants. I was working restaurants when I was my son’s age. My family was in restaurants in Italy and various parts of New Jersey and New York. I am that guy who held every restaurant job.

Have you ever been starstruck at Antico?
I think the reason why celebrities continue to go there and have fun is because I treat them like any other customer. They usually ask me if they can take a picture with me. I think they like that I am confident about what I do and the food, and I don’t freak out about them. I hung out one night with Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, and it was like talking to friends. Clint Eastwood and I were hugging each other, taking pics, drinking limoncello.

Antico is known for blasting opera. What’s the best music to make pizza to?
Gigi D’Alessio is a star and singer of Naples. He has a song called “Napule” that pumped up the Naples soccer team before the game.