Let me lay the groundwork for a shinning example of a faux pas. Restaurant provides you with an abridgement of pizza history, aromatic fluff words and descriptors worthy of a James Cameron romance flick. In accordance with strict guidelines for Napoletana pizza, said restaurant will not serve sliced pizza or pizza in to-go boxes. A quick glance at the to-go menu results in a head scratcher. Right smack dab in the middle is a section dedicated to pizzas that recounts what I just mentioned.
[A subsequent chat with their PR maven confirms that there is no to-go option for the pizza]
This type of slip up is a perfect example of the experience I had at Double Zero Napoletana. A cursory glance might leave me feeling okay about the meal. However, in the moments after, I found myself somewhat frustrated by the details … namely the price point, a few culinary mishaps, and some general oversights in the attention to detail.
Though there are a bevy of eating options in and around Sandy Springs, few have garnered a great deal of attention from the “social” community or from the foodies of this city. Double Zero is one of those exceptions. Though open barely one month, the Castellucci Hospitality Group has garnered a good bit of attention from those all over by trying to give Sandy Springs a culinary destination. In a lot of ways, they have succeeded.
The Castellucci family operates both Sugo, a suburban duo of Italian restaurants, and the Iberian Pig, a popular tapas spot in Decatur. For its part, Double Zero is more akin to Sugo in its culinary offerings. That said, anyone who has visited either of those restaurants will know that the Castellucci’s love to build out well-dressed eateries with very approachable undertones. I knew that and I was still pleasantly taken back by the décor at Double Zero.
Sandy Springs restaurants are almost universally underwhelming in the eye appeal. You’re far more likely to find a Mellow Mushroom or a Willy’s than something truly local and individualistic. So when I walked into the expansive dining coliseum, split in the middle by a row of communal tables and braced by a long bar and two handcrafted Ferrara ovens, I was right at home. The line of globe lights, cork and barrel walls, and pillow lined half-booths succeed in both appealing to the eye and helping control the spaciousness of interior. Let’s call it rustic modern. My pictures of the interior blew – so you can get a better feeling via the restaurant’s website gallery.
After grazing at the hostess stand for a moment, I snagged a copy of the to-go menu and found a seat at the bar. Armed with a team of barkeeps though not too many customers, it was lively. Soon after pulling in, a friendly gentleman from Down Under (or perhaps NZ), shuffled my way. Friendly, yet hyper-enthusiastic, he gave me a little bit of the sales pitch from the start. I ordered an adult beverage and began scoping the menu.
The wine list is certainly sufficient in size and offers a handful of pretty good values. No complaints there and I’ll let one of our esteemed winos chime in about the full Monty. Since I had already rattled off my beverage order, I dismissed their house cocktails until later in the evening.
Soon thereafter, my newly married dinner pal arrived and we were seated in the dining room. Topical conversation came and went, joined by stories of youthful insanity and interspersed with discussions of what to eat and drink. We also had a few well-timed but highly intense visits from our server. Boy was she enthusiastic.
It’s around that time that I took a comparative look at the to-go menu and the wheels started to slip ever so slightly. Head chef John Coley (who worked at The Pig), has put together a menu that includes ambitious entrées, antipasto, pizza and charcuterie. While the media information out there speaks of southern Italian food, the menu is more of a consortium of country-wide endeavors. It’s another example of straightforward messaging sacrificed in the name of curb appeal and aggrandized reality.
To keep the evening going, we took down a few drinks (the pink one – which was dotted with pepper flakes and was a rousing success – and the z one which was dominated by egg whites and not nearly as pleasing) and started with an order of the polipo ($12) and a charcuterie plate ($14 for 3 items). First to the table was the polipo (octopus). Itemized as grilled octopus, white bean puree, pickled vegetable salad, roasted red pepper coulis, lemon, purple potato, the dish was too ambitious. The individual parts were reasonably well cooked but the dish could have been a little more refined. The octopus would have benefited from a little extra char where as the coulis was overwhelmed by the excessive amount of puree and the pickled vegetables. It was also the first inkling of excessive pricing. A few tweaks would go a long way with this as the ingredients were individually capable.
Next to the table was our charcuterie and cheese plate. Double Zero offers at least six options from both categories and you can sample one for $5 or a combination of your liking for $14. I had high hopes on account of their association with the Iberian Pig.
I was most confused and turned off by the “Napoletana.” First, and perhaps due to my own ignorance, I was expecting something along the lines of salsiccia Napoletana. I know of a cured meat known simply as Napoletano but not Napoletana (a little help @Cured_Meats?), so I’m not sure if that’s ignorance on my part or another rough edge not attended to by the restaurant. Regardless, the menu listed it as Italian salami with Mediterranean and North African spices. We both found it off-putting and almost sour to the palate. The speck was less of a problem. Good speck should be rich in juniper, rosemary, and the like. This lacked the smokiness I come to expect from speck Alto Adige and came across more like a basic ham. The pecorino grand cru was laid in a Calabrian pepper jelly. The jelly would have been better served on the side as I found it devoid of any kick. In an ideal world, a spicy compote (perhaps of figs) would balance out the milky sweetness of the cheese, but here it just got in the way.
As we placed an order for entrées, a few things of note occurred that are worth mentioning. First, when we ordered both a pizza and pasta, I half expected a warning from the server. A handful of the pizzas are priced in line with something you’d get at Antico Pizza, so I assumed they would be fairly large and thus necessitating a warning that we were getting too much food. In addition, we were told that the pizza might come out a moment or two later than the pasta. It was a significant wait between the two.
First to the table was the rapini e salsicce pasta ($16). My heart sank as soon as it arrived at the table and it was easily the lowlight of the night. The egg fettuccine was lumped together and hard. There’s really no excuse for that and I’m shocked it got by quality control and even more shocked it was cooked like that in the first place. The other major problem with the dish was the rapini. Rapini is a long green known for its inherently bitter and pungent flavors. Those qualities make it less forgiving than even spinach. It’s a bold move, but one that didn’t succeed with the dish in front of us. A little quality control would have turned this dish from a total flop into something much more appealing. I couldn’t help but feel like a successful execution would not have warranted the price tag, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Several discernable minutes after the pasta arrive (roughly ten), our funghi pizza. A single disc, you might find the accompanying scissors unusual and unnerving; but, Rome is famous for its pizza stands that use those utilities for doling out slices. Topped with seasonal mushrooms, grape tomatoes, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and truffle oil, my jaw dropped. At $19 and not much bigger than a personal pan pizza, it was way overpriced.
Execution wise, it was far less problematic. The ring of crust was nicely charred and the ingredients were clearly in high quality. The dough was ultimately a little too gummy and too soggy for true success, but these pies, price point aside on the upper echelon, obviously have some potential. I don’t think the ceiling is the top of Atlanta’s pizza consciousness, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
As dinner wrapped up and we finished our first dance, I think I was more “disappointed” in Double Zero than anything else. The name, a reference to the flour used in traditional Italian pies, set the bar particularly high for their pizza and it just didn’t grab me. Good ingredients, a nice and inviting space, and courteous service were undermined by careless attention to detail against a very buttoned up persona. There isn’t much of a dress code, and accordingly, I’d wish the pomp would relax a little.
Save for the absurd price point of our meal (well over $120 before tip), I’d expect to see some real growth in the restaurant. Ultimately, I’d be far more surprised to find a dish that I thought repulsive than a dish I truly savored on the menu.
One thing I love about Double Zero is its location. Okay, the location itself isn’t ideal but my point is that it’s an attempt at giving the Sandy Springs area some real food. As for the rest of it – stop being so pretentious and just deliver good food at a fair price point … which I’d bet they can do.