We’re in Midtown, on the first sunny evening in what seems like a thousand years. Clyde, our friend John (who runs the excellent Peachtree Food Tours), Jeri (John’s better half), and I are all bound for Princi Italia — the new Crescent & 12th location of a Dallas-based Italian restaurant. The Dallas location won “Best New Restaurant” in an aggressive market back in 2011, so we’re expecting great things.
We’ve also been waiting a long time to dine at Princi Italia. For weeks, we’ve pressed our faces against the cool glass facade, gazing at the expanse of set tables (and frankly, saying, “With the opening delayed this long, they’re going to have to dust those”). But the liquor license finally came through (thanks for the wait, City of Atlanta!) and now, the doors are open, and we’re tucking in for dinner.
After a long debate, Clyde orders the spaghetti bolognese, which comes with a warning from our server: “This dish surprises a lot of people. They’re expecting a red sauce, but our bolognese is quite … meaty.” When this raises an eyebrow, we’re reassured: “It’s very Italian.”
After confirming I can sample Clyde’s pasta, I order the standard test dish I order at any pizza kitchen: the simple, unadulterated pepperoni pie. J&J order pasta dishes (a black pepper fettuccine and the capellini marinara with basil). Friends who joined us at the last minute both order the Romano crusted chicken.
My pizza is the first item to arrive. It presents well, and the aroma is intoxicating. Someone at the table — I won’t say who — immediately launches into a litany of praise for what many consider the “Best Pizza in Atlanta”: Antico. I roll my eyes a bit at this, because, frankly, I’m not a fan. I think Antico embodies the worst of Atlanta’s pseudo-authentic pizza culture: too fussy, too prissy, too stingy, too thin, too floppy.
The truth is this: Italians might have invented pizza, but Americans perfected it. So I’m happy to see expansive and even cheese coverage on my pie (instead of a few stingy lumps of fresh mozz) and ample toppings (in lieu of a sprig of basil and a smidgen of meat). I’m also happy that the inner circle of crust is rigid (but not cracker-crunchy) but foldable, while the outer ring of crust is blackened (but not burnt) and chewy (but not undercooked).
All of that is hard to get right … and, frankly, Princi Italia gets it right. From the seasoning to the cheese, very bite is satisfying and succulent: pizza perfection. In fact, if they can pull this off again on my next visit, Princi Italian will become my go-to place for pizza in Midtown Atlanta.
Clyde’s pasta is not as successful. The sauce is as meaty as promised — but I don’t photograph it, because, served in a bowl, the contents simply don’t look too appealing. The noodles are buried under a thick reservoir of what looks like greasy ground beef. Worse, the sauce itself lacks flavor. A few shakes of red pepper help, but the real problem with this dish is the one-note flavor profile (“Salt!”). When you’ve had one bite, you know everything this dish has to teach you.
John scarfs down his pasta without so much as offering a bite (to be fair, though, I wasn’t offering up my pizza for anyone to sample, either), and Jeri seems to like her marina pasta. Our other friends are a little surprised by their chicken and pasta dish:
“It’s orange,” they keep saying. “It’s very … orange.”
And so it is. But despite the Halloween-inspired color palette, the dish prompts many nods and affirmations, so the verdict is that the taste is spot on, even if the hue is a bit of a surprise.
In the end, we all agree we like Princi Italia well enough to drop back in later in the month. (Personally, I’m happy to have pizza this good within two blocks of my house. Rather than order from my old standby, I’ll happily walk here and carry a pie back home.) Prices run about what you’d expect from a chain paying Midtown rent (about $14 per pie and about $18-$28 for entrees), and there’s a full bar and a good wine selection to boot. Recommended.