Piebar Pizza And Pizzazz

Art of the Meal

First, a warning: If you are a serious traditionalist, and you think pizza ought to be a dough circle with cheese and sausage, you're not going to like Piebar.





In fact, it's all the things you'll probably hate: Aggressively hip, with tiny bites of fol-de-rol, served by pierced people in what looks like the Jetsons' apartment building. The pizza is square, grilled and comes with toppings that sound like Ralph Kramden's crazy schemes: smoked salmon with beets, horseradish and caviar, for example.





But for all its posturing, in some ways Piebar also reminds me of the pizza parlor in my poky Midwestern hometown. Growing up, it was my first glimpse of another world, of fantastic smells and exotic tastes (pepperoncini!), with a raucous interior life: men watching the game, women chatting with neighbors and teenagers hanging out, flirting madly at big tables with their friends.





Although the food was good, that was only a small part of the excitement. It was a little like watching Dick Clark's "Bandstand" - you didn't have to be a good dancer to feel like you were in on this whole rock & roll thing. If you liked it, you too were cool.





Piebar is not all about coolness: Sure, the witty redesign, which takes the '60s-era circular Trust Company bank building back to the future, is a hoot, and so is the all-ages, all-the-way-live crowd. But I also like the food. It's very good, especially if you're looking for something a little above and beyond the usual thing, and if you're interested in what's happening in restaurants.





Among the latest culinary trends, beginning in Barcelona and popping up all over the globe, is a boundary-pushing cuisine that pairs wild tastes and unconventional cooking methods. Its hallmarks: aromatic "essences" and foams, now seen on top restaurant menus all over Atlanta, with varying degrees of success.(Richard Blais, who pioneered this cooking style at now-defunct Blais, helped develop Piebar's menu.) What makes Piebar so fun is not its eagerness to jump on a trend, but its success at expressing it. Like the architecture, the outdated pizza menu - antipasto, appetizers, pizza and inexpensive wine - is cleverly recycled into something new and relevant.





Fear not: Yes, you can get a tomato, mozzarella and basil pie, or pepperoni with smoked mozzarella. Spanish wines abound, including a really good $5 glass of chardonnay (Coto de Hayas), and the Spanish version of prosecco, cava (Cristalino). If you want to just stick a toe in the water, have mussels, bruschetta, ravioli. Warming up? Try the mushroom, goat cheese and white truffle pizza, with a bracingly fresh, finely chopped arugula salad, with a slice of preserved lemon.





But if you're in an exploratory mood, check out the antipasti, which includes bresaole (dried beef), heart of palm and white anchovies along with more conventional parmigiano reggiano and roasted peppers. The small bites are clear and direct, but the best things we sampled were the least conventional: A fresh fig nestled in prosciutto, with "parmesan foam" so lactic it might have been cr?me fraiche. "Veal parmesan on a stick" is a row of veal-pops with pepper-breadstick "handles." For dessert: a hand-pressed "ice cream bar" of Ferrero Rocher chocolate and chocolate-almond gelato.





I'll be back to watch the scene, the big flat-screen TVs and the reactions of the first-timers I'll bring with me. But I'm also eager to try more of Piebar's out-there offerings: Truffled duck egg with mushroom butter, the raw tuna-wasabi-sweet ginger and soy jelly pizza. Apart from the smart young servers, and smartly-dressed crowd, at its best, Piebar is like that first bite of pepperoncini - a bulletin announcing promising developments.











Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact hergtcritic@mindspring.com.







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