You can watch the pie-men on the widescreen TV showing non-stop live footage of the pizza-construction zone, flinging dough and topping pies at Formula-1 rates. Look away for a moment and your pie is liable to already be topped and in the oven, arriving two minutes later on your table, the charred leopard-spots still crackling and erupting with steam puffs, like miniature geysers warning you of the awesomeness that lies within its crust.
Montanarine and Montanarine Genovese ($1, $2)
A quick sampler of the fried pies to come, these perfect little appetizers are balls of poofy, crispy dough topped with either their bright tomato sauce or a cooked mixture of onions and pancetta. Both get a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano. There aren't many types of fried dough I'd turn down, but there aren't many I'd actively seek out either. This version, which has all the complex sour, yeasty aromas of great bread, is the latter.
Homemade Burrata ($16)
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that at the very least in terms of texture, the homemade mozzarella and burrata at Don Antonio are the best in the city. They both have the perfectly creamy, never rubbery texture that only comes from taking no shortcuts with the kneading and stretching. The burrata, which comes seved with a few slices of prosciutto, is a share-ably sized sack filled with creamy curds. Cut into it and...
Insalata Rustica ($10)
Don Antonio's salads are simple, lightly dressed, well balanced, and fresh, which is usually what I'm craving before I know I'm going to get into a serious pizza session. The Insalata Rustica ($10) with artichokes, olives, and prosciutto is one of the more significant, though for $13, you can get it stuffed into a pizza crust instead to make a meal out of it.
More Fried Things
How can you turn down a potato and mozzarella-filled Croquette ($2.50) or some perfectly creamy Arancini ($2.50)?
It's not that hard when there are Fritattini ($3 each) on the menu, fried balls of cheesy pasta with ham—like what a more tasteful, more Italian Paula Deen would make.
Noci e Porcini ($23)
On one visit, our table was split on the Noci e Porcini ($23), an interesting pie that combines walnut cream with porcini mushrooms. It's an intensely earthy mixture that takes getting used to, particularly if you're looking for something gooey and stretchy on your pie (the only cheese here is pecorin), but as the Rosa at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix proves, nuts and pizza can go together in a good way.
Calzone Fritto ($17)
A massive pocket of fried dough stuffed with escarole braised down to a savory, bitter stew studded with pine nuts, olives, and anchoviesmdash;pardon me—ain't your grandma's calzone, and if you see the world calzone thinking of your grandma's, you'll be disappointed. If, however, you are into those juicy, intense flavors of slow-cooked greens, this one's got it in spades. Eat it fast, as the undercarriage started to soften from leaky juices within minutes of arriving at the table.
Gluten-Free Margherita ($16)
Don Antonio might be steeped in tradition, but it tries to keep up with the times, even offering a few gluten-free options.
It wasn't clear to me if you're supposed to eat the lemon slices along with the smoked buffalo mozzarella in the Sorrentina ($20, I peeled mine off), but it was one of my favorite pies, highlighting the quality of the dough with just two carefully selected and well-balanced ingredients. This is what simple Italian cooking is about.
Take the basic margherita and replace the Pecorino Romano's sharp nuttiness with the meaty heat of hot sopressata, and you've got a pie worth reckoning with. Check out that great spotting on the crust (which has been consistently stellar every time I've been). My only complaint would be slightly under-melted mozzarella, which I've seen more than once. Perhaps that creamy house-made stuff is going on a bit too cold?
Montanara Starita ($12)
The Montanara Starita ($12) is a pie so special that it gets its own section on the menu (along with thousands and thousands of pages of digital ink, and counting). Don Antonio's great dough is deep fried, then topped with smoked buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, and finished off in their wood oven. It's not greasy in the slightest, coming off more as simply an extra-crisp pizza.
A sweet and intensely creamy version of the modern classic.
Ricotta and Almond ($6)
I loved their Ricotta and Almond-topped dessert pie ($tk), which, with a drizzle of honey, straddled the line between sweet and savory nicely.