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click to enlarge antica_pizzeria_1_bartlett.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Antica Pizzeria fires up the most drop-dead gorgeous Neapolitan pies in Orlando (well, Altamonte) 

Char chamber

Typing this up on Election Night probably wasn't the best idea, given I felt a lot like the Neapolitan pizzas spotlighted in this week's review – a bit singed around the edges. It did, however, prove to be an effective distraction, and besides, I'd run out of fingernails to chew on. So, like many of you out there, I turned to pizza, the great ameliorator. In my case, this happened to be a leftover pie from Antica Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar. Whether you stand on the side of civility and decency or, um, not, you probably enjoy a good pizza, and you won't find any better than the ones fired up from this family-run operation in Altamonte.

"We don't Americanize anything here," says owner and pizzaiolo Piergiorgio Quintiero, who hails from Calabria. "We make our pizza like we make them in Italy." That means using finely milled Caputo Tipo "00" flour to fashion a dough that's fermented for 72 hours before being gently stretched. It's then ladled with San Marzano tomato sauce, plopped with buffalo mozzarella (from Caserta) and baked in a wood-fired Mugnaini oven.

For proper fresh-baked feels, I reheated my cold Election Night 'za, a blistered wonder with spicy Calabrian salami ($13.99), in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes. It came out almost as good as the margherita pizza ($11.99) I enjoyed – box on lap – the day before on the bench outside the restaurant. (Antica is closed to in-room dining during the weekdays but opens up on weekends.)

My friend, an authority and connoisseur of Neapolitan pizza, noted the remarkable bubbling in the cornicione as well as in the thinnest sections of the crust. For Quintiero, baking the pizza at 770 degrees Fahrenheit for 100 seconds achieves the ideal result, and let me tell you, this drop-dead gorgeous round is one of the best Neapolitan pizzas you'll have anywhere in the city. Hard-core margherita purists should know Quintiero adds the basil leaves after the pizza comes out of the oven. It gives the pizza more flavor, Quintiero says, to which his mother (and co-owner), Ida, nods in agreement.

Ida, by the way, oversees the pastas at Antica, and her gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($14.99), also enjoyed on the bench outside the restaurant, was an exercise in indulgence and comfort for three reasons: 1) the cushiony dumplings handmade by Ida herself; 2) the copious amount of melted mozzarella and parmigiano Reggiano; and 3) the cool autumn temperatures on this particular night. If you're easily annoyed by constantly picking wispy strands of cheese off your chin after every bite, might I suggest Ida's gratifying seasonal lasagna ($17.99), a tomato-sauceless stack of mushrooms, sausage, mozzarella and, ooh, pumpkin cream. 'Tis the season.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Regarding the mozzarella bar, there isn't an actual physical bar, but rather a section of the menu offering fior di latte ($11.99), buffalo mozz ($13.99) and burrata ($11.99). Cheeses are served with arugula, shaved parmigiana Reggiano and focaccia slices, but I'd recommend you do like us and throw some prosciutto di parma into the mix for $12.99.

Ida makes some killer cannoli Siciliani ($8.99) as well, but we had our sights set on the newly opened Monte Gelato next door. Owner Giacomo Monte, a gelato maestro like his father and grandfather before him, makes his artisanal ice cream in a bevy of flavors. I ate as much straciatella at a table outside as I could, but had to take the rest home. I'm glad I did – it made the perfect ending to fingernails and pizza.

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