How Giovanni Di Palma’s Little Italy dining concepts are keeping up with pizza demand

COVID-19 , GRA Member News ,

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution

Editor’s note: As the coronavirus disrupts the restaurant industry, the AJC has changed its dining coverage and suspended its restaurant reviews. Instead, we are publishing a new column called Atlanta Orders In, which looks at the challenges faced by Atlanta restaurants and serves as a guide to ordering takeout. Look for bylines from Ligaya Figueras on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and Wendell Brock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Do you have feedback about the new column? We want to hear from you. Send your comments to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

The drive to Giovanni Di Palma’s Little Italy dining “compound” in Home Park took one-third the time it normally would at 6 p.m. on a Thursday. The Connector was traffic-free and the sidewalks along 14th Street empty, except for the lone college-aged student wearing a facemask – stark signs of the reality that we are all navigating right now. 

My spirits lifted when I parked the car on Hemphill Avenue and walked around the building to Di Palma’s newest concept, Gio’s Sicilian. The peppy voices of the Shirelles piped through the speakers on the patio: Mama said there'll be days like this / There'll be days like this mama said. 

Don’t we know it – especially Di Palma. The founder of popular Antico Pizza was only four days into the launch of his new Sicilian pizza and slice shop, located in the back of Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, when he had to cease dine-in service. 

“Everybody was coming,” Di Palma said of the brisk business he was seeing at Gio’s Sicilian, whose brief menu includes Sicilian-style pies – rectangular-shaped, thick crusts, loaded with tomatoes and other toppings – sold as whole or half-pies, slices, and mini pies called “pizzettas.” But the alarm bells went off for the need for social distancing. “We started building a line. I woke up the next day and said, ‘I have to put an end to it.’” 

Gio’s Sicilian, like Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano in front and sibling Antico Pizza next door, is now open only for takeout and delivery. Besides these three concepts clustered in Midtown, Antico is selling its Neapolitan pies for takeout and delivery at its locations at Avalon in Alpharetta and the Battery Atlanta. Gio’s Chicken is also available for takeout and delivery at the Battery Atlanta. 

Canned goods and other grocery items for sale at Little Italy. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS

Di Palma’s other concepts, Bar Amalfi and Caffe Antico, are closed. 

“We’re holding our own,” said Di Palma, who had to lay off 180 people from his 220-person staff. “We are a takeout- and delivery-oriented business, which allowed us to stay open for that purpose.” 

What might be Di Palma’s saving grace is his new online business, Antico Casa, selling a 14-inch par-baked Margherita pizza. The dough, made from a blend of organic and artisanal flours, undergoes a 72-hour ferment. “Took me a year to get that dough right,” Di Palma said. 

The par-baked pizza cooks in about six minutes in a 425-degree oven. Package instructions then suggest setting the oven to broil for 1 minute to finish, “until cheese is creamy and crust is crisp but not burnt.” 

Antico Casa pizzas are available for purchase at Antico and Gio’s locations, as well as online. In addition, the company offers free local shipping, although Di Palma said he’s been shipping them all over the country. “We turned the Antico kitchen in Midtown into a shipping operation within four days with the help of local UPS management,” Di Palma said. Order by 5 p.m. and the pizza will arrive the next day. “That’s been an incredible boost for us to get back to 30% of our normal sales,” he said. And for his employees, whom he hopes to offer shifts within the shipping operation and maybe even as delivery drivers. 

ANTICO PIZZA / GIO’S CHICKEN AMALFITANO / GIO’S SICILIAN 

Menu: Full menu available for Antico Pizza, Gio’s Chicken Almafitano and Gio’s Sicilian 

What’s new: Antico Casa prepackaged, par-baked 14-inch Margherita pizzas available for shipping throughout the U.S. All stores have been turned into pop-up markets selling specialty Italian food products including olive oil, pasta, canned tomatoes, flour, semolina and Calabrian chilis. 

Alcohol: Various Italian wines ($25) and Peroni beer (sold by the bottle or case). 

What I ordered: Gio’s Sicilian Spicy Pepperoni, Antico Casa par-baked Margherita pizza and a bottle of 2018 Cantine Coloi Nero D’Avola. The pie is a thick, focaccia-type dough with fabulous chew. The tomato sauce gets a touch of sweetness from orange blossom honey. Expect some tingling heat from a generous topping of pepperoni. It’s a rectangular pie, whose eight slices will feed four people. The sturdy Nero held up to the bold-flavored pizza. Following the directions on the prepackaged Neapolitan Antico Casa pizza, the pie turned out almost as good as a restaurant-quality version. The ratio of toppings to crust was spot-on, and the slice holds it shape when you fold and eat. Order multiple pizzas and stow them in the freezer. 

Service options: For carryout, call the restaurants directly or order online. For direct shipping of Antico Casa pizzas, order online at https://squareup.com/store/anticopizza; for delivery, order through Uber Eats or DoorDash. 

Safety protocols: Prepay only. No cash. All employees wear gloves and masks. Hand sanitizer and gloves available for customers at the door. Six-foot spacing indicators for patrons picking up orders. Curbside delivery upon request.

Address: 1093-7 Hemphill Ave., Atlanta; 900 Battery Ave. Atlanta; and 3185 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta 

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-9 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays 

Phone: check website for various specific locations 

Website: littleitalia.com