The secret of a good pizza is in the ingredients, the right proportions and paying close attention to several key factors: a slow-ripened dough that can be kneaded and twirled into a thin or even thinner crust; a narrow or wider ‘ring’ that can be charred by the fire; well-selected toppings that “amalgamate” well in several ways.
The pizzas we find in Athens today are a far cry from the ones that were available just a few decades ago. Following the traditions of neighbor Italy and sometimes adding their own touch, today’s restaurants and pizzerias have left their own special mark on the Athenian flavor map. Discover the most unmissable places here.
In a restaurant created by Maggie Tabakaki and her husband Francesco Ciccio, the open kitchen is permanently in a feverish state. Francesco, a robust Neapolitan can be seen behind the counter twirling the dough in the air, baking and pulling pizzas out of the oven.
He faithfully follows the tradition of his homeland – that’s where he brought the oven from and then brought over the manufacturer to modify it to get the result he wanted. All the pizzas are made with buffala mozzarella or fior di latte, which is lighter than buffala, with a 48-hour cured dough that reaches the table after just touching the fire, soft and a touch crispy, with the cornicone, its ring, slightly burnt here and there.
The buffalina, with a very nice tomato sauce, fluffy mozzarella, basil and olive oil, is an ode to simplicity, while the pistacchio with pistachio pesto, mortadella and buttery burrata is equally good. The spicy lo scarpariello di Claudio, a pizza dedicated to a friend he recently lost, with cherry tomatoes from Vesuvius, Agerola’s famous fior di latte mozzarella, pepperoncino, pecorino romano and fresh basil, which recently took its place on the menu, is ample proof of how sentimental Italians are about pizza.
Maggie’s reddish meatballs with raisins and pine nuts, the black arancini (risotto croquettes) with the aroma and taste of truffles, the wonderful pasta and the fluffy tiramisu, are all part of the mosaic of an open-hearted, delicious cuisine that brings people from all over Athens to Vari.
Nabul’e: 43 Vasileos Konstantinou St, Vari. Tel: (+30) 210-9655815
Dal Professore: 17 Aghiou Dimitriou St, Kifissia. Tel: (+30) 210-6109988
Lollo’s Athens: 3A Ethnikis Antistaseos, Halandri. Tel: (+30) 210-6801040
Mario & Luigi – The Eatalians: 190 Eleftheriou Venizelos Avenue, Ilioupoli. Tel: (+30) 210-9957953
Alio & Alio Neighborhood Pizzeria: 34 Vassilios Georgiou St, Halandri. Tel: (+30) 210-6850745 & Alio Neighborhood Pizzeria 51 Iraklitou Street, Halandri. Tel: (+30) 210-6086304
Franco Manca: 2 Eleftheriou Venizelou St, Nea Philadelphia. Tel: (+30) 210-2581501 & 45 Paraskevopoulou St, Peristeri. Tel: (+30) 210-2589009.
The story is more or less well known. Nikos Dimitrokallis went to Italy to study literature, but was won over by the gnocchi and orecchiettethe pasta of the South that looks like little ears, made by his grandmothers, which eventually inspired him to dedicate himself to cooking instead of books. In his restaurant, which was located in Maroussi and is now based in Kifissia, opposite Agios Dimitrios, the appetizers and pasta are very well made. The dishes of the day provide hidden flavor gems.
The pizzas, however, are the real stars. The chef experimented for a long time to create a dough with natural sourdough and very high moisture content that traps in air and when baked (in two batches) becomes crunchy and simultaneously melt-in-your-mouth tender. The menu offers very good combinations. There are several versions that we have fallen in love.
The one with mozzarella, provolone, ragu bolognese and parmesan flakes, has a taste that hits the tastebuds in an extraordinary way. So does the Norcina, with mozzarella, spinach and salsiccia (fresh sausage) made from wild boar and truffles. Depending on the inspiration and the ingredients he finds in the market, “the professor” presents some even more unexpected creations. Keep your antennae up – last time, for example, he came up with one with wild zochos herbs, sautéed prawns and a goat cheese mousse.
Okay, it’s not really a pizza, it’s a pinsa. It’s oval-shaped with a very thin and crispy dough, and if you look into its history, you’ll travel all the way back to ancient Roman times. Stefano Gentili and Sabrina Ciarpelloni left their home city of Rome to set up Lollo’s, in 2008, in Antiparos. Little did they know that queues would be forming outside.
When 10 years later, together with Antonis Zographos and his wife Orsa Rebuskou, they brought their place to Athens, to a 1950s house in Chalandri, the response was equally enthusiastic. At the tables inside, as well as on the terrace, you can see families with children, groups and couples enjoying their pinsa in dozens of versions, white, red, spicy, simple and in more “gourmet” renditions.
I will mention the simple charm of Buffalina, which is made with a dough that’s baked with tomato sauce and, together with the cherry tomatoes, results in a fantastic fresh taste, while chunks buffala mozzarella and basil leaves are layered on top.
Also, the red Napoli with its anchovies del Mar del Cantabrico – the anchovies most favored by Italians – and the Strega, which weaves the sweetness of pumpkin cream with the smoky character of the scarmorza cheese and the very tasty guanciale (pork cheek sausage), are exquisite. The same smoked cheese goes wonderfully well with n’duja di Spilinga, another special sausage from Italy. If you like a little heat now and then, it immediately enters your heart. As it’s possible to add any of the available ingredients to your pinsa, the choices are growing. Also keep an eye out for their very nice and, in many cases, fresh handmade pasta made here.
Mario & Luigi – The Eatalians
You will find it in Ilioupoli. It is named after the famous Super Mario Brothers, recognizable even by those who didn’t spend their youth hugging a Game Boy or playing video games on a Nintendo console. The restaurant, with its green walls and striped awnings on the roof, espouses a type of Neapolitan pizza, with a puffier, blistered ring, called canotto in Italian.
After 48 hours, it’s baked in a wood-fired oven and the dough is delicious, light and easy to digest. All the “princess” (as the video game goes) pizzas, conceptualized by Nikos Sotiropoulos – a notable pizzaiolo we’ve occasionally run into in both the northern and southern suburbs – have their charms: in the recommended Margherita classics, the Lolita, which combines mortadella, pistachio, mozzarella fior di latte, mozzarella di buffala, ricotta and a few touches of basil pesto, which suit it well, the spicy anabella, with a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella fior di latte, ventricina (spicy salami) , Parmesan Reggiano and spicy honey with chilli, which gives it a sweet note. As for the Gioconda, which combines sweet gorgonzola, provolone and parmesanit puts a smile on cheese lovers’ faces.
Alio & Alio Neighborhood Pizzeria
In this restaurant, created by Yannis Loukakos with his brother Panagiotis and Aki Varthalamis – for years his right hand man in the kitchen – the culinary legacy of Italy serves as a driving force. A variety of appetizers, pasta dishes, and pizzas with creative toppings made with fresh ingredients, are served at the tables outside, in the indoor salons and in the backyard, closed for the winter. It’s a shame to leave without trying the thin-crust pizza, left to rise for at least two days.
They add a bit of New York crunch to the Southern Italian tradition, which is why they describe their pizza as “neo-Napolitan.” I’ll declare myself a fan of Bianca’s, which beautifully pairs burrata with thin slices of prosciutto cotto, lemon, roasted cherry tomatoes and Aegina pistachio. Those who love red sauces should also opt for the more exuberant one, with San Marzano tomatoes, soft salciccia sausage, sliced onion, bell peppers, mushrooms and aromatic garlic oil – also spicy.
The pizza at Alio Neighborhood Pizzeria, Alio’s takeaway/delivery sibling In the same area, is slightly thicker so that it remains as it should when transported. It has already gathered many fans, who also make a stop at the wooden picnic tables outside.
It has 56 stores across the UK. The only one outside of that region was on the islet of Salina to the north of Sicily. Now it has come to Greece, thanks to the efforts of brothers Liakos and Panos Ioannidis, who first tasted it on a trip to London. Value for money is the main appeal of this casual, affordable pizzeria model, which, after arriving in Nea Philadelphia earlier this year, has just opened a second, more spacious, store in Peristeri. The chain’s exclusive partnerships with Italian producers also allow for a particularly friendly pricing – the eight fixed combinations, along with the special pizzas listed on the blackboard, which change regularly, start at €5.55 and don’t exceed €10.
The pizza we liked most, although it has a British passport, is Neapolitan and made with a dough that sits for 24-hours. The majority of the raw materials used are sourced from Italy and on the placemat/menu you can read exactly where everything comes from.
The local team has given it their own twist, adding wild capers from Tinos but also back bacon of Greek black pig, fennel sausage and other sausages, produced especially for the Liakos brothers. Try the pizza with organic tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, the white pizza with mozzarella, various kinds of mushrooms and truffle cream, the pizza with slightly smoked and spicy salami or chorizo and, by the way, add the lamb sausage, which is baked in the vaulted oven with thin slices of potato, tomato sauce and mozzarella and arrives steaming at the table, which is a tasty delicacy.
This article was previously published in Greek at Kathimerini’s gastronomos.gr.