Quick Bite: Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria

June 29, 2009 · 6 comments

in atlanta, atlanta pizza, dining out

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Clearly the pizza scene has escalated in Atlanta in just a few short months. The addition of Varasano’s and the new pizzaiolo at Fritti have quashed the Atlanta rumor that you can’t get good pizza in town.

I’ve mostly stayed out of it, but I did watch the great Varasano’s debate from the sidelines, and I must admit that I did see some inconsistency on my own visits. But on my most recent trip there, the pies were outstanding – nearly as good as at Jeff’s house. I must admit that I might like the cheese, but definitely the sauce better at Fritti, but when Jeff’s dough is on point, there just isn’t anyone that can compete.

Just when Fritti and Varasano’s is finding their rhythm, there’s the announcement of another player in town – Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria. It seems like there is always enough room for another pizza joint in town, and this time Concentrics is going to try their hand, with a secret weapon in tow – a coal fired pizza oven.

If you read Jeff Varasano’s pizza website, you will learn that he thinks the number one important factor of cooking pizza is heat, and heat is what you’re going to get with a coal fired oven, up to 1000 degrees in many cases. This is generally higher than a wood fired oven and definitely higher than most conventional electric ovens.

Coal fired ovens have played a large part in pizza history. The first pizzeria in America, Lombardi’s, to this day still uses a coal fired pizza oven. Other famous NYC pizzerias such as Patsy’s and Grimaldi’s use coal ovens. But New York City almost exceeds the number of coal fired ovens in the rest of the country combined, and forget about the south. There are a few in Florida (which really isn’t the south), then there happens to be one in my hometown of Greenville, SC.

On my first visit to Max’s yesterday, the waiter claimed their oven was the first coal oven in the whole Southeast, but based on Greenville’s Coal Fired Bistro, it looks like Max’s has the distinction of having the first coal fired oven in Georgia. Throw in New York native and pizza aficionado Chef Nick Oltarsh, and Concentrics has successfully marketed a pizzeria worth a visit.

Max’s opened on Friday, and I made my visit Sunday, so these guys haven’t had much of a chance to find their groove. To judge a pizza restaurant open for two days is silly. They are still working out their dough, their cook times, and the pizza makers are still relatively inexperienced in this environment. These are just some initial thoughts, and I definitely plan on going back to form more of an opinion. I think you should do the same. Pictures below.

the interior

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Located directly next door to Stats, I believe the two restaurants are actually connected in the back. The restaurant isn’t huge, but has a few large tables, and a moderately sized bar. I dig the exposed wooden beams and brick look.

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the menu

Not overbearing, in addition to pizza they offer a few salads, sandwiches, pastas, and they have one hot wing offering. Coal oven hot wings were too enticing for me to pass up. We went with an order of wings and a Margharita pizza (14”, 6 slices, $17.99)

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the wings

The only wing sauce offered is lemon pepper parmesan. They’re deep fried then finished in the coal oven and tossed with a generous amount of lemon pepper, herbs, and parmesan.

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These were some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. I don’t know if the whole deep-fry/oven finish thing is the cause, but these large wings had a an extremely crunchy exterior while retaining moist tasty chicken inside. The seasoning was great as well, but I could eat these plain and still enjoy them.

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the pizza

Our waiter said the pizzas cook in 90 seconds, but you may want to get an appetizer as we did, because the kitchen is still working things out and it may take some time. When it did arrive, we were pleased with the appearance. There is a lot of cheese, some fresh basil from their garden, a light amount of tomato sauce, and a scattering of roasted tomatoes on top.

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The wait staff offers to grate fresh parmesan on top…why not?

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the char

Coal ovens are well known for the char they impart on the pizza, and I would say Max’s had a moderate amount. There was enough to impart the slight bitterness I enjoy, but not so much that it would scare anyone without the taste for carcinogen away.

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the flop

If not for the roasted tomatoes, the slice would hold up fairly well with a slight fold. That being said, I really liked the tomatoes on top, they were pleasantly acidic and flavorful. The house-made mozzarella was chewy, delicious, and plentiful.

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side boob

There was some structure/bubbles on occasion on the end crust.

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But in general, the dough was a little stiff and dense. I like a chewy, bubbly pie with better structure. I’m not going to get too down on it though, because these guys just got started and have plenty of time to make these pizzas even better.

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Overall it was a promising pie. At this point I prefer Fritti and Varasano’s, but this is a fun restaurant with decent pie, and it’s somewhat close to the Westside where I live. The price wasn’t exactly cheap for two people to eat, but I should mention that I had 2 slices leftover. Also worth noting, there is a parking garage right across the street, and Max’s validates, but only up to $5 and on some weekends the parking is $10 due to all the aquarium tourists.

Max's Coal Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

  • Char Char Char

    At least the interior LOOKS like a pizzeria unlike JV’s

  • http://www.decaturwineandfooddude.com decaturwineandfooddude

    Damn, I be hungry now. That looks like rather promising pie.
    I need some after absolute crap pies from Felini’s and Zucca in the last two weeks. Need to try Max’s.
    Nice pics.

  • Joe

    What’s up with this comment in the fifth paragraph: “There are a few [coal ovens] in Florida (which really isn’t the south) …”

    I have always found this notion offensive, that Florida isn’t “Southern,” because of the unstated question that it begs. If the South isn’t defined by its borders, then what IS it defined by? Is it the place where a certain portion of the people are ignorant? Racist? Prone to incest? If you’re going to tell me it’s culture, then what culture are you talking about — Appalachian? Coastal? Agrarian? Plantation? African-American?

    The answer is both easy and obvious: The South IS defined by it’s borders — not by its failures, and not by any one among its various cultures. Florida is a very distinctive environment (collection of environments, really), and brings an interesting richness as a prominent region of the American South.

  • Zaac Cook

    Wow, if you think this place is great pizza, maybe ignorance is bliss in South Carolina. Your review is way off. This place is way overrated. I love Fritti, and appreciate Rosa’s but other than that Atlanta is in the bottom decile of major cities when it comes to pizza.

  • Jimmy

    Joe – It’s a flippant comment with no offensive intention. I think a lot of people, myself included, often think of Florida (especially Southern Florida) as a separate entity in terms of cuisine and other forms of culture. I never realized this was something that bothered Floridians and I am now a bit more educated on this topic.

    Zaac – Sorry to say, my opinion stands. Maybe I haven’t lived in a city with truly great pizza, but I was glad I visited Max’s. The sauce/tomatoes and mozz was above average to me, and I will continue to highlight and feature the development of pizza in Atlanta, particularly establishments that are making an effort in terms of quality of ingredients and production. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of Fritti until recently and on my visit to Rosa’s I thought it was overrated. Plenty of people emailed me angrily when I expressed my dislike for mellow mushroom. Everyone has their opinion and level of exposure, and I don’t see that as ignorance.

  • Pingback: Max’s Coal Oven Pizza Restaurant Review – Downtown, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions] | Atlanta Restaurant Reviews | Atlanta Food Blogs | Dining in Atlanta

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