Antica Forma: Neapolitan Magic in Vernal (Utah)


What do dinosaurs, pizza and Israel have it common?

Trick question. The city of Vernal is close to Dinosaur National Monument, located in the little visited corner of northeastern Utah, the state with the most bang for the National Park Service buck. The monument has 1,500 dinosaur bone fossils on display in situ, making it a destination for paleontologists and tourists. Vernal also attracted the talents of chef Israel Hernandez, who learned the art of Neapolitan pizza-making in New York City under the tutelage of masters Don Antonio Starita, a third-generation pizzaiolo from Naples, and Roberto Caporuscio (Keste Pizza & Vino). In 2015, Hernandez even won third place in the USA Caputo Cup, the pizza world’s annual cook-off. Somehow, he was lured out of NYC to open Antica Forma (with a business partner Jody), a Neapolitan pizzeria in Vernal (population 10,000).

To have such a place in town, let alone a few blocks from the motel, was totally unexpected for me and my wife. A quick look at TripAdvisor and Yelp made me aware of it.

We started off with an arugula salad mixed with house-grown grape tomatoes, micro-planed Parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette glaze. Excellent.

Fresca salad

The pistacchio pizza impressed us with its masterful crust, thin, chewy, crispy on the outside, nicely blistered in spots. This is a hallmark of an excellent dough, likely “00” flour, and mastery over a blisteringly hot pizza oven. The pistachio pesto was a sleight of hand; it was hard to tell the ground nuts from the finely ground Italian sausage. A cream sauce with house-made mozzarella cheese, basil and EVOO completed the delicious surprise (top image).

We were ready to pay the bill when the waitress mentioned that one of the dessert specials was peach pie. Fond memories of Marie Callendar danced in our heads. What arrived was a fresh peach pie with the lightest, barely sweet glaze, topped with whipped cream. And, oh, that crust—so incredibly light. The desserts, it turns out, is made by Jody, the business partner. He also makes gelati. The waitress encouraged us to try the banana cream pie the next time we come back. Come back? Now, that’s a thought.

Fresh peach pie

Our return. How could we not enjoy one last meal here? For the second night in a row, we ate at Antica Forma.

Salad: the Primavera—baby mixed greens, candied pecans, sliced Granny Smith apples, shredded Havarti, roasted tomato vinaigrette. Very good.

Primavera salad

Pizza: the Funghi—tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, minced mushrooms, basil, EVOO. The same superb crust, a fresh tomato sauce. Excellent.

Funghi pizza

Our waitress last night informed us that Antica Forma will be opening a branch in Moab (in February 2018). Edward Abbey fans, rejoice.

Antica Forma Pizzeria
251 E Main St
Vernal, UT 84078
435.374.4138

Antico Pizza Napoletana: Eating Portafoglio Style (Atlanta, GA)


I’m partial to thin-crust pizza with simple toppings. I should be able to count the ingredients on one hand. A crust crisped on the outside, chewy on the inside. If the pie doesn’t sag in the middle, even better. This doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate another style.

Antico Pizza Napoletana serves Neapolitan pizzas in Atlanta. In 2012, Zagat conducted a survey of the best pizzas in 23 U. S. cities. Antico came out on top with the highest score among pizzerias, an almost perfect 28 out of 30 points. This was worth checking out.

It’s located in the Westside section of Atlanta, along the periphery of Georgia Tech. I first noticed the small dining area as I walked through the door. The tables were entirely occupied by customers. I was concerned about getting seating. Opera music was being piped over the speaker system. The order counter was to the left, above which was the menu and a long illustration in comic book format on eating Neapolitan pizza portafoglio-style—holding the slice in your left hand, say, while folding the pointed end toward the outer edge with the right, finishing the crosswise fold with the left, and mangia. Even with their B.Y.O.B. option, a good selection of reasonably priced wines and other beverages can be purchased.

The two traditional and ‘protected’ Neapolitan pizzas are at the top of the menu—Margherita and marinara—followed by Antico’s specialties.

We were able to sit down after all. There is a much larger dining area in the back with long communal tables. At the rear of the room was the open kitchen flanked by three large wood-burning stoves and staffed by pizzaiolos, who were either hand-forming the dough and dressing the pies or baking. To my surprise, within ten minutes of ordering, the pizza arrived. I discovered later that Antico, like any authentic Neapolitan pizzeria, bakes their pies in blisteringly hot ovens at 900-1000o F, which cooks their pizzas in only only a minute or so.

Condiments, available in front of the cooking station, include dried red pepper flakes, grated Pecorino, minced garlic and chile paste. There is also a large plastic tub of calabrian chile peppers, an ingredient in another of Antico’s famous pies, the Diavola. Eaten straight though, they’re exceedingly salty.

Condiments

While our San Gennaro pizza (top image) is one of Antico’s specialties, it still had characteristics of a classic Neapolitan pie. A thin (and pliable) crust in the middle, puffed and spottily charred edge crust, nicely browned bottom, ground San Marzano tomatoes, bufala mozzarella. These essential ingredients are imported directly from Italy. Sweet peppers and salsiccia added sweet and savory notes. Grated scamorza cheese and roasted cipolline onions completed the toppings. A great pizza, clearly a signature pie. I marked this fantastically flavored pizza down slightly because of the soft middle crust, but that’s a personal dislike. But, with pizza this good, I could learn to love it. (☆☆☆½)

Antico Pizza Napoletana
1093 Hemphill Ave NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
404.873.1272