ATLANTA -- New York, Boston, San Francisco all have their own Little Italy to grab pizza, pasta and cannolis. Little by little, a local businessman has been trying to create that same culture in Atlanta.
Pizza is in Giovanni Di Palma's DNA.
"This isn't something you can learn in cooking school," he said.
Zagat's called Antico Pizza the best in the country. The Food Network ranked Antico as the best ever.
In 2009, Gio bought the former French bakery on the Westside.
"This place was for sale, the economy was terrible, this neighborhood was not good," he said.
His son helped him remove layers of graffiti and fix the dilapidated building.
Word spread, organically, and night after night, year after year, Atlantans have been packing the Hemphill pizzeria.
Local celebrities regularly pop in, as do stars in town for movies.
"I broke all of the branding and marketing rules. We probably sold $20 million worth of pizza here and I don't have a logo on my box on my paper, napkins… nothing," Di Palma said.
Outside Antico, Gio's working on a different kind of branding while creating Atlanta's own Little Italy.
Little by little, more and more people are hanging out in the hardscrabble neighborhood on the rebound.
"When Arthur Blank came with his kids, and Usher came with his kids, after the gelato bar opened and they said, 'Let's go for a walk and eat our gelato,'" Di Palma said.
This spring, Gio will debut ravioli and seafood bars.
"I feel like after I have seafood, I will have delivered a Neapolitan experience," he said.
To add to the Neapolitan experience, Gio dreams of doing even more around the neighborhood. He says he would love to see cobblestone streets, gaslight lanterns and landscape design that tie all of the properties together.
As for his plans outside his Little Italy, he already has a presence in Avalon in Alpharetta and is in talks about having a presence at the new stadiums.
WEB EXTRA: Marie DiPalma s polpetti (meatballs) recipe
Ingredients for family recipe:
1 lb ground beef
1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb ground veal
1/2 of Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup of Pecorino Romano grated
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Tbs of granulated garlic
1/4 cup of fine chopped Italian parsley
Tsp Sea salt
Tsp Black pepper
Sea salt tsp Black pepper tsp
Mix all meats together by hand in a large stainless bowl. Break in eggs and mix. Then add all dry seasonings. Mix well.
Heat a non-stick large sauté pan to medium heat with a generous coating of olive oil. Ball meat to size desired and place them into pan. Roll them slowly until all sides are well browned . When you remove them, drop them directly into your large pot of Neapolitan Ragu sauce.
Optional: a true Italian will dump all the drippings and scrape meat from sauté into pot for extra flavor. Simmer low for several hours. Pull all the meatballs into a servicing bowl and cover and make your pasta with that well flavored sauce. Buon Appetito!