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Any way you slice it

The hunt for phenomenal pizza in Atlanta continues

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The alchemical process of making a soul-satisfying pizza seems simple, but it ain't. Crust often tastes more like the box it's delivered in; tomato sauce is frequently insipid or, worse, pasty and woodsy from an overabundance of dried herbs; and the cheese is commonly the tasteless, pre-shredded variety delivered by a huge foodservice distributor in plastic bags. Without stellar ingredients and a passionate artisan in the kitchen, most of the finished products come out little better than frozen specimens.

Unfortunately, this has been my typical experiences in the metro area's pizza restaurants.

My hunt outside the Perimeter thus far turned up two good pizza joints, one great one, and a bunch of disappointments. It's a big world out there, and I haven't yet been to several places, including Brooklyn Pizza Department in Austell, Bergamo in Kennesaw and Bella's in Smyrna, whose word-of-mouth merits investigation. I'll continue the investigation in a few weeks: I'm turning into a cheesy dough ball myself at this point.

Here are my noteworthy OTP finds from this round of exploration.

Luna Pizza

This charmer, located across from Town Center Mall in Kennesaw, is my favorite recent find. The walls are covered with whimsical, folksy art, a nice change of pace in a pizza eatery. Smoky, toasty smells wafting from the brick oven pizza are the first clue that you're in for a treat. They use a wonderfully stringy, milky white mozzarella that drapes over the crust like a woman posing for a portrait on a chaise lounge. The crust is pleasantly toothsome and curls up seductively to envelop the toppings. I enjoyed both their regular and specialty pizzas, but the one that really hooked me was their white clam pizza that took me back to the New Haven pizza parlors I used to haunt during my college years. If you're a pizza aficionado, this place merits the drive.

2615 George Busbee Parkway, Kennesaw. 678-766-0449.

Pepperoni's

Who knew Buford Highway stretched all the way to Duluth? At its very end resides this lighthearted joint whose walls are covered with absorbing posters of foodstuffs like chiles, tropical fruit and funky cheeses (OK, maybe they're just absorbing to me). The strange array of knickknacks encased under glass on the tables helps stave off boredom while you wait for your pizza. Pepperoni's does both deep dish and thin crust pies. I lean toward the thin (they also do flavored crusts, of which I'm partial to the parmesan). They've got a page full of zonky creations like the Hawaiian Maui Wowie with feta and pineapple, but I'm happiest sticking to the basics here.

2750 Buford Highway, Duluth. 770-232-0224.

Zapolli's Pizzeria

Sometimes it's refreshing to visit a divey spot with faded white-and-red-checked plastic tablecloths whose menu still refers to sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes as "gourmet." This small local chain (I tried the one on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs) does a brisk take-out and delivery business. These pies, though, definitely taste best when served piping hot in the restaurant. The "Italian Special" pizza with sausage, mushroom, onion, green peppers and pepperoni is your fundamental, garden-variety concoction, but it's mighty tasty.

276 Hammond Drive, Sandy Springs. 404-252-0147. www.zapollispizzeria.com.

Know of any outstanding OTP pizza? Lemme know at bill.addison@ creativeloafing.com.

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