Food & DrinkGrub Notes

Automatic Pizza Raises the Bar for Uncomplicated Pizza

FOR THE PEOPLE: One law of the restaurant business is that, once someone has gone to the trouble and expense of installing a pizza oven in a kitchen, it is much easier to leave it there than to take it out. Mostly, this means that one mediocre pizza place follows another. Automatic Pizza (1397 Prince Ave., 706-850-2036), which took the place of a Pizza Hut at the corner of Oglethorpe and Prince avenues, is a happy exception to the chain of sameness.

This is not to say that the restaurant does anything groundbreaking with its food. It doesn’t. The menu is simple, short and straightforward. Your kids will happily eat most of it. But it also tries harder and executes the standards smarter and better than most of its competition.

Despite the addition of some picnic tables under the former pull-through out front and in the back, Automatic is itty-bitty. Most of its business seems to be take-out, and were there to be a long line at the register, where it would snake is a mystery. But the space is well used. A fancy water/ice dispenser that glows blue is tucked out of the way. The counter space for the cash register is minimal. You might have to play a bit of people-Tetris getting to the restroom, but it all feels focused and intentional.

Perhaps the best detail of the restaurant is the fact that it hands you an adorable plastic animal so the servers can match you to your order. Quizzed on what happens should a child decide to chomp on one (a realistic hazard), owner Bain Mattox said they run them through the dishwasher regularly and are ready to snag any that make their way into a mouth.

You might have to play a bit of people-Tetris getting to the restroom, but it all feels focused and intentional.

The pizza is thin-crust, big, with a tendency to get soggy toward the point should you not eat it immediately. The sauce is neither too sweet nor too spicy, and the outer edge of crust is less puffy than at Transmetropolitan, though not as thin as at Ted’s Most Best. Some folks have complained that the toppings are all the same price, meat or veggie, but it does save you from doing the calculus of just how much you want protein on your pizza. There are some nice surprises among them, too, like fresh basil, green olives, cherry peppers and anchovies that are actually delicious. The same little fish—firm-fleshed and silvery rather than sad, hairy, brown things—can show up in the Caesar salad.

The price point is good. A slice is $2, plus 40 cents for toppings, which beats pretty much anywhere in town. The large antipasto salad (romaine and iceberg with pepperoncini, green olives, capicola, ham, pepperoni, Provolone and creamy Italian dressing) is a mere $5.

The subs are nowhere near the size of the ones at Little Italy, but they are light and fresh. The chicken parm, made with chunks of theoretically smoked (you can’t taste it), unbreaded chicken, is a disappointment, even dunked in marinara, but the Italian (ham, salami, capicola, pepperoni, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onions, Provolone, oil and vinegar) is great. Cannoli for dessert, a half-pour “dad beer” for half-price while you wait (the “mom wine” has just been added) and juice boxes are all nice add-ons.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, takes credit cards, does wine and beer and has extra parking during dinner in one of the hospital lots off Georgia.

ANOTHER LAW: Franchises exist, for the most part, because people want consistency and generally good customer service. The fact that the location of Einstein Bros. Bagels that has opened downtown (259 E. Broad St., 706-549-0007) seems harried and disorganized is frustrating for exactly that reason.

The bagels are fine. They’re the same thing you can get at any of its hundreds of other stores. If you want a bagel with lox, onion and cream cheese neatly packaged and ready in a hurry, sure, you might want to stop in. Or, if you are desperate for a bagel after 3 p.m., when Athens Bagel Company, around the corner, closes, Einstein Bros. is open until 11 p.m.

It has plenty of cushy seating (the interior is 100 percent different from the space’s last few tenants) and ready-to-go OJ, cookies wrapped and ready, wi-fi and bagels in all kinds of crazy flavors (plus some sort of hot dog wrapped in bagel dough that I didn’t get a chance to try). But the system in place for ordering seems to break down. Having two sets of registers, one labeled “order here” and the other “pay here,” is confusing, especially when the staff seem to ignore their own signs. Is it fair to judge a franchise by different standards than a local business, excusing slack service and spaciness at the latter while expecting a well-oiled machine at the former? And, if not, why not?

The bagel shop also makes sandwiches (breakfast and lunch), does some fancy coffees with plenty of sugar in them and opens bright and early at 6 a.m. every day.