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First things first: there really is a disco ball hanging from the ceiling at Italian Disco, the Atlas Restaurant Group’s latest eatery in its burgeoning Harbor East empire. When we visited in the fall, it started rotating around 8 p.m., adding an extra dash of funk to the festivities. Not that it was needed—we were already having, well, a ball.
Housed in the former home of Bagby Pizza, which felt like a take-out joint, Italian Disco exudes a much more happening vibe than its predecessor. A long bar with circular stools lines one wall; high-top tables and conventional ones fill out the space. Looming above it all is the back half of a vintage Fiat that doubles as a DJ booth on weekends. We loved the classic rock playing on our weeknight visit—Italian Disco is actually a genre of music that originated in Italy in the late ’70s.
Our meal began inauspiciously. The restaurant opened in May, and the service is still rough around the edges. Our waitress didn’t know the answer to several of our questions about the menu and was oddly hesitant to ask the bar or kitchen for answers. We started with fine but unremarkable cocktails, forgettable complementary breadsticks, and an order of fried olives that were far too bready. We barely touched the appetizers (we finished the drinks, of course), which turned out to be a good thing, because everything that followed was fantastic.
Three large turkey meatballs doused in marinara sauce, Parmesan, and basil were beautifully flavored and impressively moist. The sausage and peppers sandwich, while not as spicy as we would have liked, was accompanied by a fistful of terrific fries prepared in peanut oil. A plate of penne pasta, made in-house, was topped with tender blackened chicken in a subtle red sauce that included peas. It was rich, but not overpoweringly so.
But all that served merely as a precursor. The pizza oven is visible from the back, and in it, chef Julian Marucci, whom Italian Disco shares with its across-the-courtyard sister restaurant, Tagliata, produces some of the best pies in the city. Most of the 12-inch varieties cost $14-19 and are worth the dough. The toppings on the Carbonara—bacon, leeks, soft egg, black pepper, and pecorino—were delicious, but the crust was the real star. Thin and impossibly crispy, yet not over-charred, we delighted in each crunchy bite.
Strangely, our second pizza had not emerged from the kitchen by the time we’d finished with our first. It had been burned, our server explained, and another was being prepared. (I applaud this honest approach to an honest mistake.) By then we were already quite full, so there was no panic at the disco.
When the white anchovy pie arrived, we immediately knew it was worth the wait. Devouring a slice of this masterful melding of fragrant fish, peppers, olives, and oregano was a lot like Italian Disco itself: a blast (from the past).
Mike Unger - January 2019