A couple of weeks ago I was zooming about, delivering Athens Now, and met Joe Carlucci for the first time in his new shop, Joe’s World Famous Pizzeria. It is located down a couple of doors from Starbucks on 72 in Athens. I knew early on in the conversation that I was in the presence of the most passionate pizza guy I had ever met, and then I had the chance to taste his wares. I have had to become gluten free, so most of the time when I get pizza, I just have the toppings and forgo the crust. While that is indeed a bummer, I’ve learned to “adjust and enjoy.” However, I noticed that Joe had what might just be the ticket on his menu: pizza fries. I’ll try many things once, and he made me chicken pizza fries with marinara sauce. I was, as they say, smitten. The marinara is without question the best I have ever had, the portion generous, and the price, inarguably reasonable. He also has gluten free pasta, which is going to be on the docket for my next culinary adventure.
Joe Carlucci is a veritable legend in international “Pizza-dom.” There is an Olympic competition for pizza, and he has won multiple golds. He is a 3 time world pizza champion, and has won several other awards he doesn’t bother mentioning. He is the Guinness Book of World Records holder for the highest pizza toss, (over two stories straight up,) and in 2010, Joe’s was voted The Best Pizza in America. In 2012 he won the award in Naples, Italy, for being the World’s Fastest Pizza Maker. He also studied pizza making there in Italy.
His media exposure has been extensive. Besides being featured in newspapers here and abroad, he has been seen on CNN, ESPN, The Taste, the Food Network, Martha Stewart, and the Today Show. He says, with gratitude, “I’ve travelled all over the world on pizza.” He is also careful to mention with honor his mentor, Tony Gemignani, and calls him “the Babe Ruth of Pizza.” He studied at Tony Gemignani International School of Pizza.
To help Joe with operations and systems, he brought in his former employee and now store manager, Tessa Hornsby. Joe said of Tessa, “At times I think I am working for her, but that’s a good thing. She keeps me organized and inline.”
Joe was born in the Bronx, grew up in Carmel, NY, and never expected to end up in Alabama. And, like many of us that did not start out in the South, he loves it here. He was hired in 2008 as a consultant for a new restaurant that was opening up, and he helped create menus as well as train the staff. He was there for two years, and then went in with partners to open a “Joe’s” on County Line Road. He decided to come to Athens and open a sole proprietorship shop, and has fallen in love with our town.
However, as impressive as the medals, the custom made 4,000 pound brick oven, the articles, the food, and all the rest truly are, there is something about Joe that won my heart, and that is his love for kids. He has a two year old named Valentina, and the best picture on his wall of fame is the one with her on his back, resting peacefully while he keeps her safe. He also named the oven after her! Kids love to come to Joe’s for birthday parties, and they get to make their own pizza, and carefully, with supervision, get it into the oven. He has all kinds of tricks with pizza dough that he shows them, and describes his pizza tricks as being like “the Harlem Globetrotters of Pizza.”
I was almost embarrassed to ask him my usual “I-have-choices,-why-should-I-come-to-you” question, as it is obvious you are not going to get this kind of show any place else. He fired off a long list, some of which has been covered above. “First of all, I am locally owned, and not a part of a chain,” he said. “I make my own food, and I use family recipes.” He got his start in pizza at the age of 14 working at his brother-in-law’s place in New York. He added that he uses fresh products, and I know he understands the beauty and importance of locally grown produce. But then he said the most important thing of all: “You are not going to find passion like this anywhere else.” Pizza made with passion by a true master pizzaiolo, you’ll find it in Athens only at Joe’s World Famous Pizzeria. And, they deliver!
Joe’s World Famous Pizzeria
1260 Hwy 72 Athens, AL 35611
Hours: Mon-Wed, 10:30-8, Thur-Sat, 10:30-9:30, Sun 11-3
Facebook: Joe’s World Famous Pizzeria
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner