It's not every day you get to dine with the Simpson family. On Tuesday 20 September, I and 129 other lucky golden ticket holders got to chow down with Marge, Homer and the kids (plus Gordon the gopher and Han Solo, among others) at the opening party of Atomic Pizza.
Given that the retro-themed joy that is Atomic Burger often has queues of eager would-be diners outside its door, it's little wonder that the team behind this Cowley Road institution decided to transform their former pizzeria (Fratellis) with the atomic touch. Located at number 247, it's just a shade too far down East Oxford's busiest street to attract much passing trade, and many restaurants might struggle in such a position. Somehow, I think Atomic Pizza will do just fine, if the enthusiasm at the launch party was anything to go by.
With a bigger canvas to play with, the owners have given their penchant for TV-themed nostalgia free rein: the Simpsons greet you by the door, Buffy pops up in a corner trying to make an emergency call from Dr Who's tardis, while Spiderman surveys the scene in the main dining room. With a lighter colour scheme, fun touches adorning over the walls and a black and white check floor, the feel is classic American diner.
And what about the food? I must admit, when I first checked out the menu I wasn't sure that some of the more inventive creations would work: after all, what tastes good on a burger might not make such a fantastic pizza topping. Rather than a traditional Italian feel, the starters hit an American note: nachos, buffalo wings and 'tater tots' as well as garlic bread and calamari rings. Die-hard Atomic fans will be glad to know that burgers also make an appearance on the menu, along with other non-pizza mains including a Philly cheese steak sandwich.
At the launch party, it was all about the stonebaked stuff, though. We positioned ourselves near the kitchen for maximum pizza potential. The first pizza out was a Tony Stark: steak, bacon, pepperoni and chicken on a mozzarella and tomato base. The verdict on this meat feast? Very tasty, B assured me. Also popular was the He-Man (barbecue pulled pork). I can vouch for the vegetarian offerings: the Popeye (spinach, goat's cheese, sun-dried tomato, red onion and olive) and the Dr Manhattan (blue cheese, artichoke, rocket and parmesan) were big hits with my tastebuds. I was somewhat sceptical about both the Hell Boy (refried beans, red onion, hot sauce and jalapenos) and the veggie Cheech and Chong (veggie chilli, nachos and jalapenos), but both were far less strange than I expected, with an interesting and memorable flavour. I can see crisps on a pizza being a big hit with the more youthful customers, but I think I'll stick with the Dr Manhattan.
If you're familiar with Atomic Burger, you'll have heard of the Godzilla Challenge: 60 minutes to consume an obscene amount of obscenely spicy food. As expected, the challenge has extended to Atomic Pizza, and we were 'fortunate' enough to be among the first to try this hellishly hot creation. With their secret recipe Godzilla sauce and plenty of jalapenos, it looked inocuous enough, but after 2 bites my lips and the roof of my mouth would have happily welcomed a visit from the fire brigade. Some might like it hot, but I think my limit's a Hell Boy.
With a choice of bases (thin, thick or calzone style - I preferred the lovely, light and crisp thin base) and enough toppings to keep even the most adventurous diners happy, there's something for everyone on the menu. Vegetarians are well catered for, and gluten free pizza bases are also available. With the same fun atmosphere as Atomic Burger and a varied, competitively priced menu (all pizzas are under £10), I think the Atomic team are on to another winner. I can't wait to pop back for another Dr Manhattan with the Simpsons.
Atomic Pizza is at 247 Cowley Road. Tel: 01865 248200.