500 NW Market St., Seattle, WA 98107 (map); mobile carts at various farmer's markets; 206-525-1813; veracipizza.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan-inspired thin crust
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: The restaurant's extremely crisp pies suffer from a pasty sauce and bland cracker crust; those served from Veraci's carts fare better
Price: Three Cheese slice, $4; 14-inch whole pies, $16-$19
What started in 2004 as a small mobile oven nicknamed "Terracottababy" and rapidly expanded to include a brick-and-mortar restaurant and an empire of farmer's market carts, Veraci is a success story Seattleites love to call their own. Co-owners Marshall Jett and Errin Byrd seem to garner a never-ending stream of praise from local publications. Sadly, there is a definite discrepancy between the feverish hype surrounding Veraci and the actual product they're serving.
When a restaurant calls its pizza "authentic Neapolitan," I expect three basic elements in their Margherita: 1) a thin crust with a pliant, charred, usually puffy cornicione; 2) a simple red sauce of crushed, minimally seasoned tomatoes; and 3) fresh mozzarella and basil. Veraci's Margherita does indeed boast fresh mozzarella and basil, but one out of three is not a passing grade. Unfortunately, this isn't a case where bending the rules has resulted in a superior pie. No two ways about it: The sauce and crust need serious work.
Let's start with the crust, the backbone of any great pizza. Veraci's is as brittle as bones stricken with osteoporosis and tastes like a round, 14-inch saltine. The outer rim is alternately flat and hollow, with no hole structure to speak of; don't try to fold a slice or it will snap in two. The domed oven does a fine job of singeing the undercarriage, but unlike most pizzas pulled from these bastions of flame, where the blisters and boils become infused with the smokiness of the combusting wood, the char on these pies tastes like burnt toast.
Worse still is the red sauce (accurately described as "savory" on the menu), which is thick like paste, too sweet, and overly zesty. That astringent "zing" almost always comes from the inclusion of one of two things: vinegar (either balsamic or white) or tomato paste. Whatever's being put into the sauce, it's added with a heavy hand, causing it to overpower any of that great natural tomato flavor.
A better menu option—by way of distraction—is the Amante di Carne, which masks the bland crust and pasty sauce with a jumble of pepperoni, CasCioppo Bros. sausage, black olives, red onions, and shaved Parmesan. The sausage is peppery but lacking fennel, blending in with the flavor of the pepperoni so that every bite leaves you with the sensation of eating some kind of meat, if not one in particular.
The Diavolo layers pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and black olives on a sauce that's infused with red pepper. I didn't really notice a strong red pepper presence in the sauce, but the pepperoni has plenty of kick to it on its own. It's a mostly satisfying slice, though the chopped tomatoes added little flavor.
The tasty Kalamata olives on Veraci's Original pizza pack such a punch of meaty, briny goodness that it's a real shame they aren't served more often. Here they were well matched with the sweet roasted red peppers, red onions, feta, and garlic olive oil. Perfect balance across the board.
My only problem with this slice was the same problem I had with every other pie to come out of the restaurant's oven: the crust. While trying to fold it in half because of the heavy toppings, the crust shattered like glass, spraying flour into the air, across the tabletop, and onto my brother. Party foul!
The best thing to order at Veraci's permanent residence isn't the pizza, it's the homemade gelato. Flavors change constantly, but a recent selection included such choices as burnt sugar, pumpkin, and almond cheesecake. I particularly enjoyed the burnt sugar, which produced deep caramel overtones on the tongue, though it could have been a bit creamier in texture.
To get a fuller sense of Veraci's offerings, I hit up the Veraci cart at the bustling Ballard Farmer's Market and tried a few slices. All were a marked step up from the pies served at Veraci's home base. The crust on all these slices was less brittle, even foldable.
I loved the spiciness of the pepperoni and the burn of the pepper-infused olive oil on the Spicy Tony, which the fresh mushrooms absorbed like little ShamWows. There wasn't much sausage on this particular slice, but it wasn't really missed. The plain Pepperoni slice was another pleasant surprise.
Best of all was the Three Cheese pizza. It's a Neapolitan-New York hybrid style that really works. The über-tangy red sauce is nearly balanced by Veraci's "signature three-cheese blend," which I'm guessing includes aged mozzarella and provolone. It had just the right amount of saltiness, and the layer of cheese—even though the slice had cooled dramatically—had a good dose of umami. This slice blew the rest of Veraci's pizzas out of the water.
I was relieved to taste the excellent Three Cheese slice, especially because I wanted to love Veraci more than I did. The people running the restaurant are extraordinarily pleasant, and the customer service is fantastic and friendly. Those operating the mobile cart were similarly upbeat and outgoing. I'd return here just to experience that same high level of customer appreciation, it was that noticeable. But unless I happened to be at one of the carts, I'd be ordering the gelato, not the pizza.
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