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Cheap Eats: Vertoris Pizza House

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Vertoris' 20-inch rustica pizza / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Vertoris' 20-inch rustica pizza / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

I'm well aware of the prevailing conventional wisdom that holds that downtown Sarasota's Il Panificio (pronounced with a ch, by the way) serves up the best pizza in the area, and I'm totally happy heaping praise on the place. I love the crisp crust, the adventurous toppings, the restrained cheese and sauce. In a former life, I ate Panificio during editorial meetings every single Monday and never once regretted it. (The fact that the publication covered the cost helped.)

But Panificio hoopla aside, I'll be danged if these days I don't prefer the pies coming out of the oven up at Vertoris Pizza House, a tiny spot wedged in between a Bingo Land and an Estetica Unisex just north of the county line. I first heard of the place when employees canvassed my neighborhood, leaving $2 discount flyers. I was new to the area and actively looking for good nearby pizza, and when a trustworthy neighbor told me and my wife Vertoris' pizza was money, I figured why not give it a shot?

I haven't looked back since. Vertoris serves all kinds of pies, with all your usual toppings, but some of the best varieties can be found on the menu's list of specialty pizzas. Two favorites: the eggplant and the rustica (both $12-$17).

The Vertoris genius starts (as with all great pizzas) in its crust. This stuff is a work of art. The Vertoris website lays out its process, which involves a 24-hour proofing process and then on-the-spot tossing and baking in a brick-lined oven. Vertoris' thin crust lacks the cohesiveness and strength of Panificio's, which allows you to pick up a ginormous slice with one hand by folding it down the middle, but the Vertoris crust possesses a mysterious and savory seasoning I've never encountered before. And it's not like the texture isn't also great. It's crinkly and crisp around the edges and elastic and chewy in the middle, just like it should be. It makes for an excellent platform upon which the ingredients may shine.

Like fried eggplant. Lots of places put eggplant on pizza, but so often it comes out a big soggy mess. Eggplant has a tendency to soak up any oil around it, which is why suatéing it can sometimes require a ton of olive oil. But Vertoris' eggplant, fried ahead of time, remains crunchy and fragrant even through the baking process. The restaurant complements the super-flavorful eggplant with mellow ricotta and mozzarella, which makes for a well-balanced pizza with a bare minimum of well-chosen, seasoned-to-perfection ingredients.

The rustica, meanwhile, piles on the toppings, combining sausage, red onions, black olives and roasted red peppers. While the eggplant pizza is a harmonious blend of a couple main ingredients, the rustica is a choir of several singing together. Take a bite (a big bite), and you can't really differentiate one ingredient from another. The crust, the cheese, the sauce, the toppings — it all blends together into one addictive whole.

If you're not crazy about shelling out for a whole pie based solely on my advice, Vertoris offers a great lunch special till 2 p.m. every Monday through Friday. The deal gives you two slices and a drink for $4.99. And once you've tried the pizza, you can then explore higher spheres, like the restaurant's stromboli ($8-$13), which wrap that incredible crust around gooey greatness. The restaurant also offers some great gluten-free pizzas, if that's your thing.

Vertoris may lack Panificio's glamorous Main Street address, but no matter: It has my heart.

A slice of Vertoris' rustica / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

A slice of Vertoris' rustica / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Vertoris Pizza House
6830 14th St. W., Bradenton
751-0333 or vertorispizza.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature on Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.
Last modified: September 30, 2013
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