When Vero Amore opened its doors awhile back in a strip mall on the corner of Swan and Camp Lowell roads, much was made of the fact that the pizza there was different.
Vero Amore served the only pizza in Tucson made by following the strict guidelines set down by Verace Pizza Napoletana, which is the official arbiter of pizza made in the official Neapolitan way. This means the pie is baked in a wood oven (at a perfect 800 degrees), using 00 flour (finely ground), San Marzano plum tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, salt and yeast. The technique is also regulated: The dough is hand stretched using a marble slab. This is all supposed to result in a practically perfect pizza.
As a pizza aficionado, I wondered: Does all that energy really made a difference?
The answer is yes, if the pies we enjoyed are any indication. We popped in on a weekday evening to find a lovely little dining room decked out in pale yellow and grass green, with drawings of suns, moons and stars all around. The tables are dark and shiny, simply topped with gleaming wine glasses and tableware. Along the front window is a counter with several chairs. And in the back, flames from that special oven add a certain glow.
Our server was all smiles, even though she had just returned from summer vacation. She brought us tall glasses of icy water while we read the menu.
We couldn't pass on the prosciutto Caprese salad ($8.50) that promised some of the much-touted homemade mozzarella (see John Peck's "Cheese With Care," July 13). We each ordered our own pizzas: John ordered the anima ($9.95) which came with andouille sausage, smoked mozzarella, parmesan and the house tomato sauce. (There are a few pizzas on the menu that are served without sauce, and the pizza marinara has no cheese.) I went with the margherita ($8.50), a traditional pie topped with tomato sauce, basil, homemade mozzarella and parmesan. A glass of Monrosso Monsanto ($7) from the nice little wine list was my choice of drink. John had a Moretti beer ($3.50).
The salad arrived in no time, and it was appealing to the eye. There were lots of little greens, red and yellow tomatoes and four large slabs of cheese, topped with thin translucent prosciutto, with a leaf of fresh basil sandwiched between the meat and cheese. The dressing was a light vinaigrette. The mozzarella was fantastic on its own, but with the prosciutto, basil and a bite of juicy tomato, the salad was heavenly; the greens were almost unnecessary.
Next came the pizzas, and they, too, were pleasing to the eye. The thin dough was blistered (showing how hot the oven is) and crisp, and had a nice bit of chew to it. The pizzas were similar, but still different in their own way: There was a lot of aromatic, fresh stuff on mine, and spicy, slightly smoky stuff on John's. The andouille sausage was a nice touch.
For dessert, we'd hoped for some Frost gelato, as stated on the menu, but the freezer was broken, so the server offered panna cotta ($5.50) instead. Vero Amore's version of this Italian gelatin dessert is a shiny, white disc garnished with berries. Perfectly creamy and served well-chilled, it was a perfect ending to our meal.
Visit two was for lunch. The menu has two pasta offerings, and having already had the pizza, they were the logical choice. John ordered the ravioli aumentare ($9.95), described as ricotta, herb ravioli and crab ravioli, served with a blend of the house marinara and a cream sauce. I had the linguini marinara ($8.95), which was baked with mozzarella, garlic, basil and some of the marinara sauce. Again, the service was friendly and sincere.
Having a limited pasta menu is a smart idea. That way, quality is the main concern, not quantity. And both the dishes were definitely quality. The ravioli consisted of tri-colored dough for the herb and cheese, and red-flecked dough for the crab. The sauce was rich and creamy, a nice complement to the light pasta pillows.
I had to dig to find the cheese in my linguini, but once I hit the gooey center, the dish began to take shape. Again, the pasta was light and the sauce delicious.
The only thing that would've helped was some good, dense bread to sop up the delicious sauce--but alas, there was none. The only bread I could find came in the form of a crouton, served with some of the salads, that is actually a slice of toasted bread. This means the restaurant doesn't really have "croutons," either.
Vero Amore has a certain newness to it and some minor kinks to work out, but those should disappear soon--they really have a great product. The pasta is tasty, and the pizza is truly the way pizza is supposed to be: hot, crispy, chewy, and cheesy, with every bite full of fresh flavors. Save for the lack of bread, this new little pizza joint is an outstanding addition to the pizza scene in town.