The small storefront named Vera Pizzeria was so full that I could hear the crowd before the door opened.
Inside, we lucked out and got the last table. We took a minute to read through the detailed menu of handmade $10 cocktails, including historic recipes and house-made components. Vera's emphasis on classy cocktails is made clear in the menu, which warns that if you seek appletinis and such, "perhaps this is not the bar for you."
Ice clattering in cocktail shakers is part of Vera's background hum. I was already starting to feel a little out of place, as the staff was generally beautiful and tattooed, while I am not. But Cat was with me, ordering a Caipirinha (5 Island Rum, coarse brown sugar, fresh lime juice and fruit), and I asked for a Blinker (a 1934 recipe mustering American rye whiskey, fresh grapefruit juice and housemade grenadine).
Mine came with a huge ice cube, for slower dilution. They were both delicious, welcome reminders that cocktails are meant to be savored.
The food menu here is limited, compared with the care and sophistication lavished on the drinks. There are salads and starters, pizzas and a few entrees.
We chose a chilled melon soup special ($7) and a crispy calamari Caesar salad ($10) for starters. Then an asparagus and Taleggio cheese pizza ($13) with green onions, Roma tomatoes and pecorino romano, and lamb meatballs on lemon basil fettucine ($15) with pine nuts, herbed red wine tomato sauce and more shaved pecorino.
We debated whether it was odd for a place devoted to the $10 cocktail not to give you bread or munchies until the soup arrived. Then we started arguing about the soup.
Cat held that the melon in the soup was overripe before being pureed, tarted up with citrus and dotted with prosciutto curls and pine nuts. I held that it was dead ripe and that its slight fizziness was more likely due to soda water than spoilage.
Either way, it was far too acidic. I stopped eating it and chugged water to recover.
The calamari salad was welcome, with happily crisp calamari rings on a bed of well-dressed chopped romaine lettuce. We pushed the soup aside and polished off the salad.
This might sound overly picky, but Vera labels itself a pizzeria and cares about authenticity in a glass, so: The pizza was more like a flatbread. Its crust lacked the crunch, char and overall character of a first-rate brick-oven pizza.
Leave off the label debate and it was tasty, to be sure. Rosemary scented, with fresh asparagus, the tang of Taleggio and decent tomatoes, it was a welcome light plate.
The lamb meatballs were tender and not gamy. The lemon aspect came through distinctly in the pasta, but the basil was lost on me.
We decided on dessert after we saw that Vera offered fresh mini doughnuts with Nutella sauce ($7), and we asked for cannoli ($7), too.
We got six golfball-sized fritters lavished with cinnamon sugar, which were delicious dipped in the chocolate-hazelnut bath, even if the insides were doughy. We dispatched the warm nuggets swiftly.
The cannoli shells were crunchy, but Cat found the ricotta filling not sweet enough. Fortunately, there was leftover Nutella for dipping.
In the end, Vera seems to be a bar with excellent cocktails that happens to serve food, which we found mostly decent. If you don't enjoy savoring your drinks, though, perhaps this is not the restaurant for you.
DESCRIPTION: Well-made period cocktails and decent food in small, popular restaurant.
WHERE: 220 Lexington Ave. (551-6262, www.verapizzeria.com)
HOURS: 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $8-$15. Pizzas $11-$13. Entrees $15-$19. PARKING: On the street.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.