Festive buzz, Part IV: Vera Pizzeria - PHOTOS
blog by Thea Tio • January 20, 2014 @ 10:06am
Before Vera Pizzeria owner Cameron Rector and I sat down for our interview, he doled out the Elmwood Village bar’s celebrated house shot, Fernet Branca.
With 29 different herbs and spices, a little sip of this will clear out your sinuses or whatever else ails you.
This bitter is so beloved by Rector and his staff that every single bartender who works at Vera has the Fernet Branca logo tattooed on their body.
No really, see picture evidence to the right. In America, Vera is the fourth-largest consumer of this Milan-made product.
Needless to say, the art of mixing drinks is taken very seriously here.
“We really nerd out about the history behind cocktails,” Rector admitted.
“We measure ice temperature and note how rotations in a glass affect dilution. While it looks cool, there is a science to the king cube, it doesn’t water your drink down and melt as fast because there’s more surface area.”
He and business partner Bryan Lester opened the urban Italian restaurant-bar in September 2011. The front of the bar menu simply reads: Love Potions. Pain Killers. Truth Serums. Courage Builders.
Rector and his bar staff develop a new drink menu every 90 days. I asked for three of their popular spirited libations during this winter season, all $10 each.
The Cardamom Spiced Old Fashioned (left) has Elijah Craig 12-year-aged Kentucky bourbon, cinnamon-infused simple syrup and cardamom bitters made by a German company called the Bitter Truth. The cardamom adds a warm spice.
“Winter in a glass,” Rector noted.
(Side observation: There seems to be a running theme with my unique seasonal drinks series, which involves lighting things on fire. In this case, citrus peel).
Vera makes as many ingredients as they possibly can in-house every day. These include orange-spice bitters, grenadine, grapefruit and lime juices.
“Our prep guys get here at 8 in the morning to get all the juices, syrups, bitters and tonics ready and then leave at 3,” said Rector.
“With craft cocktails, that’s what we’re kind of famous for and [what we] brought to Buffalo,” Rector explained.
“Why buy a jug of some fake sour mix when you can just juice lemons and add some sugar? You’re going to taste the freshness and quality—it’s not like we’re just cracking cans of pasteurized orange juice. We squeeze that stuff every day.”
Another ingredient made in-house is the apple cider used in the Hot Rum & Cider (left). Seven-year-aged Trinidadian rum adds a molasses quality to this drink, and it mixes beautifully with the mulling spices—also made at Vera. Fresh-cut apple slices garnish this warm, feel-good beverage.
“It’s a labor-intensive process, but with that, it’s a labor of love and I think you can taste that in every cocktail we make,” Rector said.
Rector is incredibly detailed oriented. I watched as he meticulously took a toothpick to get the spice to look just right for the Pepper Potts, below (named after Iron Man’s girlfriend).
This cocktail is Vera’s play on a standard whiskey sour. Rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, black walnut bitters and simple and maple syrups make for a refreshing and slightly spicy drink.
An egg white caps the drink off for a sweet, cloud-like top, accompanied with a little crushed pepper for some kick.
Many of Vera’s drink recipe ideas come from Rector and his bartenders’ research.
“We all have an extreme passion for this and are constantly pushing ourselves and learning,” Rector said. “It’s kind of like time traveling. We get to experience what people were drinking in the early 1900s before Prohibition.”
“We’re a classic cocktail bar,” he added. “What I think people fail to realize is the cocktail is just as American as apple pie and baseball—we brought this to the world,” Rector added.
Although the drink menu changes every three months, Vera always makes sure that bartenders can whip up any drink from a previous menu.
“The menu’s there for the experience, but we also want you to be able to come in and just say, ‘I love whiskey, I had a crappy day, hit me up.’ We gotcha, we want that,” he smiled.
For previous Festive Buzz pieces, click on the links below. If you have a suggestion for her next spirited adventure, please tweet at us (@BuffaloDotCom).