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Entertainment Food & Dining

Verde Pizza mixes kid-friendliness, sophistication

Verde Pizza Napoletana is a family establishment. But don't let that scare you.

You won't find arcade games, or even crayons, in the Canton eatery, which opened in September in the former Birches space. You will find good Neapolitan pizza, helpful service and — yes — kids.

After 7 on a recent Friday night, the place was busy, though not packed. Despite the highchairs posted at tables both inside and out, the vibe was urban-cool, with reclaimed wood and exposed brick walls and a sparkling white open kitchen.

Our seat, a small table in the middle of the action, gave us a clear view of the bar and community table in the front of the restaurant and the wood-burning pizza oven in the rear kitchen. On the downside, it was a high-traffic spot, and the narrow table was on the small side for a couple sharing two of Verde's 12-inch pizzas.

The table was perfect, though, for drinks and appetizers. Right now, Verde has only a beer and wine license, but thanks to the restaurant's carefully curated selection of both, we didn't miss the liquor.

From the beer list, a DuClaw Mysterium ($5) was fruity and full-bodied — a good pre-dinner choice.

The wine list was Italy- and California-heavy and stocked with grapes both familiar and new. A glass of Vinosia Falanghina ($9), a new-to-us Italian white recommended by our waiter, was unusual and compelling, with grassy flavor and acidity that made it a good match for savory pizza.

But before that pizza, an appetizer. Unfortunately, our first brush with the food, the caprese salad with Buffalo mozzarella ($10), was a disappointment. Sandwiched between hard hunks of mozzarella, slices of tomato were pale and lifeless.

But a bite of the mozzarella alone revealed a hint of salty creaminess. The cheese was high quality, but its chilly temperature suggested that over-refrigeration had zapped its flavor.

Verde's pizzas, on the other hand, were very good. The crust — simple and traditionally Neapolitan — was chewy in some spots, crisp and smoky in others, thanks to its time in the wood-burning oven.

The Cappuccetto Rosso ($16), "little red riding hood," was topped with a simple tomato sauce, thin slivers of roasted red pepper, creamy mozzarella, bits of basil, and mild sausage. The flavors were sweet, unassuming and familiar, but played well with the smoky crust.

It was a pizza appropriate for kids, but thanks to its high-quality ingredients, satisfying for adults, as well.

Verde's owners, husband-and-wife team Edward Bosco and Marianne Kresevich, stock their kitchen with a combination of local and imported ingredients. Their goal is to honor Neopolitan tradition, according to Bosco, cooking simply with quality ingredients.

With the Cappuccetto Rosso, that simple-and-quality approach worked (though the sauce did improve with a tiny sprinkle of salt).

The Sorrentino ($12) was more adventurous. Topped with smoked mozzarella basil, and thin slices of fresh lemon, our first bite was sophisticated and smoky. But our second, full of lemon, was too acidic. After some experimentation, we decided that rubbing the lemon over the cheese imparted just the right amount of citrus.

Most desserts are made in-house at Verde, and made well. Flourless chocolate cake ($9) had the rich flavor and dense texture of an intensely chocolatey brownie. Served with sweet caramel gelato imported from Italy, the dessert looked homespun, but its flavor was stylish and refined.

Though the restaurant had been open for only a few weeks, the wait staff was well-acquainted with the menu and worked together as a team; no one was shy about asking us if we needed another drink, or if a plate could be cleared.

As we ate, Bosco and Kresevich drifted from kitchen to table, introducing themselves to new customers, while their 8-year old daughter weaved in between waiters — a visual reminder that Verde is a family place.

Of course, kid-friendly isn't everyone's cup of tea. A few times during dinner, the pitter-patter of little feet going up and down the staircase felt tiresome rather than charming. But for the most part, the restaurant's grown-up food and interesting drink list kept the place from feeling too child-centric.

For young families in Canton, Verde Pizza is a gift: a restaurant that's both cool and welcoming. But even without the kid-friendly angle, it should be a success. By the time we left, the restaurant was crowded. Most of the highchairs were tucked away and small groups of friends perched on barstools, settling in with drinks.

Toasting, possibly, an evening out without the kids.

Verde Pizza

Back story: Opened in September, Verde Pizza serves intriguing wines and good Neopolitan pizza in a sophisticated but kid-friendly Canton space.

Parking: Street parking; Verde Pizza plans to offer valet parking within the next few weeks

Try this: The Sorrentino pizza tops crispy crust with smoked mozzarella, basil and lemon. Baked in Verde's wood-burning oven, the combination shows off a careful balance among smoky, creamy and acidic.

Where: 641 S. Montford St.

Contact: 410-522-1000; http://www.verdepizza.com

Open: Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday noon to 10 p.m.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Rating: ✭✭✭

Reservations: Not accepted

[Key: ✭✭✭✭✭: Superlative; ✭✭✭✭: Excellent; ✭✭✭: Very Good; ✭✭: Good; ✭: Promising]

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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