Vegan pizzeria seeks ‘to be the standard bearer’ when it opens in former Zesto space

Pizza from the menu of Pizzeria Verdura Sincera.

Credit: Pizza Verdura Sincera

Credit: Pizza Verdura Sincera

Pizza from the menu of Pizzeria Verdura Sincera.

A vegan pizza restaurant is taking over a high-visibility space in Little Five Points.

Pizza Verdura Sincera will open by the end of the year at 377 Moreland Ave. NE, the Atlanta Business Chronicle first reported. The space was previously home to Atlanta ice cream and burger shop Zesto, which closed last year after nearly 60 years in business.

The concept for Pizza Verdura Sincera comes from David R. Smith and Paul Jones, principles at real estate firm Trowbridge Partners. The pair have long dabbled in the food and beverage industry -- they’re partners, along with chef Hector Santiago, in Atlanta restaurants El Super Pan and El Burro Pollo, and have consulted on several other local restaurant projects including Poke Burri, Lifting Noodles Ramen and Farm Burger.

The core menu for the pair’s first solo venture is brief, with five pizzas available in medium or large sizes. They include Margherita; the Giardino, topped with seasonal vegetables; Come La Carne, with plant-based pepperoni and sausage; Il Greco, topped with spinach, garlic, mushrooms and Kalamata olives; and the Mexican-inspired Il Messicano, with vegan chorizo and roasted corn.

Seasonal pizzas will use in-season ingredients like stone fruit in the summer. A pie offered around the Super Bowl will feature vegan buffalo chicken and ranch sauce.

The crust is made with organic, non-GMO flour. Smith describes it as “neo-Neapolitan style,” because it’s cooked without a wood-fired oven. The European pizza ovens allow control over the heat from the top and bottom, so “we won’t burn the bottom while cooking the top,” and the glass door will allow chefs to monitor the pizzas without opening the door and letting heat escape.

The “fun and simple, unpretentious” beverage program will include four wines: red, white, pink and fizzy by the glass, half carafe or bottle; a handful of beers from local vegan brewer Second Self; and San Pellegrino soft drinks.

Smith and Jones started doing product development for their first solo venture more than a year ago, beginning with finding the perfect plant-based cheese.

“Making a great vegan pizza is not easy,” Smith said. “We researched more than 100 cheeses, and sampled more than 30. We were looking for good melting and browning properties, the right taste and stretch.”

Though metro Atlanta has several plant-based pizza spots, Smith said he and Jones are so confident in their product that they aspire to become “the standard bearers for the industry.”

The 1,744-square-foot space will seat up to 50 guests, including at a small chef’s counter. Carryout will also be available.

Though Smith said he’ll wait for neighborhood feedback to solidify opening hours, he anticipates being open 11 a.m.-9 or 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays.

The Little Five Points location is the first of several that Smith and Jones plan to roll out in metro Atlanta. “Each will have its own distinct vibe that will be contextual to the neighborhood and the building,” Smith said.

Design elements specific to the Moreland Avenue location will include things found during renovations, including 12-foot wood-framed ceilings, exposed bricks and concrete floors. A Zesto mural on the retaining wall behind the restaurant will also remain. “This site has history,” Smith said. “We don’t want to just scrap the past and pretend it never happened. This site is filled with memories for a lot of people.”

Smith and Jones’ plans for Pizza Verdura Sincera include at least three locations in metro Atlanta. They also hope to bring the concept to Asheville, Greenville, Charlotte and Nashville.

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