January 31, 2013

Eat and Run: Vespucci's, Portland

One bitter night, Vespucci's offers just the convenience – and the pizza – our reviewer needed.

From staff reports

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Vespucci’s owner David Wagabaza makes a ham and Swiss Italian sandwich for a lunchtime customer.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Vespucci’s on Danforth Street in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski

VESPUCCI'S

WHERE: 211 Danforth St., Portland; 774-1996

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

CHEAPEST GRUB: The least-expensive pizza is a 10-inch cheese for $5.10. The least-expensive sandwich is the all-veggie Rabbit for $2.75.

WAIT: 10 to 15 minutes

PARKING: On street

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Not unless you can manage a step

RATING: ★★★

Based on a five-star scale

It wasn't exactly the Last Supper, but my dinner a week ago Wednesday would be my last solid food for several days. The next morning, I was due for dental surgery and restricted to a soft-food diet during my recovery.

So what did I choose?

Pizza.

And where did I go? Vespucci's market, at 211 Danforth St. in Portland's West End.

Not exactly gourmet, but I wasn't interested in making a night of it or even a minor commitment to my dining experience. I was interested in grabbing something quick and heading home.

Vespucci's offered the chance to stop at the tail end of a very cold walk home, order a pizza and take it back to my apartment. The Bruins were on that night, and what better way to celebrate dental surgery than with pizza, a beer or two (OK, three) and hockey?

Vespucci's is just around the corner from the apartment where I have lived for a year, but until last Wednesday night, I had not made the effort to stop in. I've been tempted many times, but never darkened the door.

While the market itself is shabby in its appearance, I would rate the counter food as above average to excellent. I ordered a 12-inch pepperoni ($9.50). I got there at 5:55 p.m., and had my pizza in hand 13 minutes later. I was home five minutes after that -- long enough for the pizza to congeal in the evening bitter air, which made it perfect for quick-intake eating.

I'm the kind of pizza eater who always burns the roof of his mouth because of impatience. I cannot wait for the pie to cool down. Just can't do it. Factoring in the sub-zero chill, I didn't have to worry about that.

I jumped right in and quickly polished off four pieces before puck drop. The thickly sliced pepperoni was crisp and doused with a touch of hot pepper or some kind of chili spice, which gave it a real kick.

The crust was doughy but not under-cooked. In fact, it made for ideal leftovers the next day, when I cut the pieces into tiny bites so I could chew on the non-surgical side of my mouth.

The cheese was richly layered and stringy. And there was very little grease.

Sure, you can find better pizzas elsewhere in town. I'm partial to both Bonobo and Otto's. Vespucci's isn't in their class, and neither does it try. This is a corner market where you can grab groceries, milk, candy bars, etc. The counter food is meant to be quick and convenient, not gourmet.

Which is to say, Vespucci's does what it aims to do.

Sufficiently recovered from my surgical ordeal, I stopped in for a lunch a few days later. This time, I opted for a chicken Parmesan sandwich ($7.10). This was satisfactory as well. The chicken was breaded and fried, the sauce tangy and the bun chewy. Very nice.

My only complaint was a lack of preparedness on the part of the counter help on each visit. The night I ordered pizza, I actually wanted lasagna, but was informed that the lasagna hadn't been cooked yet and would not be available for a few hours. Odd, given that it was 6 p.m.

And when I ordered the sandwich, the counter cook told me it would take longer than usual because the fryer hadn't warmed up yet. Again, odd given that it was noon.

But in both instances, the counter help was apologetic and kind, and I did not mind changing my order and waiting a few more minutes.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.

 

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