V Pizza is the latest Jacksonville restaurant to invade Gainesville, opening in the former Vello’s (no relation) downtown. If you’re not familiar, it’s beneath the Hampton Inn at 115 SE 1st Avenue. With it, comes one of the few true wood-fired pizza options in town, along with a formidable cocktail program. Much like its Jacksonville San Marco location, the bar is actually so good, it has its own name despite being within the restaurant. We’ll get to that in a bit, but how does their pizza stack up?
To start, it’s important to note there are different styles of pizza. V falls into the same category as Root & Pecker, Humble Pie, and the recently-deceased Ameraucana Wood Fire in the sense that they’re wood-fired and thin-crusted like the Italians do it. New York Style is decidedly different in that it’s cooked in a non-wood-burning oven and usually much larger for sharing. For that, Big Lou’s is the king (respect), don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Deep dish pizza? I’m not even going to go there, because that is a damn casserole. So how does V measure up?
There is a large selection that includes a build-your-own pizza, as well as vegan and gluten-free options. They use proper San Marzano tomatoes, natural ingredients, and the pizzas are priced between $14 to $17 for a 13” dinner option and a little less for a 10” lunch portion. Everything from the classic Pizza Margherita to the Pizza Delle Donne (pesto marinated chicken, spinach, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and garlic) to my personal favorite, Pizza Carnivora (sausage, sopressata, pancetta, red onion, roasted garlic, basil, mozzarella, and San Marzano tomato sauce) are all good pizzas. Though they can sometimes go a little heavy on the seasoning. As far as the crust goes, Root & Pecker’s sourdough still reigns supreme, but V’s is better than most in town and has that beautiful tasty charring that a properly cooked pizza should have.
In addition to pizzas, V also offers calzones, stromboli, paninis, salads, and appetizers like bruschetta, mac & cheese, meatballs, and wings all priced between $8 to $15. Lunch specials are a great value at $9.95. The wings are especially noteworthy, with two flavors available. One is marinated in lemon, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, garlic, and topped with ridiculously good sweet caramelized onions. The other is a spicier option, marinated and tossed in Calabrian chili pepper paste and topped with the peppers themselves. Both are cooked in the wood fire oven. But you’re not a fan of sweet wings, these are not for you. When the kitchen is on their game, these are some of the best wings in town.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with V Pizza; consistency. Three visits, three wildly different experiences for me. The first time, the pizza was undercooked with the kitchen seemingly afraid to let it go a little longer for that charring and crisp that it needs, wings were cooked to perfection, and staff was attentive. The second time, both orders of wings at our table were served cold, the pizza was on point, and the service was beyond abysmal. We’re talking to the point where the hostess did more for us than our non-existent server. She had to get us utensils, refills, and bussed the table. There was such a mess in the kitchen that we ended up with an free pizza for the troubles. Two and a half hours into the visit, and after repeatedly flagging down our server for the check that he never brought, we had to just leave cash on the table and leave. But this was the first big weekend they were open, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.
The service during my latest visit was superb, our server Shawn was fantastic, and it seems they’ve really nailed down the front of the house. Unfortunately, the kitchen forgot about my wings in the oven despite only 2 other tables in the restaurant, and they came out like charcoal. But the staff was on top of it, remaking a new batch, as well as taking 10% off my bill for the troubles. Though it leaves me to wonder when they’ll finally put it all together. Front of the house can only do so much to cover…
Perhaps the greatest strength of V Pizza isn’t V Pizza at all, but the attached Sidecar bar. It’s fantastic. I believe it stands right next to Dragonfly as the best restaurant cocktail program in town. All of the classics are $9 and range from an excellent Old Fashioned to Negronis, Vieux Carres, and Sazeracs. Their Old Fashioned in particular was the best I’ve had in town since 2nd Street Speakeasy closed down. The house cocktails range from $8 to $9 and include standouts like the Midnight Train (Old Forester bourbon, peach, strawberry, Golden Falernum, lemon, orange bitters, and Angostura bitters) and the El Congo (Kappa Pisco, lime, banana, honey, crème de mure, Jack Rudy bitters).
Then there’s the Trailer Park Pool Party, which takes whimsical drinks to another level, and may be my favorite cocktail in town. High West Double Rye Whiskey is infused with Cap’n Crunch cereal then combined with lemon, Jerry Thomas bitters, Bolivar bitters, and topped with a Miller High Life Cordial. It’s then served in a glass with an umbrella, a plastic mermaid, wrapped in a flamingo floatation device. It’s as delicious as it is hilarious, and no…you don’t get to keep the flamingo. This is a must-order.
So what’s the verdict? I’m still waiting for them to put it all together, and I sure hope they do. Of the Jacksonville invasion, this is the first restaurant to really not consistently put a smile on my face. Go for the drinks, and take a chance on the food. It could be great, it could be cold, it could be charcoal. Who knows? But at the very least you’ll know the service will be good, and there’s plenty of good drinks available to make you forget.