When Cam and Jess Rector opened Vera Pizzeria in September 2011 after months of anticipation, they already had a really good amount of buzz for a new restaurant. Little did we know at the time that Vera would become one of the more popular restaurants and bars in downtown Buffalo. The initial buzz for the restaurant surrounded their menu, specifically their pizzas that try to recreate Neapolitan style pizzas as closely as possible. While their food is very good, their bar menu of per-prohibition era cocktails using fresh ingredients and classic techniques have become the star of the show. The restaurant has been so successful that they’ve been rumored to pay off their 5 year loan in just a few short months since opening.
We got in touch with Cam and Jess and sent them our usual questions about eating in Buffalo, where else they like to grab a drink when not working at Vera (not actually sure why they’d go anywhere else) and how they came up with the idea for their restaurant. Here’s what they had to say…
Right now, where are some of your favorite places to eat?
Cam & Jess: Kuni’s has been a favorite for a long time. Obviously we like the location, but the food is always stellar and of the highest quality and you can tell Kuni cares about every dish he puts on the menu. Those little baby octopus on skewers- we could eat them like popcorn!
We like Pho 99 for comfort food, and Left Bank or Hutch’s for date night. We LOVE ramen, every time we go home to visit Jess’ family on Long Island, we go into Manhattan to eat at Ippudo and Momofuku, so we are thrilled NoNoo is open finally- Chris is already doing great things there.
When you’re not at Vera, where do you like to grab a drink with friends?
Cam & Jess: We are ALWAYS at Vera! We’ve kind of ruined drinking for ourselves because Jess only wants to drink the Duchess and Cam the Duke, and we can’t get drinks like that anywhere else at the moment. BUT, if we have to choose, we both like DBGBs and Essex.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, where would you take them for a good time?
Cam & Jess: A show at Soundlab, Allentown- again, DBGBs, or Hardware.
What are some food memories that you have from your childhood?
Cam: Watching my grandmother cook, growing up in my dad’s kitchens in Houston, TX, working alongside some of the hardest, most bad-ass cooks I’ve ever seen. Growing up in the south, food is a part of our everyday life- no matter where you go, someone is feeding you. I was always an adventurous eater, I could shuck and eat three dozen raw oysters at 7 years old.
Jess: My favorite food memories involve all Italian dishes (go figure)- my grandmother’s lasagna, or my mom and Dad competing for best red sauce recipe (my dad ultimately won, I believe, for adding parmigiano reggiano into his). I’d always ask for stuffed shells for my birthday dinner. And my favorite restaurant was this Italian-American place, Sal’s Wander Inn. I liked it because it had a board with all the table numbers and they’d light up when that table’s food was ready- I thought that was great when I was 7.
Where did the inspiration behind the menu and your cocktail menu come from?
Cam & Jess: Our inspiration for the food menu comes from true, Neapolitan style pizzas that follow a code, just like wine does. We try to follow those guidelines as close as we possibly can. And we just really, really love Italian food and how soulful it can be. Our bar is following a national trend of bars and bartending returning to the golden age of cocktails (1870-1920). We treat our bar as our chef treats the kitchen, with the freshest, local, highest quality ingredients. Recipes are inspired by the classics, then modernized and sourced from a plethora of recipes of those who’ve done it before us. The cocktail is just as American as baseball and apple pie. We should be proud of that heritage and we try to honor that idea as much as possible at Vera. I know people think the bartenders are putting on a show, and in a way they are, but that’s actually how the drinks should be made.
What would you like to see more of in Buffalo’s dining/bar scene?
Jess: I wish there were more delis. In Long Island there’s a deli on every corner, and they’re all really good, but everyone has a favorite. And they all have breakfast sandwiches on hard rolls- if I could have a bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll in Buffalo, like I can get back home, I think my life would be set.
Cam: More quality bars, more variety. I think Buffalo is getting there and it’s really great to be a part of the education of what cocktail culture really is. In such a heavy-drinking town, let’s drink heavily, intelligently.
Big thanks to Cam and Jess for taking some time to step away from running a very busy restaurant to answer our questions. If you haven’t visited the restaurant or bar, take a look at their menus on their official website or “like” them on facebook to find out their daily specials.