Man, we sure love us some pizza. The combination of dough, sauce, cheese and toppings has always been popular, of course, but in recent years Sarasota has seen an explosion of slice-oriented restaurants. Search for Sarasota pizza on Yelp and the site returns a list that runs almost 200 deep. That's bananas. If a hunt for ramen turned up even a quarter of that amount, I'd be over the moon.
One of the newest competitors in the local 'za industry: Origin Craft Beer + Pizza Café, which opened two or three months ago in a Hillview space previously occupied by a lobster vendor. When I pop in on Tuesday afternoon, it's looking sharp, with soft wood touches throughout and a low ceiling hidden by woven panels. Two flatscreen TVs behind the bar provide some NBA gossip, a much-needed distraction from gloomy news everywhere else. Men and women bearing badges from the hospital come and go. The music selection ranges from respectable (R.E.M., Oasis) to the not-so-much (Third Eye Blind, Semisonic), but it still all makes for a nice setting for some day drinking and pie devouring.
Even after several weeks, the menu is still pitched as the restaurant's "soft opening" selection. (Is there a precise moment when an opening hardens?) The list of pizzas includes basics like a Margherita ($11-$17) and a meat lover ($16-$22), but the picks get more adventurous. The "Mediterranean" pizza ($14) comes topped with falafel and hummus, while the breakfast pizza ($12) includes eggs, feta and sausage. The "Siesta sands" pie, meanwhile, is a white pizza; the dough comes slathered with olive oil and garlic and dressed with spinach, ricotta, broccoli and either prosciutto or bottarga. A 12-inch version (a filling enough lunch for two) will run you $15. The 18-inch variety costs $21.
The crust is the most important ingredient in any pizza, of course, and Origin's is good. It's a bit over-browned in spots, but it's got the crackling exterior and soft, bubbled interior I'm looking for. The greens are also exceptional—turned flaky and crunchy by the heat of the oven, but still tender. I opted for the bottarga on top and the pie comes dusted with orange-brown dots of the cured fish eggs, but the topping is difficult to detect. While typically bottarga provides an unmistakable mouthful of salty fish-ness, here it gets lost amid the rest of what's going on. When I point this out, I'm given a free second pizza, this one with prosciutto, no questions asked. Can't say this place isn't generous.
The other half of Origin's identity is as a craft beer spot. The chalkboard is marked up with a decent variety of brews made locally. Big Top, Darwin and Motorworks are represented, as are brewers from Tampa and beyond. Motorworks' Cruiser Kolsch makes for a light, sharp afternoon sip. Just as with pizza restaurants, the number of Sarasota craft beer spots has popped off in the past couple years. Is it all too much? Maybe. Am I complaining about the situation? Never.
Origin Craft Beer + Pizza Café is located at 1837 Hillview St., Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. For more info, call (941) 316-9222 or click here.