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A slice with pepperoni, olives and anchovies at Palermo Pizza

When honorable and trustworthy friends start throwing around phrases like "best damn Margherita pizza I've ever tasted," that's when I rouse myself from restful slumber and start paying attention. Where is this magical place? On the South Trail, between Gulf Gate and Sarasota Square mall. What holy appellation does it take? Palermo Pizza.

Let's roll.

I can see why I haven't noticed Palermo before. The restaurant is tucked away in the rear half of a strip mall anchored by a Pinch-a-Penny pool supply store, next to a yoga joint, a vet and the Gentile Bros. cheesesteak spot. Inside, fellow 'za aficionado Justin and I find a couple booths, four tables and a small bar for solo eaters, plus a TV tuned to SNN. A small group of older guys is chatting up a storm at one of the tables. From the looks of it, they're here a lot.

That's understandable, because not only is Palermo a laid-back, welcoming place, it serves that pizza my friend was praising to the skies. The menu includes size options ranging from 12 inches up to 2 feet at prices that start at $9 and go up depending on pie diameter and what toppings you prefer. For those of you don't like pizza, you'll find salads ($4-$13), "sangweeches" ($8-$11) and a number of pastas and entrées ($8-$16).

But Justin and I are sane individuals, meaning we like pizza, and so that's what we're going with. Kind of. What catches our eye right away is Palermo's $15 "mezzo luna," a half-pizza, half-calzone. Genius? Or insanity? Perhaps both. The hybrid comes out round, with one half a normal flat pie and the other half folded over with dough. On the pizza side, we went with pepperoni and black olives, plus a side of anchovies. Inside the calzone mezzo, already stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella, we went with just pepperoni.

The essence of all great pizza can be found in its crust, and Palermo's is exceptional. Toasted and crispy on the bottom, it still remains puffy, with bubbles of air dotting the interior. Neither the ultra-crunchy, almost cracker-like crust of Il Panificio, nor just a mass of chewy dough, Palermo's crust occupies a charming middle ground, with bites alternating whimsically between brittle and gooey. The toppings are basic, but generously applied. The anchovies, in particular, punch up the pie with salt and funk.

That same beautiful crust wraps up the cheese and goodies of the calzone half of our crazy concoction. The ricotta and mozzarella dominate the other ingredients a bit over here, but stuffing some anchovies inside helps sharpen the profile a bit.

Palermo opened last July. The restaurant serves bottled beer; it's also in the middle of installing a handful of taps. I live a good ways away, and I doubt I'd make the drive regularly. But for those in the vicinity, Palermo is a blessing: both a great takeout pizza shop and a solid weekend evening family destination, particularly if you've got little ones. It may take you a second or two to find it, but the search is well worth your time. Go. Then tell your friends about it.

Cooper levey baker emopao

Palermo Pizza is located at 7515 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. It is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more info, call (941) 312-5410 or visit palermopizzasrq.com.

Follow Cooper Levey-Baker’s never-ending quest for cheap food on Twitter. Email him at cooperl@sarasotamagazine.com. Read past 10 Bucks Or Less columns here.

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