Napkin holder at Verona Pizzeria

Yes, really. I’ll get to the Swedish part in a bit. A good wood oven-baked pizza and a bottle of red (shared, preferably) is one of my favorite meals. Sadly, I’ve found that hard to find since I moved to Dubai. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of Italian restaurants here, but I’ve been underwhelmed each time. For me, pizza is the benchmark by which you judge the entire menu — sort of like cheese enchiladas and Tex-Mex places — and, sadly, there have been few repeat visits to places once tried.

Last night, J.B. suggested we try this “Swedish pizza” place. I mean, I know he tries to stay on the forefront of gastronomy and all, but I did raise an eyebrow. Uh, what? He said a mutual friend had recommended it, so we looked at the website. Verona Pizzeria did indeed feature pies with names such as “Stockholm,” “Malmö,” and “Gothenberg.” The variation is largely in which vegetable toppings are included, but the base is döner kebab, the white kebab sauce, tomato sauce, onions, a sprinkling of mozzarella and tomato slices. And it was located in Barsha, a newish neighborhood born out of the sand only about five miles from where I live. (I was especially intrigued because I am particularly fond of this neighborhood despite the fact of its very un-Dubai lack of glamour — or, maybe because of it.)

Winding through Barsha, which is designed like a rat torture maze, we finally find it at the corner of I’ll-never-find-this-again and Which-turn-should-we-take? Fluorescent lighting illuminated the tiny seating area, which had three tables covered in red-and-white checkered tablecloths, menus and the Swedish-siblings napkin holder (pictured above.) But we were unconcerned about the ambience, because we were overwhelmed by the mouth-watering scent of baking pizza.

Swedish twist! (and, uh, Turkish)

Properly hungry now, we settled in and ordered a large Kebab pizza to share. (Sadly, Verona is unlicensed, as most non-hotel restaurants here are. A glass of cab would’ve paired nicely.) The pie crust was what we noticed first: crispy, with the right chewiness, and strong enough to hold up even with a generous helping of ingredients piled on top. The kebab slices were tender and spicy, and the mix of the tomato sauce and the yogurt-based kebab sauce gave the pie a creaminess not unlike what you would find on white pizza. We devoured our pizza. (Did I mention the crust?) And I can’t forget to applaud Verona because, unlike every other pizza place in this city, it has crushed red pepper! For this reason alone, I will be loyal to this pizzeria.

Det här är bra!

Here’s the Swedish part. Brought in by Turkish and Arab immigrants, kebab has transformed most pizzerias in Sweden, and is one of the most popular pizzas in Scandinavia. So it’s not unusual to hear Arabic spoken behind the counter at pizza places, which is what we found at Verona. Its manager is a Syrian who lives in Sweden and he’s hired fellow Syrians to man the restaurant.

I’m eager to try the rest of the menu, which includes the remaining kebab pizzas which include pineapple or feta, olives or cucumbers, as toppings.  And no worries if you’re not feeling very Swedish. The menu has more than 30 pies, such as the Margarita and Quattro Formaggi, as well as the Mexicana (minced beef, fresh tomato, green pepper, banana pepper, leek green onion and tabasco) and the Indiana (chicken, peanut, pineapple and curry) in addition to a slate of beef fillet pizzas.

The variety is impressive, and at about $13 a pie or less, I’m looking forward to sampling as many as I can.

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