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Going on a pizza hunt. Are we scared? No. Are we excited? Yes!
Vancouver was once a town where pizza was synonymous with flabby, “cheesiest-cheese blend” topped Frisbees that would make any Italian shudder. Then Gastown’s Nicli Antica opened in spring 2010, dominating Vancouver’s neglected pizza scene like a major leaguer tossing 99 MPH heaters at a little league game.
Following Nicli’s success, upscale pizza joints began opening one after another across town.
Verace Pizza Napoletana is a new competitor on the border between Gastown and Chinatown. The BiBo opened in Kits. Campagnolo Roma opened in East Van’s Grandview. Vancouver institution Rocky Mountain Flatbread just expanded to Main Street.
By September, there will be four more upscale pizzerias in Vancouver: NOVO Pizzeria and Wine Bar (Kits), Pizzeria Barbarella (Mt. Pleasant), Pizzeria Farina (South Main) and Via Tevere (location TBD). Naturally, it’s time to rank Vancouver’s best pie.
Many of the new pizzerias are pursuing Neapolitan pizza certification. So what’s the difference between Flying Wedge and an authentic Neapolitan pie? Everything except the shape.
In order to be a purveyor of authentic Neapolitan pizza, a restaurant needs to be certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an international association of Neapolitan pizzaiolis (pizza makers) with an officially established denomination of control (DOC)—a legal entity that’s able to certify Neapolitan pizzerias.
The North American branch of the VPN, located in California, is the place many Canadian pizza makers go to receive training and restaurant certification.
I gave the VPN a call and asked a million questions. Donato Rumi, a VPN official, explained that pizza was invented in Naples in the Middle Ages and has since been reinterpreted by every country in the world. In order to maintain pizza standards, he thinks certification is key. It’s a convincing argument given some of the stuff that passes for “pizza” these days.
According to Rumi, real Neapolitan pie has a thin, airy crust that blisters when baked. Only fine-ground flour (think 00 grind talcum powder), fresh yeast, water and sea salt may be used for the dough. It doesn’t stop there. The sauce must be made with plum tomatoes. For toppings, pizzaiolis should stick to mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), fresh basil and dried oregano.
“Maybe prosciutto and olives can be added, but absolutely no pineapple and no barbecue chicken,” says Rumi. And most importantly, all authentic Neapolitan pizza must be cooked in a wood-burning oven. “The wood should be extra dry and not smelly. Don’t use aromatic wood. Stick to walnut or birch,” Rumi elaborates.
Some Vancouver pizza makers disagree with Rumi and the need for VPN certification. Verace Pizza Napoletana’s owner Roberta Lee received training in Naples and thinks that the American arm of the VPN is an overpriced marketing gimmick, given that restaurant certification costs over $2,000 per year.
Verace’s pizza is authentic and high quality but lacks an official stamp of approval, although Lee’s expertise is evident. The way she describes the artisanal ingredients and preparation is so poetic, I nearly drool while we chat.
Other restaurants like The BiBo don’t think they need VPN certification because they’re actually Italian. BiBo’s pizza maker, Salvatore Miele, came from Naples a few months ago.
When it comes to consistent Vancouver favourites like Rocky Mountain Pizza, chef Oliver Zilauf explains that Rocky has a special local flavour and has traded in Neapolitan musts like a wood-fired oven for more eco-friendly and efficient solutions like a gas oven.
Nicli Antica will receive their official VPN certification very soon and many more will follow. Our top five list encompasses the certified Neapolitan, the uncertified yet authentic and the just plain tasty.
Wrap your laughing gear around the House Margherita from Verace Pizza Neopoletana. (Image: Verace Pizza Neopoletana)
VPN Certification: No. Owner Roberta Lee lived and trained in Naples, but the restaurant is not certified with the VPN.Chef: Terry McCormick.Oven: Gas-fired oven.Flour and Tomatoes: Caputo Farina Tipo 00 and San Marzano plum tomatoes.Order the: House Margherita with fresh plum tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, grana padano, fresh basil and EVOO.Price: $14.25.Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to Late; Saturday-Sunday, 10:30am to late. Reservations accepted.
Grab a slice or two (or three) of wood-fired pizza from The BiBo. (Image: Peak Communicators)
VPN Certification: Overkill. The chef is from Naples.Chef: Salvatore Miele.Oven: Wood-fired oven, but they did not specify type of wood.Flour/tomatoes: Imported Italian Farina Tipo 00 and imported Italian plum tomatoes.Order the: Napoli with tomato, garlic, black olives and oregano.Price: $12.Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, noon to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. until late. Reservations accepted.
Try a delicious Margherita cooked in a birch wood-burning oven at Nicli Antica. (Image: Nicli Antica)
VPN Certification: Coming soon.
Chef: Chris Picek.
Oven: Wood-burning. Uses birch.Flour/Tomatoes: Caputo Farina Tipo 00 and San Marzano plum tomatoes.Order the: VPN certified Margherita with pomodoro, parmigiano, fior di latte and basil.Price: $12.Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight daily. No reservations.
Make sure you check out Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company’s sustainable gourmet pizzas. (Image: Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company)
VPN Certification: None. Rocky is about local and sustainable produce and production, although the crust is up to Neapolitan standards.Chef: Oliver Zulauf.Oven: Rocky recently switched from a wood-fired oven to a biogas-fired oven.Flour and tomatoes: Anita’s organic flour and organic tomatoes from the California Tomato Growers Association.Order the: Sun-dried tomato and goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes sautéed in garlic, brown mushrooms, artichokes, Capriny goat’s cheese and freshly chopped herbs.Price: $14.95.Hours: Daily breakfast/brunch 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted.
Try a change from Neapolitan with Campagnolo Roma style pizzas. (Image: Campagnolo Roma)
Certification: No. Campagnolo Roma does Roman style cuisine, not Neapolitan.Chef: Ted Anderson.Oven: Gas oven.Flour/tomatoes: Caputo Farina Tipo 00 and Stanislaus’s 7/11 tomatoes from California, tomatoes from Kelowna’s Stoney Paradise Farm.Order the: Romana with olives, anchovy and tomato sauce. Add a runny egg.Price: $12.5 + $1 egg.Hours: Daily 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. No reservations.