A cheap-eats pick, where you can dine well for under $30, before alcohol, tax and tip.
There was a haze of smoke in the air when I arrived at Mega Ill. I sat down at a table and the waitress brought me an ashtray, a pack of rolling papers and a grinder. Now that's a pizza joint.
I didn't have any marijuana to roll. I was waiting for my friend Paul, who has a medical marijuana certificate and was bringing his own stash.
Now that this gonzo pizzeria and vapour lounge has become an international sensation – it was recently featured in the L.A. Times and Vice magazine and joked about on David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – I figured it was high time to critique their medicated pies.
It was a rainy Wednesday night and not very busy. There was one woman in a wheelchair behind me, zealously inhaling a bong. And there was a non-smoking group of six, who looked like tourists from Kerrisdale who had car-pooled it to the East End to take in the circus.
Anyone over 18 years old is welcome to order a regular pizza at Mega Ill. You can smoke your own pot or borrow a sterilized vaporizer from the establishment's vast collection. They do not sell marijuana to smoke. But if you have a federal exemption or medical prescription, you can top up your pizza with house-blended marijuana-infused oil for an additional $10.
Paul arrived with a baggie of green "cotton candy."
"It used to be that there were only four or five types of medical marijuana sold in dispensaries, but now there are more than 30," he explained, describing the various designer hybrids.
He started telling me about a new super-refined version of butane-extracted hash oil called "shatter." It's a soft, semi-transparent amber goop, sometimes called earwax. You blowtorch a small bong fitted with a titanium nail until it gets red-hot and then dab the shatter on the tip and it vaporizes instantly.
"Look, that's what she's doing," he said, pointing to the woman in the wheelchair.
"Pure? Yeah, right. Sounds like crack," I sniggered.
"It's the evolution of hash," he replied, conceding that some weed activists are worried about the street-drug connotations.
Paul's cotton candy was too gummy for the grinder. We asked the waitress for scissors. They were wet. "I think these people are crazy," Paul said. "Are they gangsters?"
"No, the owners are cancer survivors," I explained. Mark Klokeid, who also owns the medical marijuana dispensary next door, opened the pizzeria with Rocky Tolfree in December. They wanted to create a safe-inhalation site, akin to a safe-injection site for heroin users.
"Sure, the police could come and shut us down if they wanted," Mr. Klokeid said later by phone. Mega Ill also flouts Vancouver bylaws that ban smoking in restaurants, though he contends that pot is different from cigarettes.
"But technically, we're selling medication for patients who need it. We're in the same category as dispensaries – tolerated, not regulated."
The waitress came over to answer questions as we perused the menu. "One pizza should be enough to get two people high," she assured. "But today is Wow Wednesday so you can get two pizzas for $20."
The medicated topping (no discounts on that) is what they call Rick Simpson oil, an extract strained of all fibre and plant matter, which is then infused into olive oil. The oil, which contains 100 mg of pot a pizza, is brushed on the dough before cooking. The fat from the cheese helps metabolize it better.
"She didn't check our ID," I exclaimed, after we ordered two enhanced pizzas. Oops, I spoke too fast. A minute later, she was back to card us, but not too carefully.
Although the marijuana pizza has made Mega Ill famous, Mr. Klokeid maintains that his real goal is to create a great dining experience. He said 90 per cent of customers order non-medicated pies.
"A lot of people come here for their birthdays. We're the adult Chucky Cheese."
Uh, sure. The restaurant may be expanding its menu to include soups and salads, and building a patio for the summer. But I certainly wouldn't want to celebrate my birthday at Mega Ill. When we went back inside, the woman in the wheelchair was hacking away violently. There are some really sick people in that place. The ambience is gross.
Yet surprisingly enough, the pizzas were quite good.
"Great texture," Paul said, commending the dough made from whole-wheat flour, hemp hearts and whole oats. "Light, not too chewy, it holds up to the sauce."
We both enjoyed the Rocketarian, topped with fresh tomato, roasted garlic, caramelized leeks, red and green onion, baby arugula and roasted red peppers.
But we wouldn't order the El Luchador again. "I think the salsa's off?" Paul asked. "No, it's not off," I replied. "It's just sweet – sweet and sour." It was finished with lime.
Neither of us could taste the marijuana oil. "That's the mark of a good cannabis cook," Mr. Klokeid later explained. "You have to hide the flavour. You don't want an overpowering, weedy, chompy pizza."