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That's amore: Vancouver discovers real Italian pizza

Poutine pizza could have been the breaking point. Or perhaps it was the ubiquitous bacon double-cheeseburger pie. In any event, Vancouver's pizza culture could not have sunk much lower.

But much like born-again pizzaiolos, we are suddenly rising up against the blasphemy of sesame-seed crust, ranch dipping sauce and greasy buck-a-slice. In the past six months, the city has seen a veritable explosion of authentic Italian pizzerias that include Nicli Antica, The Bibo, Campagnola Roma, Verace and Pizzeria Farina.

Admittedly, Vancouver was late to the party. "I saw the Neapolitan movement taking off in New York a few years ago and thought 'This is going to be huge,'" says Carmine Paradiso, who co-owns the newly opened Novo Pizzeria in Kitsilano.

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Indeed, the thin-crust pizza trend ignited faster than kindling in a firebrick oven, spreading to Toronto, Chicago and all along the West Coast. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle have all become destinations for geeky pizza purists seeking real Neapolitan-style pizza with thin crusts and bubbly rims baked in wood-burning ovens. Even Victoria (Pizzeria Prima Strada) and Calgary (Ristorante Pulcinella) were ahead of Vancouver .

But in typical Vancouver fashion (remember our obsessions with pork belly or the 100-mile diet), we have jumped all over this food fad. At least two more pizzerias, Pizzeria Barbarella and Via Tevere, are scheduled to open by mid-October.

So what took us so long?

"I don't know, but I'm just happy that other pizzerias have decided to raise their game," says Bill McCaig, owner of Nicli Antica, the first Neapolitan-style pizzeria out of the gate.

As with all those other pizza-crazed cities before us, Vancouver is going through its own crisis of authenticity. Some pizzaiolos, like Mr. McCaig, believe that, to create the best pizza, one must adhere to the strict guidelines of the Verace Pizza Napoletana (see sidebar).

"I've seen a lot of other places call themselves Neapolitan pizzerias and the product is not the same," says Mr. McCaig, who learned his craft with l'Associazion Verace Pizza Napoletana in California. His Gastown restaurant was the first in Vancouver to be approved for certification.

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"With all respect, I don't know how important it is," says Lorenzo Bottazzi, co-owner of The Bibo, noting that North Americans are more hung up on authenticity than Italians.

While it's important to have classic pizza purveyors around as a reference, lest our standards start slipping to the poutine pizza days, it's also nice to see local pizza makers mixing things up to create our own indigenous pizza culture.

"There's lots of room for good pizza in Vancouver," says Pizzeria Farina's J.C. Poirier, who uses high-gluten Canadian flour to create a crust that's sturdier than the typically droopy Neapolitan pie. "Maybe some day we can get rid of all the Fresh Slices in Vancouver. "

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More

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