ON A MISSION: On Hunting For The Very Best (Authentic) Neapolitan Pizzeria In Town
by Claire Lassam | When Brandon Petit and Molly Wizenberg were playing with recipes before opening Delancey’s (their Seattle pizza restaurant), they tried tricking their home oven into getting hotter by putting cold wet rags on its thermometer. The pair did eventually get the temperature close to 900F, where the “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana” says it needs to be for a proper Neapolitan pizza to blossom. The association also says that in order to be a true pizza it also has to be 35cm in width, cooked in a domed oven, be no more then 1/3 cm thick in the centre, and much more besides.
What I’m saying here, is that it’s virtually impossible to make “true” Neapolitan pizza at home. And if you try the wet rag trick, I am not to be blamed for whatever the effort incurs. It sounds like a terrible idea, no matter the dedication t0 authenticity. But good pizza does takes dedication. It takes skill, and if it goes right, it rewards magically.
My mission for the perfect, authentic slice in Vancouver needed parameters. I wasn’t going to slice shops, even though I love the odd slice. They sit under heat lamps and don’t hold up nicely all alone. That meant I needed to get a full pizza every time. I also only went to five places that aimed for authentic, thin crust pizza, and to make it the most fair I only went for the Margherita – the classic tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil pie (to match the colours of the Italian flag).
I started at Lombardo’s on The Drive, in the heart of what is supposed to be our Little Italy. They’d been around since 1986, I thought, and so must have learned a thing or two. Sadly, the dough was nearly flavourless, and it was way too chewy. The sauce was heavy, and the crust was to0 thick. The mission didn’t start out with a bang…
But the next day I shimmied into the minimalist glory that is Pizzeria Farina on Main. I’d heard that chef/owner JC Poirier wanted a crust that was thin, light and crisp but wouldn’t get stodgy if it sat in a takeout box for 10 minutes (a feat, let me tell you). I’m not sure what he did to make this happen, but this pizza was head and shoulders above any other takeout pizza I’d ever had. The crust was rolled paper thin, riding to bubble around the edge. There was a smattering of sauce seen between slender pieces of melting mozzarella. The taste? Wonderful.
It was so wonderful that – despite their supple crusts and heady sauces – while eating my next two pizzas at Marcello’s (also on The Drive) and Denman’s Nook, I was left at both wishing I was in the sparse, white Farina instead. But that was before I went to Nicli Antica Pizzeria on East Cordova in Gastown. Nicli might take itself a little seriously, boasting their Specialità Tradizionale Garantita status and so on, but man, that is seriously good pizza!
The crust is delicate and unbelievably light with huge, charred, bubbled edges. The cheese is smooth and rich (instead of plain mozzarella they use fiore di latte – “flower of milk” – which has a slightly sweeter softer flavour). But the biggest difference I found was in the tomato sauce. It was so fresh and bright that it was like an electric shock. The acidity cut through the rich cheese, perked up the basil, and played up the sour, developed flavour of the crust. It elevated the whole thing into what I believe is, indisputably, the best pizza in the city.
Claire Lassam is a baker, blogger, and freelance writer based in East Van. She has been cooking and baking her way through the city for nearly five years, working in restaurants ranging from Cioppino’s to Meat & Bread. She currently toils at the soon-to-open Cadeaux Bakery in Railtown and runs the baking blog Just Something Pretty.