Neapolitan Pizza Wars About To Heat Up With The Coming Of “Famoso” To The Drive
by Andrew Morrison | Remember when Vancouver sucked so hard in the pizza department that we had to either go over to Prima Strada in Victoria for a solid, authentic pie or suffer service indifference and mediocrity at Marcello’s on Commercial Drive? That was what, three years ago? My oh my, how times have changed! Today, we have both Campagnolos, Farina, Verace, Novo, Barbarella, Red Card, Bibo, Nicli Antica, and Nook, and there are still three more on the way.
I’ve been sworn to secrecy on one (to be revealed soon) and reported on another - Via Tevere - but the third is Famoso, which already has multiple locations across Canada. The Alberta-based company is opening two restaurants in BC, one at 1380 Commercial Drive and the other in the former Dig This location in Victoria’s iconic Market Square. Both locations fascinate for their own reasons. Market Square, as any Victorian will tell you, suffers from a ridiculous turnover rate, and this particular spot is no exception. It’s also right across the street from a natural competitor, Il Terrazzo. Despite all the drama inherent in that, I find The Drive address more interesting, if only because it’s right next to Marcello’s, which – once upon a time with nearby Lombardo’s – defined the east side’s oft-ugly pizza wars.
Famoso, which will be cheaper than both with no pie more than $14.50, could be entering a world of Little Italy hate, but as a diner, I could give a shit. If it’s better than Marcello’s or Lombardo’s, that’s all that counts, and I can’t imagine such an achievement being all that difficult. And with Via Tevere opening just a couple of blocks away shortly, it’s just plain awesome to see The Drive reclaiming the pizza magnetism that was once so solidly theirs.
So what can we expect? 55 seats with an additional 25 seats on a patio looking straight at Marcello’s patio, so it’ll be like two naval ships having arranged themselves for daily broadside exchanges. The service, from what I gather, is a sort of hybrid of counter and table styles, meaning you figure out what you want, order at the front, and then retreat to your table to await delivery of everything. They’re fully licensed, so we’ll see plenty of beer, wine and spirits. They’ll have about 15 pizzas, with as many traditional classics as there are “New World” efforts.
And now for the big questions for the authenticity nerds among us…
Is the oven wood-burning? No, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to make good pizza (witness Nook, Farina, Campagnolo, et al). And don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re a chain. I met up with two of the owners, Justin Lussier and Christian Bullock, for a tour the other day, and it was clear to me that they weren’t a couple of regular mangiacakes. Though they would never admit that their unspoken intent is to Earlsify the Neapolitan pizza business, I think that’s what they’re up to. It wouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of if they do it right (they’re young, stoked on food, and eager to do well, and it would be stupid to fault that). They seem well aware of how competitive Vancouver’s pizza trade has become, and if their past successes are anything to go by, they’re not messing around. They’ve been schooled at VPN down in California, and they’ll be using “00″ Caputo flour, Campania tomatoes, and fiore de latte cheese. Bottom line: if their service and pies are inferior to their neighbours, I’ll be very surprised. Opening day is slated for the first week of April. Take a look at progress so far (click to enlarge)…