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)…

Outside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveJustin and ChristianInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveInside Famoso at 1380 Commercial DriveOutside Famoso at 1380 Commercial Drive

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  • Lyndon

    I am from Edmonton and loveeeee Famoso. Although a chain, I can promise that there is no difference from eating at any of the several locations. The food is so amazingly fresh, consistent and beautiful! Earlsify it all you want as long as you keep your values.

    Now in regards to this article, I must ask. How much did they pay you? I find it somewhat biased in their favor from the get go. Did you even try the food, you did not mention it. I love the enthusiasm for a new restaurant, but you’re almost, key word here is almost, bashing all the competitors before Famoso has even opened and the only taste test was the owners cologne and some 2×4 dust.

    This just seemed a lot like an advertisement than a preview which I think is bad journalism or blogging or whatever you want to call it these days.

  • Scout Magazine

    ^ “Bashing” is a strong word. I was only stating a personal opinion about two joints in the immediate vicinity that – at least in my case – have long histories of leaving lots to be desired. The pizza game on The Drive is therefore wide open, and so I’m naturally optimistic – gut feeling, experience, drywall dust, cologne, and the Calgary Herald notwithstanding – that Famoso will be better than their closest neighbours (though I have a feeling that nearby Via Tevere will trump them all).

  • Lyndon

    First, I will apologize for the word bashing. Although it was not bashing, it was certainly coming off as a biased opinion.

    I certainly do love your enthusiasm and respect your explanation, but this piece still reeks of brown nosing for a restaurant that is not even open. I am sure Famoso will deliver the goods, but Vancouver food standards is much higher than redneck Edmonton which is why I was shocked to read so much anticipatory praise for a franchise joint.

    P.S, Famoso sandwiches are just as good as the pizza!

  • Scout Magazine

    ^ Ha. That particular art is not in my DNA, Lyndon. Rather than assuming someone has paid you for praise, I’ll take yours at face value and let it buttress my initial enthusiasms. But if it sucks, I won’t hesitate to say so. ;-)

  • Lyndon

    I am somewhat of a salesman, and the only time I give as many promises as this article does, is to sell something for my benefit. I am positive Famoso won’t disappoint, I am merely just criticizing the groupie attitude to your article! Not to say that I am not a groupie for Famoso, but I’ve had them in my mouth! The food to that is, to clarify.

  • Scout Magazine

    I’ll take that criticism on the chin, then. Cheers.

  • Chantal

    I am also from Edmonton and love Famoso’s food. Their salads are fantastic, appitizers and pizzas are also tastety. They do cook their pizzas in a forno, brick style. It may not be wood burning but it does the trick. They also have a good selection of wines. Also they originally went to Naples for their pizza training for an extended period of time. Now all Italians know that Naples is the home of amazing pizza. My husband who recently moved to Canada from Northern Italy also likes Famoso’s pizza. Enjoy Famoso Vancouver.

  • Dana

    I have eaten at Famoso a number of times while visiting my brother in Edmonton. And it was good but certainly not great. Chain-like salads, very mediocre service and the pizza was pretty good. Nothing to get too excited about.
    PS: my poodle has been to Naples to learn to cook pizza too, but it’s where he went and who he trained with and whether he can translate it that matters!

  • Ben

    Hey-a! They bringa the pizza to Victoria, we give it a try-a!

    Better thana Prima Strada? È quasi un miracolo!

  • Shane

    As if months and months of hoarding and scaffolding wasn’t bad enough, we’ve ended up a chain restaurant that, at least on the outside, has the authenticity of a Vegas casino.

    I think Commercial Drive is about to teach these fellas a lesson. This isn’t West Edmonton Mall guys.

    I’ll be stickin’ local, and along with my neighbours, doing what I can to get the word out too.

  • david

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Shane. I am going to dine and put my money in the hands of locals, not some ‘Giovanni-come-lately’ Alberta chain. When I eat pizza, I want an authentic experience – that’s why Via Tevere and Bibo get my business.

  • Leah

    Wow, Vancouver pretension at it’s best!

    Edmonton has come a long way since it’s all redneck all the time days and last I checked noone in oh so sophisticated Vancouver seemed to mind the eternally popular Cactus, Earls and Joey’s chains, regardless of how inept they are.

    As far as your “Giovanni-come-lately Alberta chain” who cares where they are from if it is good and they do what they say they are going to do.

  • Shane

    Hey – good for Edmonton. I think its great these guys have been so successful. And, if Famoso was downtown Vancouver, or in the suburbs, I would definitely check it out.

    But, Vancouver is a city with quite a few unique and authentic neighbourhoods with character (and NO Earls/Joey/Cactus), and I won’t accept the insult of a trashy franchise in my neighbourhood.

    And, even the Globe and Mail food critic gave is 2/5 stars and called it the Starbucks of Neapolotian Pizzerias.

    http://tinyurl.com/dxybd2u

  • Mireille

    Hi Andrew, have you tried the pizza here yet? Not good. Sorry.

    I too am from Edmonton but have never eaten at Famoso there, tried it on the Drive here in Vancouver a few weeks ago and I will not go back (except maybe for a drink on their patio if they ever get a liquor license for it). Bland, oily sausage, tough crust, bland tomato sauce and overall flavourless and texturally unpleasing.

    Happy to say though that the nearby Via Tevere BLEW MY MIND! And now I want to eat there practically every night of the week.

    And for the record, I like Marcello’s and Lombardo’s pizza. Just sayin’.

    Cheers,

    Mireille

  • Theta

    Via Tevere is far better