Nook is an easy restaurant to love but a difficult one to find a seat at. Even though they’re consistently packed, there’s no pretension in the air and the staff know what they’re doing, both in the front and back of house. The pizzas are a close approximation of Neapolitan authenticity (using a gas-fired oven), and we’ve never had one that we wouldn’t want to order again. Bonus: tidy drinks list and a charming room designed by Scott Cohen and Stephan Gagnon (see also Les Faux Bourgeois).
781 Denman Street | Vancouver, BC | 604-568-4554 | www.nookrestaurant.ca
While I’ve not exactly made my appreciation for Barbarella a secret since its opening in 2011, it’s taken many visits to struggle my way towards this ultimate conclusion: they make the best pizza in Vancouver.
What makes it so is its founding philosophical approach to what is fundamentally a very subtle and personal art. Co-owner and pizzaiolo Terry Deane, who made pretty much every single pizza in the restaurant in its first year, told me at the outset that he wasn’t interested in being enslaved by particular recipes, styles and methods. In other words, he wasn’t wowed by the whole Vera Pizza Napoletana movement. He trusted his own palate and instincts. “I just want to make pizza the way I like it,” he said.
And so he experimented, settling on a sourdough starter that would result in a crust that was a few microns thicker than Neapolitan and just a little bit thinner than the typical New York slice. The edges would still blister thanks to a Ferrari-red monster of a gas over that could blow 900 degrees with ease (the temperature they use during service is in the 890s), and it would maintain a good char taste without flopping after its 75 second (estimate) bake time. The tomatoes would be California plums instead of San Marzano plums, which is to say that they would be sacrilegious to, say, the comically house proud owners of 10th place Bibo. But here’s a little secret: I’ve been working with plum tomatoes since I was a kid, and I can tell you with confidence that the difference is most often completely negligible. I can tell if they’re one or the other when I’m dealing with a pasta sauce, but that’s only if I’m the person making it. In pizza? Never. Especially when it’s in the right hands.
Over the years, that fact has needled me and my attitudes towards culinary “authenticity”. I cling to it in my own kitchen and expect it in others, but in the end I appreciate that it is merely the stuff of fetishism. For what, really, does it matter?
Well, it matters often enough to make it worth contemplation. For instance, consider the proper Roman-style spaghetti carbonara with eggs and guanciale (mmm, pig face). It is infinitely superior to the North American mangiacake version made with bacon, whipping cream, and powdered Parmesan. If the latter tasted better than the former, we’d have a problem, but it never ever is. Indeed, 99 times out of 100, dishes are deemed and celebrated as “authentic” because they require no further tinkering for improvement. I make Parisian-style omelettes (specifically inspired by those at Cafe Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés) at home with fines herbes – chervil, tarragon, parsley, chives – because they taste better than any other omelette that I know of. If I were to subtract a herb or add truffle oil or something equally dim, the overall concerted effect of the dish would be lost. It would cease to be – in my mind, at least – “authentic”.
Now, that’s one thing in my kitchen, but does authenticity matter in the restaurant business? I touched on the subject in a story long ago: “Authenticity”, I wrote, “is a loaded word in cooking, a shibboleth that confounds the uninitiated. It is the subjective stuff of myth, respect, pride, and entire days spent suffering fear and doubt over slow braises, crusts and stocks. Insecure cultures are buttressed by it. Organisations are founded to protect it. Restaurants are launched to exhibit it. And with so many cooks trembling with anxiety on account of it (while reaching for it), it’s no end of revealing that the overwhelming majority of diners remain completely unmoved by it.”
It’s true that some people don’t give a shit. For proof of that, walk into a generic pizza chain giant (of the calibre that regularly stuffs cheeseburgers inside the crust) and stare at a random customer munching on a slice for a minute and a half. Behold! Now that is a special kind of apathy!
But I like to think that Scout readers care. You probably wouldn’t have clicked from 10th place to 1st and read this far down if you didn’t (I love you for that, by the way). And if authenticity is a concern, it’s only ever trumped by taste.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Most pizzerias that are self-celebrated as “authentic” would sooner fold than allow for pineapples on their topping line. “Hawaiian pizzas are the devil,” is the protestation. Ok, I get it, and I agree. Simple ham and little pieces of canned pineapple are hardly exciting, but what if you house-smoke and brown sugar those little babies up and throw in some extra hot capocollo, aged mozzarella and Grana Padano parmesan cheese? They make it at Barbarella, and it’s flippin’ revelatory (bottom right in photo set above). If that pleasure makes me a mangiacake, then I’ll take my licks and deal with it, because to believe that pizza has somehow already been perfected (and should now therefore be left alone) is a leap of faith that I’m not willing to take.
Don’t get me wrong. A “certified” Neapolitan pizza made by a passionate and trained pizzaiolo is the stuff of loud and messy tableside foodgasms, but if that passion and training is maintained and infused with both intuition and confidence (a la Terry Deane), well then…what is certification but mere words on paper? You can’t eat those.
That’s how I’ve always felt about the pies at Barbarella, and that’s why it’s #1 on this list.
We’ve included a reader’s poll on the next page, so click on, pizza lover, and have your say…
Pizzeria Barbarella | 654 East Broadway | Vancouver, BC | 604-210-6111 | www.pizzeriabarbarella.com
Andrew Morrison is the editor-in-chief of Scout and BC’s Senior Judge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and TV shows on local food, culture and travel. He live and works in the vibrant Strathcona neighbourhood, where he also collects inexpensive things and enjoys birds, skateboards, whisky, shoes, many songs, and the smell of wood fires.
You’ve read our findings. Now it’s your turn. Please vote for your favourite Vancouver pizzeria below.
The GOODS from Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Vancouver, BC | On September 10th, Nicli Antica Pizzeria is teaming up with Quebec’s iconic Unibroue to present an evening of ‘beer and pizza’ like no other. Hailed as Vancouver’s ‘Best Pizzeria’ (Vancouver Magazine Awards, WestEnder, Georgia Straight), Nicli continues the century-old tradition of creating Neapolitan pizzas the proper way – by hand and using only the best seasonal ingredients. An early leader in the craft-beer movement, Unibroue has gained Canada-wide recognition for its ‘on the lees’ Belgian-style of beer.
Nicli’s Chef Dave Tozer has created a five-course dinner that is sure to incite praise – be it in Italian (‘splendido,’ ‘fantastico’), French (‘magifique,’ ‘formidable’) or ‘Foodie (‘yum’). The menu features four pizzas plus dessert – each course carefully paired with one of Unibroue’s distinctive brews. The dinner is value-priced at $45 – a good bargain in any language
First course starts gently with an EVOO-based pizza of Pecorino Romano, goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes and arugula napped with a balsamic reduction. This has been paired with Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly, a delicate wheat beer that will subtly complement the pizza’s garden-fresh flavour. The second course pizza features caramelized onions, fresh thyme, fennel sausage with PEI smoked cheddar. This has been paired with Ephémère Apple with its delicate balance of sweet and tart undertones and Granny Smith profile.
Unibroue’s golden ale, Fin du Monde, is the brew of choice to complement Chef Tozer’s pizza highlighting late-summer ingredients – roasted local corn, zucchini and organic grass-fed strip loin with grana padano and fiore de latte finished with an arugula and gorgonzola fondue drizzle (just the description of this pizza should make your mouth water). The final pizza of the dinner features the robust flavours of sopressata combined with roasted chilies, tomato sauce, pecorino romano, oregano and fresh basil finished with chili-infused EVOO. It is paired with an equally robust beer, Unibroue’s multi-award-winning Maudite – a flavourful amber-red ale with an assertive crisp finish.
Stone fruit cobbler accompanied by vanilla bean gelato ends the evening on a sweet finish. Beer with dessert? ‘Mais oui’ say the French contingent and the Italians concur ‘naturalmente,’ as Ephémère Cherry, with its refreshing taste reminiscent of a dry rosé with cherry undertones, provides the perfect flavour counterpoint to the cobbler’s fruit.
The dinner starts at 8:30 p.m. Unibroue’s Kelsey Atkinson will be in attendance to talk about the pairings and the beers. The very reasonable price of $45 per person includes the meal, the pairings, tax and gratuity. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be obtained on Eventbrite. Read more
The GOODS from Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Vancouver, BC | June 1889 is a significant month in the history of Italian cuisine. That’s when a humble Neapolitan tavern owner named Raffaele Esposito won the praise of Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, by serving her a local peasant specialty – a flatbread, which he designed in the colours of the Italian flag in honour of her visit to Naples. To create the red, green and white of the flag, he topped the flatbread with simple, local ingredients: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. It was the first time cheese had been melted on the traditional flatbread, and he named the new dish after the Queen. Legend has it that she was so delighted by it that she insisted that a wood-fired ‘flat-bread oven’ be installed in the palace. Thus was born the first Pizza Margherita which would set the standard for all future pizzas for generations to come.
In the intervening century and a half, pizza has spread around the globe – with versions and variations as diverse as the people who make it. There is, however, still one universal standard for pizza excellence based on that very first Margherita pizza. That standard was created, and is maintained, by the AVPN (Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana) in Naples, Italy. In 2009, the European Union protected Neapolitan pizza with its designation as a Specialty Guaranteed Dish. Nicli Antica Pizzeria is the first pizzeria in Vancouver, and amongst the first in Canada, to receive the official AVPN designation. To celebrate June’s significant place in food history, Nicli and AVPN North American President, Peppe Miele, are declaring June Official Margherita Month.
From May 28 – June 30, Gastown’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria will be producing and/or hosting a number of fun events and special promotions bound to appeal to pizza lovers – Pizza with Peppe, Margherita Lunch, La Stella Wine Dinner, Dine Like an Italian, Margherita Cocktail and PINQ Presents a Royal Affair. Full details on all these and more can be found on Nicli’s website. Get all the details after the jump… Read more
Buckslice | Slang | A slice of questionable pizza that only costs a dollar. Immortalized by rappers POS when they named their first release The Buckslice Compilation.
Usage: ”I’m broke and hungry. Front me a buckslice.”
About Via Tevere
It began in a small palazzo on Via Tevere—a street in the heart of Naples where our father and his four sisters were raised. Throughout childhood and to this day, we have spent countless summers on Via Tevere, where we quickly learned about the importance of food in the Neapolitan way of life. Of the utmost significance is the iconic pizza, which has become the symbol of Naples.
Pizza Napoletana is lauded for its rustic simplicity, its traditional wood-fire cooking method and its celebration of Neapolitan ingredients. Our goal is to honour our family heritage and the tradition of pizza-making by serving up la vera pizza Napoletana—the true Neapolitan pizza.
Via Tevere is a family business, opened by two Italian brothers, with Neapolitan roots, who grew up in East Vancouver. It has always been Dom and Frank’s passion to open a restaurant that pays homage to their favourite Neapolitan food. Their father grew up in Naples and the family still owns an apartment on Via Tevere where one aunt still lives and they still visit as often as possible. The majority of their dad’s other family (sisters, nieces and nephews) all still live in Naples.
Dom and Frank’s goal was to open a restaurant that was true to Neapolitan pizza. Frank went to California to study the art of Neapolitan pizza making and was certified under the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) association. They imported a high quality woodfire oven that was hand crafted in Naples that uses only hardwood (as per VPN standards). You can definitely taste the difference between a pizza cooked in a woodfire oven and that which was cooked in a gas fired copycat. It has a smoky flavour that adds depth to the pizza.
True Neapolitan pizzas are made with double zero flour, San Marzano tomatoes from the Campania region, and fior di latte (milky fresh mozzarella). In Naples (as well as according to VPN guidelines), basil is placed on top of the pizza prior to cooking. The dough must be hand stretched with no added mechanical support (no rolling pin or stretcher) and must be cooked in a woodfire oven.
True Neapolitan pizza will have minimal toppings for a balance of flavour, the originals being the Margherita and the Marinara. Our ingredients and toppings are typical of a classic Neapolitan pizzeria.
The pizzas will come to the table uncut to preserve the toppings and in keeping with VPN standards. Customers can choose to eat it any way they desire, but Neapolitans generally cut it into quarters and then fold the quarter in half, thus keeping all of the sauce and toppings within. The crust is expected to be slightly chewy and slightly soft in the centre.
VPN certification ensures and protects the authenticity and traditional cooking method of Neapolitan pizza. Certified pizzerias need to go through the application process in addition to an inspection process to ensure authenticity. This is done by ensuring the pizzeria has the proper equipment (dough mixer, Carrera Marble prep top, woodfire oven), as well as proper dough- making, stretching, topping and cooking techniques.
Most of the locals in the area already know about the history of the building, but Dom and Frank also wanted to capture this tradition, and the tradition of their family, within the restaurant as well. Their goal was to create a warm, rustic space that people felt comfortable sitting in and a place where it felt more like a family gathering than an upscale restaurant.
Voted as one of top three pizzerias in the Westender Best of the city Dining 2012
Listed as one of Vancouver’s Best Cheap Eats in Vancouver Magazine
August 22, 2012 – Richard Wolak (Vanfoodster) considers the salsiccia and rapini pizza from Via Tevere to be one of the top 10 dishes to eat before the summer ends!
August 19, 2012 Miss Foodie came in and said that Via Tevere is “as close to the real deal Neapolitan experience as one could get here short of going to Naples“
August 16, 2012 – Amy of Greedy Guts says she will “ definitely be making a return trip to Via Tevere.“
August 13, 2012 – Grace of GraceCheung604 loves the “little pockets” of “charred goodness of the crust“
June 13, 2012 – Shinyandbright thinks the margherita con salame is a “winner of a pizza”
June 1, 2012 – Anya Levykh of EatMagazine says, “You can’t ask for more “vera” than this“
June 1, 2012 – Rebecca Philps considers Via Tevere one of “Vancouver’s Best Cheap Eats” for 2012 in Vancouver Magazine
May 20, 2012 – Raul of hummingbird604 considers Via Tevere “one of the best” pizzerias he has tried recently and says the pizza was “delightful and filling“
May 16, 2012 – Mia Stainsby, restaurant critic for the Vancouver Sun says, “Via Tevere pizzas are addictive“
May 4, 2012 – Alexandra Gill, restaurant critic for the Globe and Mail calls Via Tevere a “rustic pizzeria with warm shabby-chic décor” that “exudes old-world charm and mouth-watering aromas“
April 30, 2012 – Sherman of Sherman’s Food Adventures came by and said, “Via Tevere was well worth the wait not only for the pizza, but for the great service and vibe as well”.
April 5, 2012 – Vanfoodster thinks the crust “was perfect from the texture to the appearance, both on the bottom and top”
March 24, 2012 – Fmed of Wisemonkeysblog says Via Tevere pizzas are “true to the Neapolitan form”
We’ve invited Burnaby’s brand new, VPN-certified Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria to join our GOODS section as a recommended local restaurant. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be posting their news in addition to hosting a page for them on our awesome, curated list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this chance to thank them for their support of Scout, and for making BC a more delicious place to be.
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… Read more
Rarely do restaurants open on time, but Pizzeria Farina, as promised, opened its doors tonight at 915 Main Street (just off Prior next to The Cobalt). Since it’s just around the corner from our house we made a quick first pass to pick up some pies, which we made short work of in the park. Prices were very reasonable, and I don’t think we waited more than 15 minutes. It was cool seeing them immediately busy, a testament, no doubt, to the mean social media game they play. It’s way too soon to pass full judgment (first night and all), but I think their experimentation with crust paid off. I’ll be going a few more times before I give it a proper write up, either here or in the paper. Suffice it to say that I look forward to comparing it to others (eg. Campagnolo across the street) and attempting to place it in the burgeoning pantheon of Vancouver pizzerias. But there’s plenty of time for that. In any event, it sure is nice having another restaurant open in the hood. Keep ‘em coming!
We’ve invited the new Nicli Antica Pizzeria on East Cordova to join our GOODS section as a recommended local restaurant that is well worth checking out. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we’ll be publishing their news front and center and hosting a page for them on our list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support of Scout, and hope you’ll take this chance to get to know them a little better…
Walking through Gastown yesterday, I took another look inside the Nicli Antica Pizzeria construction site and found it effectively complete. The staff were training on the POS and they’d lit a fire in the oven. All seemed set, even the tables (complete with silverware, candles and linen napkins). “Come back later and we’ll make you a pizza” said the owner, Bill McCaig. I’d been looking forward to trying Nicli since we broke the news last April that they’d be bringing authentic Neapolitan pizza to Vancouver, so after picking up my kids from school we ran back down, thrilled to have the chance to be the first Vancouverites to give it a shot (my boys know pizza). I even took along a camera, as you can see from the video above and the shots below.
It was the best pizza I’d ever had in Vancouver, which was exactly what I was expecting it to be. To most pizza nuts, that’s not saying much, as it’s the first local pizzeria (to my knowledge) that has actually tried to mimic Naples’ finest contribution to society since the six string guitar. The thin crust was slightly springy, eminently foldable and blistering around the edges. The peeled plum tomato sauce glistened with olive oil and tasted true. The torn globs of mozzarella had lost their firmness and the basil was fresh and decoratively arranged. The hardwood that they’re using in the Acunto oven is birch, and the temperature is so high that all my pie needed was a 60-70 second blast treatment. When it came out it exhaled zephyrs of smoke.
In short, it was a perfect margherita. It’s definitely on par with those sold at Prima Strada in Victoria and Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto, and better than the pies I remember at Terroni. To put that in a more local perspective, it makes Marcello’s look like Dominos. Take a look at the video of my pizza being made and try not to eat your computer monitor…
They are doing a dry run for friends and family over the weekend and then easing into their opening next week.