Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about Vancouver’s rather underwhelming pizza scene, lamenting that after quite a bit of local research I’d found much better on a trip to Toronto (at Libretto) and even across the Strait in Victoria (at Prima Strata). The absence of quality, authentic pizza is one of the biggest complaints of local foodies, and they have good reason to bitch. It’s an embarrassing hole in the fabric of our otherwise excellent food city, one that should be filled a long time ago.
Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are finally getting an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. The bad news is that it won’t arrive until July.
Yesterday I met with Bill McCaig at 62 East Cordova in Gastown and got a happy earful on his plans for the one-story building, which he purchased last January. It’s a huge open concept space, about 4,000 sqft in total. He’s dividing it into two properties, one for retail and one for the project of his dreams: Nicli Antica Pizzeria.
Despite the Scottish surname, Bill is Italian on his mother’s side (“Nicli” is her surname). How he got here is an interesting story. He grew up in Ontario, took business marketing at Conestoga College, and went into a line of work that was far from the restaurant trade. After a decade in the wrong trade, he decided it wasn’t for him. He dropped it all (despite success), and went back to school, this time to the Cordon Bleu chef’s school in Ottawa. He worked in hotels, moved to Calgary to work garde manger at Capo, and after dining at that city’s Pucinella pizzeria, he moved to Vancouver (2008) with plans to open one of his own.
He traveled throughout northern Italy last summer, sampling pizzas along the way with his new bride, and went down to California to take the Vera Pizza Napoletana Americas Association course – the first stepping stone in getting a pizzeria certified as a Vera Pizza Napoletana establishment. There is only one certified VPN restaurant in Canada, and that it Libretto in Toronto. I was there just a month ago, and it kicked ass on every pizza I’d ever had before.
McCaig has every intention of having Nicli certified, which would make it the first and only one of its kind in Vancouver. In my conversations with him he’s put checkmarks beside all my food-nerd queries. Will the flour be “00” Caputo? Yes. Will the tomatoes be real San Marzano’s? Yes. Will the oven be wood-fired? Yes. It’s already been purchased and is sitting in storage in Langley – an Acunto, made in Napoli. And so on. This guy isn’t screwing around.
There won’t be any pastas or main courses, just some antipasti, maybe some cured meats, and roughly 15 pizzas either inspired by tradition or strictly adhering to tradition. “You’re not going to find any pineapple here,” he assured me. It will be licensed with a 12 globe system for his wine program, with each temperature-controlled globe holding 7 bottles at a time.
The design is being taken care of be Shearer out of Calgary, and won’t impress much upon the 100 year old building. McCaig wants to keep it small and simple (“like La Buca”) with just 40 seats, including those at the 10-12 seat bar facing the pizza oven. There will be no delivery (he shudders at the suggestion), though take-out will be full on.
July can’t come soon enough. Avanti.