ALEXANDRA GILL

Dreaming of a pizzeria in every neighbourhood

The Globe and Mail

Napoletana pizza is served at Via Tevere, 1190 Victoria Dr. in Vancouver, BC. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)

Via Tevere Pizzeria

1190 Victoria Dr., Vancouver

604-336-1803

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xsl:apply-templates/> $60 for dinner for two with wine, tax and tip

Pizzeria Barbarella

654 E. Broadway, Vancouver

604-210-6111

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xsl:apply-templates/> $60 for dinner for two with wine, tax and tip

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Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

1380 Commercial Dr., Vancouver

604-251-2292

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$60 for dinner for two with wine, tax and tip

Vancouver’s craze for proper pizza pie continues to heat up with the recent openings of three new pizzerias around town. Are we oversaturated with pizza? Not even close! Every neighbourhood deserves decent pizza, and there’s still plenty of room for thin-crust, fire-roasted goodness to rise. These three new restaurants are all very different in style. Me? I guess I’m a romantic, because I adore the old-world ambience of Via Tevere, my runaway favourite.

Old School Italian: Via Tevere ****

When was the last time you saw a bench full of strangers leaning over each other’s tables, toasting, laughing and sharing childhood memories while sun-ripened tomato sauce dripped down their chins? Is this really Vancouver? It feels just like Italy.

Located on a quaint residential street lined with magnolia trees, this rustic pizzeria with warm shabby-chic decor exudes old-world charm and mouth-watering aromas. Frank Morra, who also owns the New York-style Ragazzi Pizza, was eager to create a more authentic Italian experience. At Via Tevere, he adheres to the strict standards of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, using a traditional wood-fire oven, San Marzano tomatoes and 00 caputo flour for light, airy dough stretched by hand.

Mr. Morra, who can be found paddling the pizzas into an aqua-tiled oven at the centre of the room, is obviously still refining his skills. One of our pizzas, the deliciously bitter salcissia e rapini, was a bit too black around the edges and crisply toasted on top. But the simple Napoletana, with its soft centre, bubbly rim and light leopard-spotting underneath, was perfect.

The wine selection isn’t as interesting as at other pizzerias around town, and the lineup for a table can be long. But the restaurant’s friendly vibe and excellent service more than compensates for the little things it lacks. Locals are lucky to have this attractive hangout in their neighbourhood. For further-flung pizza lovers, it’s a worthwhile destination.

Gotham Rebel: Barbarella ***

There once was a time when Terry Deane’s Ah Beetz New York Pizza in Abbotsford was considered the very best in the Lower Mainland. But that was before the Neapolitan phenomenon took off in Vancouver and Mr. Deane got tired of making ham and pineapple pizzas for suburbanites.

Last summer, the former jazz saxophonist packed up his sourdough starter and moved to Vancouver’s East End. After hurdling a few licensing bumps, he opened Pizzeria Barbarella last month.

The place is kind of gloomy, with its dark grey walls and exposed industrial piping. But the service is stellar and the pizza is very good. It’s not Neapolitan pizza, but more a Neapolitan-New York cross, with denser dough, a higher rise and generous toppings.

Mr. Deane, who calls himself an “anti-Italian” pizza maker, uses a blend of flours all milled in North America. “Most of the stuff from Italy has no smell because it’s old by the time it gets here,” he says. His dough is wetter than the typical Neapolitan dough for a crisper texture. He uses a gas oven and cooks his pizzas longer, by more than a minute.

His method creates pizza that is easily sliced, can be picked up by hand without flopping and really fills the belly. The rim is brown and bubbly, the underside is perfectly spotted, and the creative toppings – which include house-made smoked pancetta and fennel sausage – are robustly flavourful.

Pizzeria Barbarella has just received its liquor license. It offers a decently priced selection of wine and a wide range of craft beer. Neapolitan pizza purists may not approve, but this place will definitely find a loyal fan base.

The Starbucks of Neapolitan Pizza: Famoso **

You know Neapolitan pizza has hit the mainstream when the chain restaurants start rolling it out. Famoso is a fast, casual pizzeria with multiple locations in Edmonton and Calgary. This new Commerical Drive franchise is the first in British Columbia.

The peppy service is slightly annoying. A bright-eyed host greets you at the door. Another earnest young server pops by the table to explain the fill-out-your-own form and bring it to the counter ordering process.

Founder Justin Lussier trained with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and he expects all his franchise holders to go through the same process. But he doesn’t adhere to the standards, and that’s a shame.

The tomato sauce is lumpy and bland. And the gas-fired ovens aren’t heated high enough. In order to brown, caputo flour dough needs to be roasted at 900 degrees Fahrenheit. I checked the oven – it registered just under 700 degrees. Which explains why the pizza crusts were white and undercooked.

There are plans to open four more – in Abbotsford, Kelowna, Surrey and Victoria – this summer. And for those regions underserved by good pizza, it’s a decent enough option. But in Vancouver, there are much better pizzerias.

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